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Opinion: Who is behind Squamish Forward?

Political columnist Helmut Manzl is back writing about muni hall for The Squamish Chief twice per month. 
Squamish Forward
Squamish Forward website.

After three years in office, will our elected municipal representatives soon face the wrath of an enraged mob fuelled by the heady effects of locally brewed craft suds and wielding flaming torches and pitchforks? Exaggeration aside, with less than a year to go before all ballots are cast in the approaching civic election, the proverbial knives are out for a council facing a rising tide of discontent.       

One group, operating under the Squamish Forward banner, has been particularly critical of council’s performance.

Squamish Forward members have focused on the results of a survey they conducted “to confirm our concerns, which we’ve already heard anecdotally from the community.”

Of the 169 residents polled, 55% agreed council is doing a poor job in the growth management department, while 57% agreed that council’s efforts to expand our business tax base have been less than stellar.                                                  

Everything considered, Squamish Forward has all the earmarks of an unofficial shadow cabinet, equipped with a high-octane editorial-based website, active Twitter and Facebook accounts and YouTube uploads.

The loosely affiliated association refers to itself as “a coalition of like-minded people who believe that Squamish is full of promise and opportunity for the future.”

Evan Drygas, who is the creator of the Squamish Forward initiative, is a fifth-generation resident of the Shining Valley.

He says, “Kind of like a magazine where everyone gets to be an editor, Squamish Forward is a forum where we can talk about the Squamish we want for our kids.”                                                                                                                                     

Drygas is a lawyer associated with the Richard Ledding Law Corporation in Vancouver.

According to a bio posted on the company’s website, he “is passionate about real estate and practices in a number of areas including commercial and residential real estate, corporate, and estate planning.”

Drygas believes the Squamish economy “is badly in need of a boost” and “we need to attract higher-paying jobs across a variety of sectors.”

Digital marketing professional and long-time Squamish resident Gord Addison is also a contributor to the coalition’s idea pool. “We have collected dimes on what should be dollars with the rezonings this council has approved — dollars that are desperately needed for a fast-growing town,” he says.

Another Squamish Forward affiliate, Nikki Layton, is the president of the Squamish Windsport Society. She is concerned about the removal of the Squamish Spit and the impact it will have on tourism and local access to the ocean.                                                                                                                                       As well, incumbent Squamish municipal councillor Eric Andersen has lent his voice to the Squamish Forward initiative.

He posted an opinion piece on the group’s website under the heading “Collaborating for a ‘More Resilient and Innovative Future.’”

In a recent email exchange, Andersen said, “I perceive Squamish Forward to be independent, and to reflect pragmatic, common sense and ‘brainstorming for the future’ themes — all appealing to my sympathies.”                                                                                                           

An interesting comparison can be drawn between Squamish Forward and Squamish New Directions, a similar grassroots political consortium that emerged just prior to the 2002 municipal election. Four members of Squamish New Directions, Dave Fenn, Sonja Lebans, Ray Peters and Ian Sutherland were elected as a slate, with Sutherland sliding into the mayor’s chair.

But Coun. Andersen says he is “not warm to ‘slates’ or political parties in local politics. I think we’ve had a poor experience with them in the past.”                                                                                                                    

Squamish New Directions promoted forestry, tourism, outdoor recreation, as well as downtown and waterfront development. To manage that profusion of policy goodies an “open and inclusive” municipal administration was proposed.

The group had its share of successes, including job creation and a diversified economy. But the new team’s momentum got slowed down considerably by a brick wall of political wrangling and a maze of fiscal uncertainties, including the recreational referendum in which the community voted against borrowing $20 million for cultural and sporting facilities.

The Oceanfront development got tangled in red tape and the cash-strapped Adventure Centre quickly lurched into white elephant territory, where it apparently still resides. At times, Sutherland had a particularly testy relationship with former Squamish mayor turned councillor Corinne Lonsdale.                                                 

Whatever spin we put on the Squamish Forward gambit, so far, the group has avoided the attack dog antics and lack of transparency associated with several social media players stalking the local political arena. Squamish Forward’s more nuanced approach can provide a valuable sounding board for a community in the throes of both apparent and unforeseen challenges. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all shakes down between now and election day.

Political columnist Helmut Manzl is back writing about muni hall for The Squamish Chief twice per month.