OPINION: Changing of the guard

Anybody who wants a preview of the Squamish political event horizon should head over to Rona, or Home Depot, and watch the paint shaking machines in action. With six rookie councillors and a new mayor officially taking the helm in December, a major shake-up is coming to muni hall.

And depending on whose opinion you endorse, a changing of the guard might not be a bad idea. Two-term councillor and mayoral candidate Susan Chapelle recently told The Chief, “It has been a tough term, and our council is obviously strained… This council has not been cohesive, nor collaborative.”

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Fellow councillor and mayoral candidate Karen Elliott does not share that outlook.  She says “I think most of us on council had a strong working relationship which helped us to be productive.” Coun. Ted Prior puts it this way: “Being a councillor is a bit of a love/hate relationship. Over the term everyone has times when they don’t like each other, and some more than others.”                                                                                  

Whatever spin we put on the personality dynamics around the council table, this has been a fruitful session for our elected municipal representatives.  Prior points to the completion of the sewer and water master plans and the integrated flood management plan, the DOS employment lands strategy and the unveiling of the Official Community Plan. But he figures the Squamish Oceanfront Development project could have been handled better. “We left a lot of taxpayers’ money on the table there. The District should not play developer. We get outsmarted,” he says.

According to Coun. Peter Kent, “Our record speaks for itself. If you were to compare the amount of development, capital projects, infrastructure, staff and council awards and green initiatives alone, to any other council’s term, I think you’d see a marked success.”

The new council will face some immediate hurdles. With the majority of the District’s facilities at their end-of-life stage and operating at overcapacity, the required upgrades will require an investment in excess of $100 million. Greyhound is leaving us in the lurch, and regional transportation remains a pipe dream, although BC Transit is hinting at establishing a regular commuter bus service sometime in the next couple of years.

When it comes to housing, the situation is challenging, both in terms of out of control prices and the lack of affordable rental stock or for that matter rentals beyond the Airbnb variety. Some businesses are cutting back, or closing, because staff can’t find accommodations. The District is working with BC Housing on two purpose-built rental buildings and the Under One Roof social services/housing facility has been given the green light.

The pending crew change has the potential to bring fresh energy to muni hall. It can also be discouraging if the reshuffling of the guard fails to meet expectations.  That being said, hopefully, the next iteration of council will rise to the occasion.

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