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Pique n' Your Interest

A regional time bomb



"Until 2010, you have a lot of leverage." — Federal Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh at a meeting in Squamish last week.

Profit hungry developers don’t impress me, but you’ve got to wonder what anyone in the Sea to Sky corridor with a big idea is thinking just five years from the Olympics.

For months now I have read letter after letter from people who evidently want the local governments in this area to stop progressing.

From the Ashlu IPP projects, to Ravens Crest, to Segways, to sight-seeing gondolas, to hotel expansions, to boundary extensions, to $20 million worth of amenities, to London Drugs (?) and airports; it appears all the local governments, including First Nations, in this area are sharing a big "stuff it" stamp and planting it on a lot of proposals being made by people who want to invest in this area.

The most recent example of this wave of conservatism happened two weeks ago in Squamish when the residents defeated a referendum that would have authorized the council to borrow $20 million to spend on amenities that the community said they wanted at the last election.

The biggest message to come out of this referendum is that while Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland might be a great visionary, he’s got some things to learn about being a politician.

An experienced politician would never ask an electorate to "trust" them to use $20 million wisely, which is effectively what he did in the referendum.

But in many ways it’s a catch-22 for people like Sutherland because "politicians" rarely get anything done.

The visionaries, like Sutherland, who actually try to make big positive changes in their communities are rarely allowed to because the system gets in the way.

The way to get around the "system" is time.

Time is what it takes to do the planning and convince people that change is needed. Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly has tried for years to convince the local governments in the Sea to Sky corridor that we need a regional plan. No one listened but now, after a long wait, we’ve got developments popping up on top of other developments and everyone’s scrabbling for a regional plan.

Unfortunately, in terms of major development in the Sea to Sky corridor there is no time to waste.

Some people have been arguing that opportunities for investment are not going to disappear after the Olympics, but many of them will.

The Olympics do a raft of things, like make people interested in the area.

But more directly, the Olympics give developers an opportunity to showcase their talents to the world and are therefore a huge bargaining tool that must be used.

During the Ashlu debate, the SLRD wouldn’t approve the project because they want the provincial government to make a run-of-river/Independent Power Project plan for the whole area. But is there time for a series of run-of-river plans and do we really need another plan?

Why can’t the regional governors make the hard decisions they were elected to make? The answer is: because it’s a matter of trust for them and their constituents.

The SLRD decided against approving the Ashlu project because they had to believe that the provincial process for approving IPPs wasn’t sound.

In a perfect world, the SLRD’s decision was diligent, but in reality it means that it’s probably going to be months, possibly years, before we hear back from the provincial government (unless the government decides to override the SLRD’s decision).

So what can you do to help move the big picture in the meantime? Lots of stuff, but there are two major things: one; vote in a different party on May 17.

As the editor of the Pique said a month ago, money would solve most of these problems because it’s what local governments need to do things like IPP planning. Perhaps a new provincial government would be more responsive to the development needs of the Sea to Sky corridor and the local governments who are trying to run it.

Two; if you think a council or a developer has a good idea but you’re not happy with the way it has been presented, don’t just say "no" and then forget about it. Take time out of your day to suggest another solution – get involved.

Positive changes are there to be made but, like Minister Dosanjh says, time is now a precious commodity, especially for the growing communities of Pemberton and Squamish.