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Federal candidates address Coast’s water crisis

As the Town of Gibsons began sharing water with the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) on Sept.
Federal election 2021
A federal election has been called for Monday, Sept. 20, 2021.

As the Town of Gibsons began sharing water with the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) on Sept. 1, later that evening six of the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding candidates shared their approach to the Coast’s water crisis at an online all-candidates meeting. 

Six candidates attended the virtual event hosted by the Gibsons and District Chamber of Commerce, including incumbent MP Patrick Weiler for the Liberal Party, former Conservative MP John Weston, the NDP’s Avi Lewis, Mike Simpson for the Green Party, Doug Bebb for the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) and independent candidate Terry Grimwood. Two candidates, Gordon Jeffrey for the Rhinoceros Party and independent Chris MacGregor, were confirmed by Elections Canada earlier in the day but were not in attendance.

As he introduced the question, moderator Keith VanBrabant, host of Eastlink’s Parliamentary Talkback, said water “may be the biggest issue on the Sunshine Coast currently.”

Candidates were asked how they would, as an elected official, work with provincial and local governments to ensure that the current water issues on the Sunshine Coast are undertaken and fixed.

As a Halfmoon Bay resident, Lewis described watching his garden die. He related the water crisis to the climate emergency as heat waves, droughts and the local population increase. He called for 21st century infrastructure. 

“There’s only one level of government that has the financial capacity to start rolling out new infrastructure systems, 21st century green infrastructure, including water infrastructure to access groundwater on the Sunshine Coast,” Lewis said. “As part of the Green New Deal – a response to the climate emergency that actually makes the big changes that we need to make in all the sectors that are in crisis right now – water is one of the big ones, but it’s just not the only one.”

Bebb said of the proposals he’s heard including increased storage and dam capacity, he prefers a proposal to use water from Clowhom Lake via what he said could be an underwater pipeline down Salmon Inlet.

Simpson, an Elphinstone resident, called the situation a public policy failure, but one that cannot be planted on the municipalities. He agreed with Lewis that the federal government has the power in terms of money. The technical permits to access water are not in place, he added. 

“We will eventually get water out of the aquifer potentially, but it’s going to require the levels of government to come together to talk to each other. And to figure this out as if it is an emergency,” Simpson said. He also said the solution is to store and conserve water.

Weston agreed that “cooperation between levels of government [is] totally essential. Even if the federal government had the will and had the means, it couldn’t proceed without the cooperation of other levels of government. So the first thing that you need is ongoing engagement.” 

Weston said he would have an office on the Sunshine Coast, as he did when he was the member of Parliament, as well as an infrastructure plan.

Weiler said the Liberal government has doubled the Gas Tax fund (which was renamed at the end of June to the Canada Community-Building Fund) “to get that no-strings-attached money directly to municipalities to use on projects that will address things that our community needs.” He said a number of projects on the Sunshine Coast have benefited from these funds. 

Applications to have 70 per cent federal funding and 30 per cent provincial funding for green infrastructure and water will reopen in the fall, Weiler said. 

Grimwood suggested water tanks with trucks to deliver it, as well as desalination. 

Questions also focused on an emergency housing call to action on the Coast and economic recovery from COVID-19. A video recording of the meeting will be made available through the Chamber.