The provincial government’s decision to appoint an interim mayor and council for the new resort municipality of Jumbo makes little sense, unless it is viewed through the prism of the BC Liberals expecting to lose the May election.
The Jumbo ski resort in the East Kootenay was approved by the province earlier this year, after a review process that lasted for 20 years. It has been controversial, with many First Nations and environmental groups opposing it.
Cranbrook native and former NHL player Scott Niedermayer has also opposed the development.
The resort may well be a good thing. It will certainly be a boost for the economy in the region, which is among the most beautiful and breathtaking in Canada. There are numerous ski resorts in the East Kootenay and they attract skiers from many distant places.
However, why would the province appoint an interim mayor and council to administer a municipality that, at this time, has no residents? While the concept of a resort municipality was pioneered in Whistler (under an NDP government) in 1975, Whistler was already an established area with residents and tourist attractions, including an operating ski resort.
Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Bill Bennett, MLA for a neighbouring riding, has been an unabashed supporter of the resort proposal for years. He announced the creation of the new resort municipality on Tuesday. While he says this is nothing new, to get a municipality up and running before it is populated, it is certainly unusual.
His personal backing of the resort proposal raises questions about why this was approved at this time, especially as the opposition NDP is strongly against the resort. Should the NDP form government, it is quite likely that the new government would try and block any development of Jumbo.
Its legal status as a municipality will undoubtedly make that much more difficult.
The appointment of an interim council may well be appropriate, however it would be best left unfinished until after the next provincial election. If the BC Liberals win, the appointment could go ahead. If the NDP win, it likely would not. But an extra level of bureaucracy would not be in place — one that appears at the least to be quite premature.
Playing political games with economic development is risky business.