The B.C. Liberal government has tabled an amendment to legislation that would allow a Mountain Resort Municipality to be created regardless of whether there are residents there or not, drawing the ire of the NDP opposition.
MLA for Kootenay East Bill Bennett said there's so conspiracy; the bill is being amended to make way for the Jumbo Resort project, should the proponent choose to go ahead.
"It's aimed for any sort of ski resort project that is on the greenfield," he said. "We want ski resort developments to have a choice."
The new legislation would allow alpine ski projects, such as Jumbo, to apply for Mountain Resort Municipality status. The status would allow the proponents to have a democratically elected council to make land use decisions. The inistry of Community, Sports and Culture would have the ability to call an election for those council members. Bennett said the status is necessary if Jumbo Resort is going to go ahead.
"There has to be some way to deal with land use issues," he said.
Those issues include regular things that municipalities deal with such as infrastructure, building permits, sewage and more.
Without the municipality status, there would be significant delays as the developer would have to deal with the provincial government every time construction or a permit was needed.
"Otherwise, you're dealing with the developer carte blanche," Bennett said.
Bennett said there's nothing new about the municipality status. Other communities like Sparwood have been created without residents before.
"You start with a council of people - local people, I would hope - and they get the project off the ground," he said.
But MLA for Columbia River Revelstoke, Norm MacDonald said the amendment goes against democracy.
"A municipality's function is to provide a governance structure for its residents," he said. "Changing the rules so that a municipality can be created out of thin air makes a mockery of democratic principles."
The original legislation was created in 2006, and Bennett said it's not unusual for amendments to be made down the line. He does admit that the timing of these particular amendments is related to the recent approval of the Master Development Agreement in March.
"We've been very transparent - the project is approved," he said.
MacDonald said the B.C. Liberals are continuing to push through an unpopular project and ignoring the public will by amending the legislation.
"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 B.C. Liberals are determined to push ahead," MacDonald said. "And they are willing to go to incredible lengths to make that happen."
In 2009, the Regional District of East Kootenay passed the decision making power for Jumbo on to the provincial government.
MacDonald believes the file would be in better hands with local residents, who have opposed other controversial projects in the past.
"My experience is that people know best what is appropriate for their area," MacDonald said. "Local residents knew that building private river-diversion projects on local rivers was a bad idea - and they knew that the Harmonized Sales Tax would harm local businesses."
Bennett said the file is right where it belongs - in the provincial government's hands. He predicts that had the file remained with the RDEK, it would cost taxpayers and require many volunteer hours and public meetings.
"I think the file is in the right place right now, the province is taking care of it."