When the Town of Gibsons council was sworn into office on Nov. 4, 2022, they were hot off the campaign trail. A year after the election, Coast Reporter sat down with elected officials to check in on where things stand a quarter of the way through their term.
Mayor Silas White began his first term as mayor building on his previous work as a councillor. When asked what surprised him about taking on the mayor’s role, White said, “I did come in with a lot of experience in local government. But I don’t think anything can prepare you for the amount of work [needed] just to keep the town going and what comes in daily, in addition to the amount of work that is leftover from the last council…”
He noted that when an election is on the horizon, the sitting council will hold off on some decisions so as not to saddle the incoming elected representatives with choices they did not make. “We inherited a lot, and then to try to make change on top of that, and try to honour some of the issues that came up during the campaign and the reasons that all five elected officials ran, it’s kind of doing three jobs at once, really. Honestly, it was overwhelming the first seven, eight months, but we got through it. And things are going pretty smooth now,” White said.
One of the council’s first decisions was make changes to its procedure bylaw (basically how council meets), such as removing the public inquiry period and implementing community dialogues. While some members of the public protested the changes, in an interview on Nov. 6, White said having loaded agendas is “not good for decision making” and “ultimately not good for the public, because council get overloaded and distracted… We really need to focus on a few big decisions at a time.”
Nearly a year into the change in meeting structure, White noted they did call many special meetings, which he considers “more efficient” and focused. They’ve been able to end council meetings at 9 p.m., and he says they’ve held fewer in-camera meetings. As for the dialogue sessions, White said they’ve been extremely well attended with between 50 and 70 community members joining. He’d like to continue to broaden the attendance even more. “I think we’re moving in the right direction to start to see newer residents, more youth, more families, getting engaged as well.”
Much of the election focused on water, climate change, and housing. Then, the Sunshine Coast experienced another season of drought and Gibsons’ new Residential Guest Accommodation (RGA) regulations came into effect, followed by recently announced provincial legislation for short-term rentals. Looking back at the first year of the council term, White says he’s proud of staff’s leadership in natural assets. “I think the whole town can be proud in terms of aquifer protection especially,” he said. Considering climate change has also changed how council looks at development in town as well as stormwater and water provision. Adjusting to climate change is a priority, even if it’s not always seen, White adds. In terms of housing, projects seen by the previous Gibsons council, including units at Shaw Road and the Kiwanis project, are coming to fruition. White’s intergovernmental connections are “coming in handy in this work, because we’re able to get the housing ministry and the Premier’s office and other important players and supporters to helps us on that work.”
When it comes to recurring discussions about multi-unit developments and small town character, White uses Persephone Point approved by the previous council as an example.
Every development has the potential to be divisive and polarizing, he says, and Persephone Point’s brand new multi-units look “like harbour character.” He thinks it will serve as a case study for council to talk about in the Official Community Plan update. That update — “one of the biggest priorities for council” — will take at least a year, White estimates, and will include community consultation. Housing and rentals for working people and families in Gibsons will be top of mind.
An issue that has risen in prominence since the election has been short-term rentals (called RGAs in Gibsons). It was a campaign topic, as the new regulations came into effect, and there were concerns about how it was rolling out. Since then, the new council has made several tweaks to address concerns and inconsistencies in the bylaw’s wording, putting more time into the issue. Then, the province announced new legislation that the municipalities didn’t know was coming.
“An incredible amount of time was put into this by the last council, and we’re going to have to put in a lot of time to it too, which is a little frustrating,” White said. “It’s a hard thing to get right, but I’ve also always accepted that, because the economy constantly changes and tourism constantly changes, that probably the best approach to short-term rentals is for a municipality to always check the data every year and see if the rules need to be shifted a bit to make sure there’s balance between supporting tourism and also supporting long-term rentals.”
He pointed out that compliance in Gibsons has been high, which White says probably has to do, in part, with the size of the community. “It’s kind of hard for people to anonymously put out a short-term rental that the bylaw enforcement can’t find,” he notes. Still, he welcomes the data that the province will eventually provide.
At the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in September, the council’s first in this term, Gibsons officials attended nearly a dozen meetings with cabinet ministers. “That was one of my big commitments to the community, that I was really going to take a lot of time to do provincial advocacy. Because there are so many issues that affect us locally, housing being one, health care being another, mental health and homelessness, that are really affecting local communities in a way that municipalities didn’t necessarily need to pay attention to 10 years ago,” White said. “It was very intense for a number of days going from meeting to meeting,” which focused on issues listed in the strategic plan, he added. Follow up will continue over the next three years.
Council included 10 goals in the strategic plan to guide the Town of Gibsons, including several focused on protecting natural assets and addressing climate change. White is looking forward to the water agreement with the Sunshine Coast Regional District to ensure sustainable regional water supply and to take some of the pressure off the Chapman water system in the years to come. Another ongoing issue the council is facing will be funding the policing reserve. Although it was prioritized in the last budget, Gibsons needs to catch up to eventually making it 30 per cent of the Town’s budget. As the next rounds of budget discussions are on the horizon, White says, “we basically start at five per cent.”
When asked what 2023 council accomplishment he is particularly proud of, White said he’s proud of the way the council is working together. With a diversity of opinions, communication is going well.