Province could oversee future large-scale events in B.C. 

Squamish festival producer says 'blanket policy' not the answer

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JIM HEGAN / SQUAMISH MUSIC FESTIVAL - OVERSIGHT NEEDED  Squamish Valley Music Festival producer Paul Runnals questioned a recent request to the province from Penticton officials for greater oversight of large-scale events in B.C.
  • Photo by Jim Hegan / Squamish Music Festival
  • OVERSIGHT NEEDED Squamish Valley Music Festival producer Paul Runnals questioned a recent request to the province from Penticton officials for greater oversight of large-scale events in B.C.

Up until the morning of the Boonstock Music Festival, a three-day event held this August in Penticton, local officials were still unsure if a company had even been hired to provide security for the more than 8,000 expected to pour in over the long weekend.

By the end of the festival, policing costs had risen to roughly $200,000 above the original estimate as the RCMP was forced to step in to provide on-site security due to safety concerns, and a 23-year-old Alberta woman was dead of a suspected drug overdose.

Now, officials from the Okanagan community are asking the provincial government to oversee future large-scale festivals in B.C. in an effort to streamline the planning process for event producers and promoters, although the move has some in the Sea to Sky wondering if it's the right approach.

"What we're looking for is a regulatory framework that would actually be of benefit to a promoter who could come into an area and say, 'What do I need to do to bring my event into town and make all the local officials satisfied with my planning?'" said Penticton Mayor Garry Litke. "There would be a place that a developer could go — a one-stop shop if I can put it that way — rather than what currently exists, which is a patchwork of agencies and ministries."

Litke and a delegation from Penticton met with B.C. Attorney General Suzanne Anton at the Union of British Columbian Municipalities Convention in Whistler last week, along with representatives from the Ministry of Health, the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch and RCMP. He's asking for a set of criteria created by the province that would have to be met by prospective event producers, and that would ostensibly provide easier access to a range of services within Victoria's jurisdiction.

"There should be a checklist created by the provincial government because local governments don't have that kind of authority over health, for example, or liquor control, transportation, highways, or any of that, whereas the provincial government does have that kind of jurisdiction, and that's all we're looking for," Litke explained, adding that Anton was immediately receptive to the idea.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice declined to speak on the record as discussions are still in the preliminary stages, but confirmed that several ministries are working together on developing guidelines to help B.C. communities plan for future outdoor events.

With no confirmed details in place, the executive director of the Squamish Valley Music Festival (SVMF), Paul Runnals, is wary of supporting what he called a "blanket policy" for future events in the province.

"The devil's in the details; it's all in the way in which something like this will be brought forward, and to try and take it up to the provincial level and make the province responsible for oversight in a wide range of communities with a wide range of events, it's really hard to write a playbook that would cover that," he said. "Look at legislation and how complex and frustrating that can be for event organizers, and now try to imagine extending that oversight across every aspect of event safety planning."

In its fifth year, the SVMF doubled its attendance from the previous summer with over 35,000 a day visiting the 33-hectare site. Yet, according to Runnals, there were fewer problems than in 2013.

"(That's) an indication that the process can work just fine without necessarily escalating the level of bureaucracy," he said. "It just requires a commitment from the event organizers and certainly some commitment in time and resources from the local authorities."

Acting Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman was more receptive to Penticton's proposal, saying increased provincial oversight could benefit new promoters, but said it's still too early to know for sure if Victoria's involvement is necessary.

"It really depends on how the provincial government puts it together," he said. "Will they make something that's ridiculously over-layered with requirements?"

Richman and village officials also met with Anton and other provincial representatives at UBCM last week to discuss the Pemberton Music Festival, which returned to Spud Valley with new producers HUKA Entertainment after the inaugural event proved a logistical headache in 2008.

Richman requested the province allow a bowl-style drinking area rather than the beer garden that was in place at the festival. He also wants to use a higher proportion of private security instead of RCMP next year to cut down on policing costs.

"So if those are the sorts of issues the (province) is going to look at, and try to fine-tune and make it easier for event promoters to wrap their heads around, then for sure it's a benefit to them," he said. "But if it's really going to add another 15 layers of approvals, and if those approvals are going to be redundant with the approvals that we already require on the municipal level, then that's just making it more complicated."

HUKA Entertainment could not be reached for comment before press time.

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