After a heated discussion and some bizarre exchanges, Squamish council this week narrowly voted against the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS), a planning document that would’ve applied to all members of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.
On the last possible day to endorse the document, Councillors Raj Kahlon and Patricia Heintzman voted in favour of it, as did Mayor Ian Sutherland. Councillors Jeff McKenzie, Greg Gardner, Corinne Lonsdale and Mike Jenson voted against the RGS, which has been four years in the making and had earned the support of Whistler, Pemberton and Lillooet.
“We’ve all supported this throughout the process,” said Sutherland, referring to an MOU long ago signed by Squamish council. “Now is not the time to back out.”
“I think this is a larger issue than we really think,” said Jenson. “I wouldn’t think if we deferred it, it would be a waste of four years. I think it would be more building on it.”
Those councillors opposed cited a lack of public consultation, ambiguity surrounding amendment procedures, a lack of clarity on the substance of and procedures within the document and uncertainty as to how it would affect Squamish’s forthcoming Official Community Plan (OCP).
According to a summary by the SLRD, the RGS is “a long-term planning project that deals with growth management (south) and economic recovery issues (north) over a 20-year period for the SLRD area.” It deals with land use, transportation, housing, economic development and other matters.
While council did not approve the RGS, all councillors praised the document, saying it embodies many of the planning practices already rolled into Squamish’s visioning documents.
In rejecting the RGS, council found itself facing a new challenge. The document could be rejected without reason, approved, or rejected with reason, which would’ve required a clause by clause examination of its contents. In order to spare hours of work, Gardner put forward a motion saying the RGS be rejected flat out for the reasons put forward by those opposed.
That motion was passed along the same political fault line that sunk the original, with Sutherland, Heintzman and Kahlon opposed and everyone else in favour.
“I think this is going to burn quite a few bridges, and I want to make sure we’re putting out as many fires as we can,” Heintzman said.
Initially, Heinztman also seemed opposed to the document. However, her OCP-related fears were quelled by Director of Planning Cameron Chalmers and Chief Administrative Officer Kim Anema. According to Chalmers, the OCP would’ve fit in with the RGS. According to Anema, a broadly written “context statement” wound into the OCP would have assured that.
The whole drama revealed some of the conflicting dynamics between members of council. At one point, Lonsdale referred to Sutherland as “Mayor Lonsdale,” and, at another point, Gardner called him “Mr. Sutherland.”