A municipality should have residents — and grizzly bears and mountain goats don’t count, according to B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver who tabled a private member’s bill in the legislature Wednesday aimed squarely at the controversial Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality.
Weaver’s bill to amend the Local Government Amendment Act would repeal the Liberal government’s 2012 changes to legislation that made it possible for mountain resort municipalities to exist without residents.
The 2012 changes were designed to push through development of Jumbo Glacier Resort, a proposed 6,300 bed resort in the wilderness of the Purcell Mountains, 55 kilometres west of Invermere — a project strongly opposed by local residents and First Nations.
Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality was created in November 2012 and the province then appointed a mayor and two councillors. Even though the municipality had no residents or buildings, it became eligible for provincial government grants of $200,000 a year and about $50,000 in federal gas tax money.
The existence of the municipality has been a flashpoint for many opponents and, with the future of the development now in doubt, there is a renewed push to scrap the no-resident municipality.
“The idea of a town with no people and an appointed mayor and council to preside over that town is preposterous and flies in the face of local democracy and local decision-making,” said Robyn Duncan executive director of Wildsight, an organization that has been on the front lines of the Jumbo fight.
“It is completely unacceptable that an unelected body can make land-use decisions and be accountable to no one,” she said.
It is a view shared by Weaver, who is adamant that provincial laws should not be used to help specific projects succeed or fail.
“The fact that you can create a municipality with no people and no buildings and put in a mayor and two councillors and give them government money is truly bizarre — only in B.C.,” he said.
The reason the “ridiculous loophole” exists is because the government had a pet project that it wanted to succeed, Weaver said, admitting that the chance of his bill getting the support of government is almost non-existent.
“I am hopeful, but I don’t think it will go through as long as (Energy and Mines Minister) Bill Bennett is in government. This was his clearly his pet project and he was a huge advocate for it,” he said.
If the bill did go through, it is likely the resort municipality would argue to be grandfathered in, Weaver said.
“But this is essentially a shot across the bow. It’s saying clean up your act government. This kind of shenanigans has to stop,” he said.
If nothing else, the realities of climate change should give the government pause, said Weaver, who is a climate scientist.
Between 1985 and 2005 glaciers in that area lost 15 per cent of their total mass and glaciologists predict that, by 2100, glaciers that the resort is relying upon for year-round skiing will not exist, he said.
“It makes no sense on so many levels.”
Last year, after 24 years of controversy, Environment Minister Mary Polak pulled the project’s environmental assessment certificate, concluding the billion dollar project had not substantially started during the 10 years since the certificate was granted.
Proponents, Glacier Resorts Ltd. and the Phaedias Group, have said they plan to appeal that decision and are considering changing the proposal to a smaller resort that would not need to go through a full environmental assessment.
However, any proposal to build in the area will face a legal challenge from the Ktunaxa First Nation, who have been given leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, based on a freedom of religion argument that could set a precedent for indigenous people worldwide.
The area at the foot of Jumbo Glacier is known as Qat’muk by the Ktunaxa people who believe it is where the Grizzly Bear Spirit was born, goes to heal itself and returns to the spirit world.
Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality Mayor Greg Deck, former mayor of Radium Hot Springs, said he hopes the government does not repeal the legislation.
“The wisdom of the original legislation was that it anticipated doing really good planning in advance, through a resort municipality, and I believe that is still valid,” he said.
People who disagree with plans for the Jumbo Valley should not try and take away a tool that could be valuable in other areas, Deck said.
In the meantime, the municipality is deferring acceptance of government grants until the situation around the development clarifies.
“We are a little bit hostage to legal challenges. The Ktunaxa appeal adds a bit more uncertainty which we have to wait out,” Deck said.
The bulk of the municipality’s money has gone on defending a series of legal challenges, Deck said.
“It’s a bit frustrating when people say we shouldn’t be spending money and then they keep suing us.”