Editorial: George division hammers Gibsons

Last year’s failed attempt by the SCRD to obtain approval for a long-term loan for water meters in Sechelt seemed like a divisive episode in local politics at the time. But compared to what’s been going on lately in Gibsons, it was like tea for two.

At press time the results of the Gibsons alternate approval process for the Prowse Road lift station retrofit is still unknown. The deadline was June 12 and it will take 372 completed forms to defeat the AAP. Regardless of the outcome, the damage to community cohesion in Gibsons has been profound – to the point that the mayor is talking about bringing in professional help, as if the whole town needs a mediator.

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How did we get here?

Of course it’s all about George.

Appearing before council on May 21, Suzanne Senger of GABC insisted the $1.76-million AAP loan is “clearly about accommodating the George” but the Town has not told this to the public. She cited a 2014 technical report to back up her claim and said staff made it clear at the time that the upgrade was “an off-site servicing cost that the developer was obligated to pay.”

The Town denies this is the case with the project in its current form, arguing the upgrade was needed years before the George application and that its scope goes far beyond the George. The proportional amount of the retrofit cost negotiated with the George developer has been calculated at $144,695.10 and about another $150,000 from the developer will go toward sewer infrastructure.

The Town’s explanations didn’t satisfy because then came the letter. Signed by Ms. Senger and four others, including former mayor Barry Janyk, the letter quotes the Community Charter on local governments being prohibited from providing a “benefit, advantage or any assistance” to a business and says “it appears the Town is covering up a blatant violation of Municipal Law.” The letter also accuses council of providing “millions of dollars in giveaways” to the George developer between 2013 and 2018 and asks council to immediately cancel the loan authorization bylaw.

The “letter and evidence,” GABC said May 29 on Facebook, was sent to Town officials, the RCMP, Attorney General and other authorities “to support a request for a criminal investigation into the George Development Application process.”

Needless to say, calling for a criminal investigation is a very serious matter, and most unnerving and infuriating for the parties who would suddenly find themselves cast as suspects.

Less than a week after the Facebook post, Gibsons chief administrator Emanuel Machado delivered his now infamous seven-minute statement in an open council meeting. His attack, aimed primarily at GABC and Mr. Janyk, has been variously described by his targets as “outrageous,” “spurious,” “false,” “Trump-style,” “vitriolic,” “deeply unprofessional” and containing “exaggerated half-truths.”

Some of the reasons for these claims appear in letters on the facing page.

One charge that has resonated with the public is that the anti-George people have cost the town serious money in legal costs and staff time. That’s time and money the town will never get back, and it’s caused real bitterness in a municipality of extremely modest means.

But the bitterness runs both ways, and it’s a bad scene any way you look at it.

Maybe Mr. Beamish will find the outside help he’s seeking. We can only hope.

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