Not that this province makes a lot of sense at the best of times, but the indignation-dressed-up-as-law currently being argued in the Vancouver Court House is something that could only happen in B.C.
We speak here of the law suit which Nan and Diane Hartwick of Powder Mountain Resorts have filed against the province and former premier Bill Vander Zalm. They allege that back in 1987 Vander Zalm interfered in the evaluation process which led to Callaghan Resorts winning the right to make a proposal to develop Powder Mountain for skiing, rather than Powder Mountain Resorts.
The fact that two independent studies show the area would make a lousy commercial ski area is moot, of course. The Hartwicks want $5 million compensation for the way they were wronged, or failing that, the right to waste multi-millions of dollars trying to develop a mountain that does not work as a ski area.
What makes this a particularly British Columbia story is the politics involved. The first road into the Callaghan Valley, where Powder Mountain is located, was built in the 1960s by an entrepreneur with strong ties to the Social Credit government of W.A.C. Bennett. He, too, was going to develop a ski area in the Callaghan. Instead, he built a road which ran through all the best timber in the valley, which he removed, and then forgot all about the ski area. That’s why the road into the valley follows a somewhat meandering route, rather than the path of least resistance.
Al and Nancy Greene Raine were briefly interested in developing Powder Mountain in the early ’70s, but are now thankful they weren’t allowed to go ahead.
In the late ’70s, after successive NDP and Socred governments had laid the groundwork for the development of Whistler Village and Blackcomb, the Hartwicks came along with various plans for Powder Mountain. Also strong Socred supporters, the Hartwicks made several announcements through the early and mid-80s regarding development plans that were pending and international financing for a resort that was going to be twice as big as Whistler.
Problem was, the Hartwicks were never given development rights. They claim they won a proposal call in 1985, but their suit is based on the province’s 1987 decision to give Callaghan Resorts the right to make a proposal. And even if they win their suit they won’t be given any development rights. The most they can hope for is a few million in cash and to perhaps expose some underhanded doings of the Vander Zalm government, if anyone cares anymore.
The Hartwicks initially felt they’d get a sympathetic response from the NDP, after Vander Zalm and his Socred successors were thrown out. Instead, after initial overtures, they’ve been ignored by the governments of Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark. There might have been a message in there, but the Hartwicks missed it.
Meanwhile the provincial government has frequently espoused the virtues of ski area development, but it may come out of the Powder Mountain suit with less of an appetite for skiing. If Powder Mountain becomes an albatross, and if Wolfgang Richter doesn’t come up with the money to cover expenses with his Garibaldi at Squamish resort proposal, people may shy away from ski area development the way they used to shy away from the Vancouver Stock Exchange.
Ironically, this comes at a time when the government is being asked to approve Al Raine’s proposed ski area at Cayoosh.