The first of three Sunshine Coast Conservation Association (SCCA) local government election all candidates forums was hosted Sept. 27 via the Zoom platform.
True to the title “forum” (rather than “debate”) the two hours of discussion on environmental issues revealed more agreement than opposing views between those vying to represent rural areas on the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) Board.
The event featured SCRD candidates Patrick Dickie and Justine Gabias, who are competing to represent Halfmoon Bay (Area B). Two candidates who are set to be acclaimed to director roles, Donna McMahon, the incumbent director for Elphinstone (Area E) and Kate Louise Stamford from West Howe Sound and the Islands (Area F) also participated, along with Candace Woods, who is poised to serve as the alternate director for Roberts Creek (Area D). Woods withdrew as a candidate, agreeing to serve in the backup role for the sole remaining and therefore acclaimed Area D candidate, Kelly Backs. Backs was not in attendance, nor was acclaimed Pender Harbour/Egmont (Area A) candidate, the incumbent Leonard Lee.
After brief introductions, the candidates responded to questions from the event organizers, posed by moderator Michael Mazur.
On a question about ensuring Board decisions are considered through the lens of mitigating climate change and protection of natural assets, a statement by Gabias’ that “every elected official should be a climate champion” provided an apt summation of the views expressed.
When asked about SCRD participation in the “Sue Big Oil” movement, a West Coast Environmental Law project asking local governments to contribute one dollar person as part of an action to recover costs from petroleum companies for damages caused by their products' emissions, there was support, in principle, from all. While Dickie stated he wanted more discussion before committing to a tax increase, McMahon explained participation may not be an option.
“This is an example of how it is frustrating to be a regional district….we actually can’t do this because we don’t have a service for this,” she stated. Holding out a branch of hope, she indicated she had spoken with the law firm about how regional district involvement could be accommodated. In response to a later question about funding climate change initiatives, McMahon voiced the view that a new service may need to be established to ensure that work can be done.
The issues of how to improve water supply, infrastructure, conservation, and watershed protection were included in a question, with the respondents expressing support for continuing the efforts and plans put in place by the current board.
“Push the province to protect old growth and keep the forest intact,” was part of Woods’ response to a question on mitigating climate-induced flooding. Stamford stated support for updating bylaws to protect forest canopies and Dickie stated “green shores” initiatives were something he would like to see introduced. Gabias’ response was in favour of “nature-based solutions…take care of the land and protect the forest.”
On a question about establishing environmental development permit areas (areas within which development and land alteration must be regulated to protect natural assets) Stamford voiced the view that those are the “strongest tool we [local government] have to protect private property and the environment.” McMahon said that the SCRD’s current development permit areas were outdated but cautioned that there is a need to “rationalize and streamline to have better regulations not more regulations.”
That question led to one of the session’s lighthearted moments. Woods, remarking on a “distaste for large developments in the community” referenced the “pave paradise, put up a parking lot” lyrics of the song Big Yellow Taxi, crediting it to Counting Crows. A note was quickly posted by an audience member in the meeting’s chat feature identifying the original lyricist as Joni Mitchell.
In the second half of the meeting, Mazur directed questions posed by members of the public to the candidates.
Telus Wilderness Point
On the subject of the Telus Wilderness Point project, Dickie stated that initiative was difficult to support, given inconsistencies in details provided on the project website and at a recent public meeting. Gabias acknowledged that there was a level of “distrust” around what appeared to be an interesting project. McMahon noted that a rezoning application for the project is slated to come before the board.
Plans for future garbage disposal on the Coast were asked about, with Woods and McMahon both identifying a need to find a solution to the amount of construction waste going into the local landfill. Woods said she would support establishing ways to have more of these materials recycled or re-used locally.
As for siting of a new landfill in Area B, Dickie express concerns with the proposed site above Trout Lake and McMahon stated more detailed information on all potential sites is needed before any decisions can be made.
She noted that there is urgency around this work, given that the Sechelt landfill may be at capacity within three years. In her view finding a local landfill site “is way better” than the alternative of shipping waste off-Coast, due to costs and the vulnerability created by being dependent on another jurisdiction to accept the garbage.
When asked about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, both Dickie and Gabias made suggestions on improvements they would like to see on Sunshine Coast Transit’s Route 4, through their community. Dickie supports alternating where the bus enters Redrooffs Road on every other run, so that a “circle route” serving traffic moving in both directions is created. Gabias spoke in favor of using smaller buses on the route, as well as lobbying the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure for improved multiuse paths.
More sessions and details
A similar session for candidates for council positions in Gibsons was hosted Sept. 28 and another is set for those seeking election to the District of Sechelt Council on Sept. 29.
The SCCA has hosted opportunities for Coast voters and candidates vying to fill local government elected representative seats to discuss environmental issues since 2011. In this year’s elections it partnered with Alliance 4 Democracy and the Sunshine Coast Climate Action Network on these engagements. More details and updates on these sessions are available at the scca website.