One could say that it’s the Stranger Things of elections in Squamish.
It has been more confusing, hostile and contentious than this small town has seen before.
Negative campaigning from anonymous online pages such as Squamish Voices and Squamish Now — the latter now known as Dikran Bedirian — have been assailing candidates with attacks sponsored by what many presume to be hidden deep-pocketed interests set on influencing the town’s governance.
In the months leading up to the election campaign period, Squamish Voices posted attack ads on Facebook that targeted Mayor Karen Elliott, and councillors Doug Race, Jenna Stoner and Chris Pettingill.
It has not been uncovered who has been directing Squamish Voices to publish the ads. The Squamish Chief has previously reached out to Squamish Voices numerous times but has never received a reply.
Squamish Now emerged during the election period and posted attack ads on Facebook mainly targeting mayoral candidate Armand Hurford. Elections BC compelled the site to change its name to Dikran Bedirian to make its name consistent with the information on the election advertising registry for third party sponsors.
Bedirian then later blanketed the town with mail-in flyers that urged residents to avoid voting for Hurford.
Elections BC then began investigating Bedirian for possible breach of the election spending limit for third-party sponsors, which is $1,023.96 for directed advertising.
However, it is not clear who Bedirian is and why they are behind the campaign. The Squamish Chief has previously reached out to Bedirian numerous times but has never received a reply.
Hurford told The Squamish Chief that he has reported both parties to Elections BC, but he has heard little to nothing about what the oversight body is doing about it.
Things are moving too slowly, he said.
For instance, Elections BC has told The Squamish Chief it will not make a decision on Bedirian’s spending until January after expense reports are filed. This will be far after the election is over.
In the case of Squamish Voices, Hurford said he reported the page to authorities after it posted an unfounded allegation that seemed to be directed at him, though it did not name him. He said he has been given little to no news about what’s happening in that matter.
“All of our processes do not move fast enough to be effective in an election period,” said Hurford.
“It's just the lack of urgency or the lack of expedient processing of election-related issues is a problem.”
He said the province must act more swiftly on these matters in order to minimize the effects they have on tainting the outcome of the election.
What about Squamish Forward?
Lately, the peculiarity of Squamish’s election has been attracting attention from outside media. One outlet recently noted information not publicly discussed previously about a separate page called Squamish Forward.
Over the last year, The page has featured a number of op-ed pieces, some of which are critical of the municipality. Earlier this year, it posted a petition encouraging people to vote against a loan authorization for the public works facility.
It had branded itself as a site put together by concerned residents of Squamish who were interested in discussing ideas about how to best run the municipality.
However, one independent news outlet, The Breach, recently reported that Woodfibre LNG had a role in the creation of Squamish Forward.
Much social media chatter in town followed.
Previously, the site did not disclose publicly that it had received aid from the company.
In an effort to clear up any confusion about the origins of this page, The Squamish Chief reached out to the parties involved.
Evan Drygas, who is credited as the founder of Squamish Forward, told The Squamish Chief that Woodfibre LNG provided advice and in-kind support during the creation of Squamish Forward, but the company has no current involvement with the page.
He said that Woodfibre became involved with Squamish Forward in the summer of 2021. However, the company was mostly not involved after the fall of that year and completely halted its support at the end of 2021.
Woodfibre’s president, Christine Kennedy, said in a written statement the corporation pulled its support from the site once it became known that it would speak on political topics. The original intent was to create a page that supported economic development and recovery in a post-lockdown world.
“Before I joined Woodfibre LNG in November 2021, the company had provided some minor start-up in-kind support for Squamish Forward as a grassroots effort intended to advocate for post-COVID economic recovery. I terminated that support, recognizing that the organization had shifted to become more partisan,” reads Kennedy’s statement.
“Over the last year, Woodfibre LNG has updated the criteria, policies and processes for sponsorship and donations funding. We have established a new internal committee that reviews funding requests and recommends sponsorship and donations funding to me for approval. I personally sign off on all expenditures, and am pleased that in 2022 WLNG was able to support 41 organizations, providing $110,000 to Squamish-based community organizations, with recipients announced publicly.”
Gord Addison, one of the main contributors and administrators of Squamish Forward, later decided to run for office.
Addison wrote to The Squamish Chief that in summer of 2021, he was “likely on a group call with people from a few businesses in Squamish, including WLNG,” when he was asked to be a contributing writer for Squamish Forward.
He said that he had no intention of running for council until the end of August this year. This would’ve been well after Woodfibre was involved with the site.
Addison said he took over the administration of Squamish Forward in Fall 2021.
John French, a sitting councillor who is running for re-election, told The Squamish Chief that he was asked by Woodfibre spokesperson Rebecca Scott to contribute content to Squamish Forward when it was first being conceived. French said he declined to write for the page.
Eric Andersen, a sitting councillor who is running for re-election, wrote for Squamish Forward, but said Woodfibre did not ask him to contribute content.
In response, Woodfibre’s spokesperson, Rebecca Scott, said the company did not ask Addison to contribute content to the site.
She said Addison became involved when he and the site’s creator, Evan Drygas, decided that Addison had the right skillset and availability to take on administration of the page.
With respect to asking French, Scott said that at the time, the page’s purpose was to share community-driven ideas for economic development.
“As a councillor who had some experience working in the private sector, French seemed to be a natural fit and that he might have ideas to share as content,” she wrote.
Scott said that Woodfibre did not have conversations with Squamish Forward’s contributors or writers about running for office in the District of Squamish.
“Our conversations with people in the community were to introduce the idea and see if they were interested in contributing content to the page,” wrote Scott. “At the time we were involved, this was an initiative focused on economic growth.”
She repeated that Woodfibre did not give any money to Squamish Forward.
“The company assisted Squamish Forward in summer 2021 with some small in-kind and relationship-building efforts,” wrote Scott in an email. “The in-kind work included a day of photography and a website framework that had been created for our site and which we were able to share for free.”
In late summer, 2021, Woodfibre had already scaled back any active support, she said.
“In late 2021, the page admin indicated as a courtesy that they wished to host some content that could be perceived as partisan,” said Scott. “As a courtesy, we responded that we would not be involved with Squamish Forward at that time or in the future. We cannot and do not provide any type of support for partisan initiatives.”
-With files from Jennifer Thuncher