District of Invermere council passed a resolution on Tuesday (May 8) voicing opposition to a change in the Local Government Act that will allow the creation of a mountain resort municipality in an area with no residents at the time of incorporation.
The proposed amendment was buried in a miscellaneous list under Bill 41, which was introduced for first reading to the B.C. Legislature on May 1.
“This isn’t about opposing or not opposing Jumbo, that’s not the issue,” Mayor Gerry Taft said at Tuesday’s council meeting. ‘It’s about governance.”
The resolution, penned by Coun. Paul Denchuk, states “the District of Invermere opposes the creation of an undemocratic Mountain Resort Municipality in the Jumbo Valley and in any other region of the province” based on council’s understanding that if a mountain resort municipality in the Jumbo Valley were to be incorporated, it would have a provincially appointed council for an indeterminate length of time with no set election date and may be granted all the powers of a normal municipality, including a seat at the Regional District of East Kootenay.
It passed with Taft, Denchuk and Coun. Spring Hawes in favour while councillors Greg Anderson and Justin Atterbury were opposed.
“I’d like to be clear I’m neither for nor against Jumbo,” Anderson said. “We have to ensure the optimum outcome for businesses and residents of Invermere.”
He questioned why council was treating a change in provincial legislation as a local issue, stating he felt the resolution was more appropriate for the regional district level.
“Approving the resolution [at the district level] isn’t going to make a difference,” he said.
“I believe we should represent our constituents,” Denchuk replied. “The answer [to Jumbo Glacier Resort] is still no and that has not changed — approving the master agreement has only galvanized everybody; it’s not over until it’s over.”
Agreeing with Jumbo is “beside the case,” said Hawes.
“I think the issue is much, much larger than Jumbo,” she said. “It’s happening really fast, before anyone realizes how changes in legislation will affect how local government operates now and into the future.”
Atterbury expressed concern that council was voicing opposition just to “keep throwing sticks in front of the train.”
“We want [Jumbo] to happen in an ethical and economically sustainable matter,” replied Hawes. “Not in any way undermining our democratic process.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development., which oversees local governments under the Local Government Act, told The Valley Echo in an email on Thursday (May 10) that “while these amendments are not specific or limited to the Jumbo project, they could be used in relation to the proposed resort at that site.”
In the email, the ministry spokesperson confirmed that “in the case of a mountain resort municipality that is incorporated prior to the arrival of residents, all council members, including the mayor, would be appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council or by the Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development” and that “the most appropriate council size and composition would be determined after careful consideration of the particular municipality’s needs.”
“In my opinion, this is an attempt… to rubber stamp the master plan and zoning,” Taft said at the meeting, adding he’s already worried about the proposed scale and density of the Jumbo Glacier Resort development, and questions how an appointed council — whose responsibility will be to the Province and the proponent — will deal with these concerns.
The relevance to Invermere lay in the fact that the district could one day become next-door neighbours with the new type of mountain resort municipality in question, Taft said.
“The province won’t consider incorporating small communities such as Fairmont and Windermere to allow them to become municipalities, but [will] an area with zero population and zero economic activity?” he asked. “If the real estate was so sound, why take these steps?”
“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,” Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald stated in a May 3 media release. “Despite the fact that the majority of residents in the area do not support the development of a ski resort in the Jumbo Valley, the BC Liberals are determined to push ahead. And they are willing to go to incredible lengths to make that happen.”
The ministry confirmed on Thursday (May 10) that Bill 41 had been given second reading and was currently in committee stage.
“Each line of the section regarding mountain resort municipalities was debated during committee stage on Wednesday, May 9,” wrote the spokesperson in the email. “We do not yet know when the bill will go to third reading.”