As election season draws near, lawn signs are popping up like plywood pumpkin patches in every municipality in British Columbia. Door knocking has begun in earnest and no baby is safe from obligatory photo ops. Hand shakes and promises -- the currency of democracy -- reign once more.
Every town in the province is gearing up for municipal elections a month from now, except for one: the Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality.
The reason is simple: Jumbo is a town without residents.
The Jumbo Glacier ski resort is a project heavy on bravado and weak on substance. The project is sold as a 6,000-bed resort at the foot of a receding glacier that promises year-round skiing. Yet it is relying on taxpayer dollars to keep afloat. What Jumbo does have is the limitless support of the province in every request imaginable.
During the past five years, the province has:
· Extended the Environmental Assessment Certificate (2009)
· Approved the project (2012)
· Amended the Local Government Act to allow the creation of Jumbo municipality (2012)
· Established Jumbo Glacier Resort Municipality with appointed mayor and council (2013)
· Provided $260,000 in funding. The municipality's five-year financial plan relies solely on taxpayer dollars, asking for $1 million from the province through to 2018.
Yet the province has very little to show for its support.
The developer is under significant pressure to demonstrate it has "substantially started" the project. Otherwise its Environmental Assessment Certificate will soon expire. That is why a bridge and a shack are quickly being thrown together in the Jumbo Valley.
Years of government time, money, and effort in support of this project have resulted in a taxpayer-funded bridge to nowhere.
When it comes to Jumbo, the red flags are plentiful. For starters, the East Kootenay region is awash in ski resorts that are rarely at full capacity.
The closest municipality, the District of Invermere, has been officially opposed to the project for years.
At the recent Union of British Columbia Municipalities, Invermere Mayor Gerry Taft put forward a motion to oppose provincial funding for towns without residents. It was adopted unanimously.
The Ktunaxa Nation is opposed to the project because the ski resort would be located in a sacred area known as Qat'muk. Jumbo is also critical grizzly bear habitat. The NDP are opposed, as are the Greens. Heck, Hockey Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer and Olympic Gold medallist Beckie Scott are opposed.
Olympians, First Nations, and grizzly bears -- oh my!
And yet, the never-ending saga of the Jumbo Glacier Ski resort continues to push the boundaries of expectation, common sense, and straight-forward believability.
The province has an opportunity to put this sad cliché where it belongs: in the dustbin of loony B.C. ideas with the likes of Fantasy Gardens, Fast Ferries, and the myth of Cascadia.
Should Jumbo Glacier Resorts be found to be in violation of its obligation to substantially start its project by October 12, the province will finally be in line with realities that are impossible to ignore. No one wants it. It does not make sense. It is a costly mess.
However, should the province continue its support for Jumbo, it will embrace a level of absurdity usually reserved for governments of global ridicule. Often, democracies beset with allegations of corruption and graft are known as "banana republics." It is an unfortunate term that usually refers to countries in the developing world. Bananas do not grow in Jumbo.
The continuing saga of the Jumbo Glacier Resort symbolizes all that is wrong with British Columbia's politics and economy. Where else but in Jumbo would we find a mayor without residents, a town without homes, or a ski hill without investors? Welcome to the Jumbo Republic!
It is time for Premier Clark to stop the Jumbo Glacier Resort gravy train and bring accountability and sanity to the situation once and for all.
Troy Sebastian is special projects co-ordinator for Ktunaxa Nation Council.
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