While municipal elections are rapidly heating up in Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton, in the rural areas of the Sea to Sky, the election is already over.
On Sept. 19, all four of the incumbent electoral area directors on the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) board were declared elected by acclamation.
Sal DeMare will continue to represent Area A (The Bridge River Valley); Vivian Birch-Jones, Area B (Marble Canyon-Duffey Lake); Russell Mack, Area C (WedgeWoods-D’arcy) and Tony Rainbow, Area D (Furry Creek-Daisy Lake).
Acclamations are not new to the SLRD. In the 2018 election, three directors were acclaimed, with Area A being the only contested region.
At the SLRD’s Sept. 7 electoral area directors committee meeting, Rainbow raised the issue of income for the director position, and its role in finding candidates. He originally planned not to run for re-election, but had a tough time finding someone in Area D to replace him.
“I was talking with some younger people, and the response was, ‘Are you kidding me? I can’t afford to do that,’” Rainbow said.
“I can afford to do it because I have a pension, but if our stipend stays as low as it is, you’re basically restricting electoral area directors to people who are independently wealthy, business people who can afford to take 25 to 40 hours off a week ... or someone who has a full pension.”
Area directors are currently paid a stipend of $30,000 a year. This compares to $48,798 for a Whistler councillor for the following term and $14,743 for Pemberton councillors.
The director’s stipend at 40 hours a week works out to a little over minimum wage, though the hours vary considerably week to week.
“I thought I’d bring it up at the end of the term expecting I wouldn’t be around for the next term, that I could speak openly about raising the level of salary. I wouldn’t have people pointing at me and saying you just want more money,” Rainbow said.
Rainbow also noted the time commitment has increased for directors as the regional district has grown.
According to the 2021 census, there are 6,470 people in the SLRD’s four electoral areas: 305 in Area A, 1,624 in Area B, 3,492 in Area C and 1,057 in Area D.
New, often complex development proposals have accompanied the population growth.
In Area C, for example, the WedgeWoods development just north of Whistler has had a handful of expansion proposals over the last term. In Area D, significant expansions to Furry Creek and Brittania Bay are proposed, which could add hundreds of new homes to the area.
At the Sept. 7 meeting, the directors agreed to move forward with the conversation on salary raises, and the issue will be researched further by staff to be discussed in more detail at a future SLRD board meeting.
According to Area B director Birch-Jones, the acclamations could signify apathy among the electorate, but she believes it is more likely an endorsement the directors are doing OK work.
“At least in Area B I have pretty positive feedback; not wild enthusiasm,” Birch-Jones said.
“There’s some value in the wisdom of having older people there, but I think we’d really benefit from having some of the vitality and enthusiasm of younger people.”
Birch-Jones said she is looking forward to continuing to work with the current board to complete longer-term projects.
“The other really nice thing is the four of us electoral directors, we get along pretty well. We’re really different, but I feel like it’s our job to get along, and we’re actually getting some things done. Slowly but surely,” she said.
“So having another term with the four of us, there are different things we’re all working on, longer-term projects, and that gives us a chance to sort of follow up on things.”
As for those longer-term projects, Birch-Jones is looking forward to continuing her work on expanding agricultural capacity in Area B, continuing supporting the local St’at’imc First Nations with various projects, and expanding recreational opportunities in the area.
Birch-Jones also wants to continue working on disaster and wildfire mitigation efforts. Over the last term, the area has been hit hard by large fires, and sustained damage during the 2021 atmospheric river, resulting in landslides across the region.
SLRD board chair Jen Ford, also recently acclaimed as Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) president, welcomed the directors’ return to the board.
“I’m grateful to the four of them for wanting to continue the work, and for putting themselves forward again for another four-year term,” Ford said.
“Each of them has worked so hard for their region, and so we’re really lucky to have that dedication on the board, and I think election time is an opportunity to reinvigorate and hear from the community.
“I certainly look to the community to engage with them, even though they’re not running for their seat ... engage with the board and share where we’re at, what we’ve done, and where the community wants us to go.”