For a couple of days last week, Squamish was in the Lower Mainland media crosshairs, and not necessarily in a good way.
Last Wednesday (June 27), media began reporting that Squamish appeared to be the only community in British Columbia that hadn’t signed onto to the new 20-year, province-wide RCMP contract, and the reporters wanted to know why. But there was no answer from the District of Squamish, so media outlets looked elsewhere for an explanation — and got it from Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, who was reported to have told CKNW radio that Squamish “isn’t even returning the province’s calls with 48 hours to go” before the deadline set by the province for the contract to be signed. The radio station added that Mayor Rob Kirkham “refused to talk to CKNW about the contract just last week.”
Finally, on Friday (June 29), the radio station reported that “a spokeswoman said the district is continuing talks with the provincial government.”
That, of course, was the day that Squamish council voted — reluctantly — to approve the contract, becoming the last B.C. community to do so. We have no quarrel with the reasons behind their reluctance — The Chief reported back in May that municipal officials had demanded that all or some of the charges not directly related to local policing, including the cost of the RCMP’s new Lower Mainland headquarters in Surrey, be slashed. In spite of local government lobbying, that didn’t happen — but it was worth a try, even if the only result is that senior governments take note of the concerns and act on them the next time a similar situation arises.
The incident, though, put the spotlight on the issue of District of Squamish communication. After he was elected last November, then-mayor-elect Kirkham said communication would be his top priority for this term. And most certainly, efforts have been made in that regard. A professional communications manager (Christie Smith) has been hired, and communication protocols have been discussed and implemented.
Last week’s situation, though, illustrated the need to be proactive in managing the message. Had action been taken sooner, Squamish could have been seen as leading the charge against an “unfair” RCMP contract; instead, it wound up looking like a laggard that circles the wagons when besieged by invading hordes. We don’t know what went on behind the scenes, but it probably wasn’t quite the message our community wanted to convey.
Seven months into this council’s term, this writer would say the communication piece is still a work in progress.