Editor’s note: This story is part three of a series about the impact an anonymous group, Squamish Voices, has had on council.
Squamish Voices has undoubtedly impacted discourse in this town.
The Meta Facebook page was set up on March 30, 2021. Since then its organizers have paid for 92 ads costing $24,409.
This is not to mention the cost of several glossy mailers sent through Canada Post to residents’ homes.
Who is behind the group locally has yet to be confirmed.
The campaign has taken aim at Mayor Karen Elliott, Coun. Jenna Stoner, Coun. Pettingill and Coun. Doug Race.
Coun. John French, Coun. Armand Hurford and Coun. Eric Andersen have not been targeted.
But this doesn’t mean they approve of the group or have a sense of relief at being left out of the fray, they told The Squamish Chief.
'I certainly didn’t ask to be excluded'
Coun. Armand Hurford
Coun. Armand Hurford said when he saw the attack posts of Squamish Voices, at first he thought it just wasn’t his turn yet. So, there was a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop, he said.
“I wasn’t sure if they were doing it separately. Like maybe they just haven’t got around to
the others yet,” he said.
But it is clearer now that four on council are being targeted and three are not.
“[Those who were targeted] clearly didn’t ask for it, but speaking for myself, I certainly didn’t ask to be excluded,” he said.
“It can be equally damaging to not be attacked and somehow be associated with this... It’s not like being excluded— I’m not viewing it as a win, that’s for sure. And I certainly don’t condone that level of discourse.”
He likened not being targeted to being endorsed in an election campaign by someone who you didn’t ask to endorse you.
“It’s like being endorsed by the, I don’t know, the satanic church. It is like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s our guy,’” he said. “I didn’t ask for this.”
He called being associated with this type of discourse “super concerning” and noted that given it is an election year, the attacks are likely to ramp up and “get noisier before it gets quieter.”
He noted the nasty nature of the campaign against his colleagues in chambers is playing a big role in his family’s discussions about whether he will run again.
“Most of the discussion around my dinner table, and, you know, my family — my parents are both here, and my wife and my daughter lives elsewhere, but she’s on the internet, you know, and it’s hard and it’s not a reasonable level of discourse.”
He pointed at the recent failure of the Alternative Approval Process (AAP) due to folks campaigning against the loans for the upgrade to the Public Works Yard as the “democratic function being, in my opinion, weaponized."
“It really showed that there’s a weakness, I think, in the systems," he said.
He added that something has to be done to protect the integrity of the democratic process with such things.
“This has bigger implications because if municipalities can’t borrow for important things smoothly, and you have to go to referendum for every borrowing… And how do you possibly educate the electorate on that and keep it reasonable?”
Coun. John French
Coun. John French said that Squamish Voices has been frustrating him since he first learned of the group.
“As someone who worked as a journalist, attaching my name to all my news coverage and the opinions I shared on the radio and in newspapers dating back to 1990, it really irritates me that the people behind Squamish Voices aren’t being appropriately held accountable for the misinformation they insist on sharing,” he said.
“I don’t believe the group has had any impact on the discourse or operations of council. Due to the fact that nobody seems to know who is behind the group, it carries no credibility in my mind,” he added.
“The most disappointing thing for me relating to Squamish Voices is the lack of critical thinking some residents are putting into their support of the group. There seems to be a significant amount of blind acceptance of what Squamish Voices has published. It isn’t acceptable for anyone to spread misinformation, half-truths and political rhetoric in the anonymous fashion this group does....I challenge the people behind Squamish Voices to come out from behind their keyboards and have an authentic conversation with our community,” he said.
Coun. Eric Andersen
“I do not support it in any way, and if I had knowledge of its sponsors, I would report it,” Coun Eric Andersen said.
“I honestly don’t think it is being well-received by Squamish citizens. I was once the target of a smear campaign ad in a previous election — on the last day before polling, so I couldn’t respond. It was frustrating, but the specific issue of that day has disappeared and been forgotten.
“Communication programs on the part of the District are receiving attention regarding certain topics and questions among the public. However, the District cannot respond to messaging campaigns such as Squamish Voices; like the Privy Council office in Ottawa, our District apparatus is and must be non-political. The District and its elected representatives must keep to the ‘high road.'"
The councillors pointed to the District’s website, social media channels and themselves as sources for members of the public to contact should they have questions or concerns about what happens in council or decisions that impact them.
Over the past year, Squamish Chief reporters have made several attempts to speak to those behind Squamish Voices prior to going live with this series, including messaging their social media pages and repeatedly calling the phone numbers associated with the advertisements.
No one has ever answered or returned our calls.
Other stories in this series so far:
Squamish mayor weighs in on the impact of anonymous group Squamish Voices
Targeted council members weigh in on the impact of Squamish Voices