By Kelsey Verboom
A slight tweak to a piece of provincial legislation could affect how Mountain Resort Municipalities are governed.
On May 1st, the provincial government tabled proposed amendments to the Local Government Act that highlight government’s authority to incorporate a Mountain Resort Municipality, whether or not there are residents in the area at the time of incorporation.
No Mountain Resort Municipalities currently exist locally, but in 2009, the Regional District of East Kootenay passed a motion to support the creation of one at the Jumbo Glacier Resort development.
If Bill 41, the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 2), 2012 passes, the provincial government would have the power to appoint a council to govern projects like Jumbo Glacier Resort, in the absence of a voting population.
In 2007, legislation passed that allows Mountain Resort Municipalities to incorporate, but currently they require a resident population to do so.
The amendments are consistent with existing government policy and merely clarify the current wording of the Local Government Act, Ida Chong, Minister for Community, Sport, and Cultural Development told The Pioneer.
“This legislation is not specific to Jumbo. It will allow for these opportunities throughout the province,” she said.
“You do have areas that require development, and there is no one living there, so how can you vote on what the area will look like?
“You need people in place to make decisions with respect to zoning, roads, and development,” Minister Chong continued.
“You can’t dump that responsibility on neighbouring governments that may live kilometres from the site of the development.”
The Local Government Act amendments didn’t sit well with Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald of the NDP, who has staunchly opposed Jumbo moving forward.
“The B.C. Liberals’ latest step towards forcing a ski resort on an area that does not want it would make a good joke if it wasn’t so serious,” MLA Macdonald stated in a press release.
Calling the Liberals a government with “no respect for democracy,” he said, “A municipality’s function is to provide a governance structure for its residents. Changing the rules so that a municipality can be created out of thin air makes a mockery of democratic principles.”
Minister Chong said it should come as no surprise that the resort may be moving forward.
“To be clear, it has been 20 years that a Master Development Agreement has been in discussion. The prospect of having the resort developed should not come as a surprise, because it’s in the Master Development Agreement.
“It’s now my job to ask, ‘How would that proceed? What kind of governance would allow the resort to proceed?’ My role as a local government minister is to see what type of governance would best suit the prospect of that going forward.”
Referring to recommendations by the Regional District of East Kootenay in 2009 that Jumbo be a Mountain Resort Municipality if it went ahead, Minister Chong said, “If that is the way we are going to proceed, at least we know that consideration was given by the elected officials about the way we were headed.”
There are far too many ‘ifs’ to speculate what an appointed government of a Mountain Resort Municipality may look like, Minister Chong said.
The province will have the power to appoint a council, which will likely involve “specialized governance positions,” she added. “We would have to very clearly decide the responsibilities and regulations of the council.”
The possibility of an appointed council at a Mountain Resort Municipality sparked angry responses from some members of Invermere council. At their regular meeting on May 8th, Mayor Taft and council spent nearly an hour debating whether or not to pass a motion stating their opposition to the Local Government Act amendments.
The motion was put forward by Councillor Paul Denchuk, who admitted during the discussion that the purpose of the motion was to try to “throw a stick under the train” that is Jumbo Glacier Resort.
“It is a stick, because I’m absolutely anti-resort,” he said, adding later in the meeting, “It’s not over until it’s over, plain and simple.”
Councillor Greg Anderson vocally opposed the motion, questioning its factual accuracy and saying the District of Invermere isn’t the appropriate body to be passing such a statement.
“We need to make smart decisions,” he said. “Now that Jumbo has received approval, as a council we have to protectively engage in the process. We have to do our best to guarantee success for our business community and residents.
“As a council, we need to be realistic. It’s not [the motion is not] going to make a hill of beans difference. Don’t be naive.”
Councillor Justin Atterbury also questioned the motion.
“It takes away energies from things in our town we could be making a real difference on,” he said.
Mayor Taft and Councillor Spring Hawes agreed with Councillor Denchuk’s sentiments, both saying that despite the mention of Jumbo in the motion, it wasn’t about Jumbo, but about democratic process and government as a whole.
“It seems silly. It seems like you’re creating a special set of rules,” Mayor Taft said, later adding, “Although this may seem adversarial, for me, it’s about working collaboratively. The long-term goal is that what happens in Jumbo is best for everybody.”
When it came to a vote, the motion passed three to two, with Mayor Taft and Councillors Hawes and Denchuk in favour.
Council also agreed to send letters explaining their motion to the regional district, UBCM, and provincial ministers.
“Don’t forget the Queen,” quipped Councillor Anderson, rolling his eyes.