Set for a second year at the helm of the Sunshine Coast Regional District, 75-year-old board chair Leonard Lee chuckled as he admitted to Coast Reporter that his work week as a local elected representative “averages at least 60 hours.”
In a Nov. 8 interview, he said those duties typically extend from “Saturday to Friday” with about 60 per cent of the time going to board chair responsibilities. While often filling regular office hours, board leadership demands also extend to “being the face of the SCRD” at a steady stream of weekend and evening events. He noted “my area director work is suffering a little bit because of simply not enough hours or days in any week.”
Describing himself as detail-oriented with a need to understand “the why behind the how” in the way things function, he said going beyond the standard work week, even in what are retirement years for most, continues as an essential for his two roles on the SCRD board. His reward, he said, is the chance to work with “great people.” In that category, Lee included fellow elected officials from the Coast and beyond, staff and community members; many of whom he credits with sharing and exceeding his level of commitment to put in the time to improve things where they can.
Getting provincial action on local issues
Not someone who routinely seeks the microphone at provincial-scale events, Lee recounted doing so at this year’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention. Using the example of the province’s Growing Communities Fund, which saw both Gibsons and Sechelt receive more funding than the SCRD, he introduced the board’s call for provincial and federal governments to reconsider their grant distribution formulas. In that, he urged them to take into account the services delivered and infrastructure maintained by local governments in addition to jurisdictional populations. In the case of the SCRD, the population considered is often the lower “rural” Coast head count. But the SCRD maintains responsibility for pricey functions like water, recreation and transit that also benefit residents of its member municipalities. Other B.C. community leaders at the convention agreed the issue needed review, and Lee was pleased that a step outside of his “comfort zone” resulted in support for the resolution.
As those grants “are in the millions of dollars,” seeing action on that ask tops Lee’s list when it comes to SCRD requests of the province that need to be addressed as soon as possible.
Other areas requiring urgent provincial attention in his view are modernization of the Local Government and Emergency Program Acts as well as changes to include small business and institutions in Recycle BC programs. Lee would like to see it made easier (and cheaper) for private firms to provide recycling pickup for residential households. He also believes extension of the property tax deferment program to cover utility charges needs to be prioritized by the province.
“And of course, all kinds of things around water,” Lee stated.
Chapman water and beyond
When it comes to the SCRD’s Chapman water system, he targets seeking provincial action on long-term solutions around use of the upper lake siphons and creek environmental flow needs (EFN). His view is that the siphons should be considered “part of the region’s tool kit” to access water when needed. With EFN levels, continuing with local biologist monitoring of the creek and then adjusting the EFN throughout the year depending on the needs of the fish stocks and environment is the approach he supports over the existing year-round arbitrary flow rates.
Asked what he considered SCRD success stories during his time as chair, Lee cited the “organization’s excellent response, once again this year to the drought situation on the Sunshine Coast." A big part of that in his view was the successful commissioning of the Church Road Well Field. He looks forward to the SCRD being able to use “lessons learned” in that project, from licensing processes to managing through supply chain concerns in future groundwater supply enhancements, such as well field projects in Langdale and on Keats Island.
Another win in Lee’s eyes has been the “water summit” process. He views that as “moving the district forward in a coordinated manner with other local governments to secure water supply for the entire Sunshine Coast.” Noting that seasonal storage has been in the SCRD’s long-term water plans dating back to when he joined the board in 2018, he said the shíshálh Nation’s raw water reservoir initiative is a “pleasant surprise." He said the regional district is looking at the project from the perspective of both the volume of storage needed and how per-litre costs for that project compare to other water supply options.
As for addressing supply concerns that emerged for the South Pender water system in 2023, Lee said projects to adjust infrastructure to access more of what are “very good water licenses” on McNeil and Harris Lakes are slated for consideration in the 2024 budget process. In addition, proposals related to an emergency connection between the south and north Pender systems, to ensure continued basic supply to both areas should one system go down is also anticipated to come forward in next year’s budget discussions.
Due to confidentiality rules, Lee was unable to respond to some Coast Reporter questions about the board’s Oct. 27 public censure of Sechelt area alternate director Mayor John Henderson. He did comment by commending the board for “not wavering” when faced with making what he called a “difficult decision” and stated that the SCRD’s working relationship with the District of Sechelt “remains excellent."
“We will continue to have representatives from the District of Sechelt at the board table and we appreciate the insights and guidance that they provide to help us move forward as a region,” Lee said.
Building the team
Maintaining and building on the “Team Sunshine Coast” approach that was developed in his first term on the board is another priority for Lee. In the past year, he said the board took that inclusive focus a step further, while in its strategic planning process. Elected officials involved staff in the discussions that led to the updating of that key directional document. He could not disclose the release date for the update but did share that “water and solid waste” figure prominently in it.