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Q&A with SLRD board chair Jen Ford

Re-elected as chair for the 3rd time in a row, Ford talks about the future of the regional district over the next term
Squamish-Lillooet Regional District board chair Jen Ford.

The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District governs an incredibly diverse area stretched over 16,312 square kilometres, from semi-arid ranches and wineries surrounding Lillooet to the isolated mining towns of the Bridge River Valley north of Pemberton and the increasingly urbanized Sea to Sky corridor.

Managing such a vast area is a difficult task, as interests from every region need to be addressed, sometimes with varying solutions. Juggling the competing priorities and keeping meetings running smoothly is the job of the annually rotating chair.

Recently, Whistler Councillor Jen Ford was re-elected as SLRD chair for the third term in a row.

Pique caught up with Ford to chat about the challenges facing the regional district and its priorities for the coming term ahead.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How does it feel to be re-elected chair three years in a row?

Jen Ford: It’s a big responsibility, and I take it seriously that the board has trusted me to continue working in the role. It’s a great team, we’ve been working really hard together, and it’s nice to have their support.

Looking back on your last year as chair, are there any accomplishments the board made that you’re proud of?

I’d say that we’re very proud of the work that we did. There have been a lot of projects, like Britannia Beach, and to see that come together is exciting because it’s been a project that no one really knew what was happening with it. You saw the signs down in Britannia, but it was one of those ‘someday’ projects, but now, to see the buildings actively being built is exciting.

Whenever you see those physical pieces coming together, that’s just what you see, but the hours and years that staff have put into that development are really wonderful to see it finally coming together.

During the last term, the WedgeWoods Phase 7 expansion, Furry Creek expansion and South Brittania all came before the board. How likely do you think it is that we’re going to see these projects come to fruition during this coming term?

These things take a lot of time. I doubt that any of them will be finished in 2023. I don’t know, though.

We’ve given permission to proceed on WedgeWoods, which means we can now work with the developer, and I know that he’s done a tremendous amount of work to get to the point where he can get in front of the board for the permission.

There are pieces to get to the first reading. So I’m hopeful it’ll move quickly through the process, but we also want it to be done right. We want to be sure that we consult with the community that it’s going to affect the neighbours around there and that it is the right fit for the property it’s going on.

Furry Creek … it’s maybe gotten more attention in the last year, but it’s certainly been in the process for a long time, so we’re very close with that one. We’ll probably see that one come very quickly now.

There are still lots of negotiations between staff on community amenity funds and stuff like that. So those negotiations are ongoing, and you really can’t predict how long that will take.

What challenges do you see ahead for the Regional District during this coming term?

I think the whole province is seeing a massive need for a variety of housing. Whether it’s availability, affordability, residents, or second homeowners, we talk a lot about the housing in Area A. It has traditionally been summer cottages, and now it’s becoming permanent housing, and so how residents interact with the community as their permanent home, it’s a big topic, and how we serve the needs of all the residents with workforce and employee housing, there are so many different aspects to it.

Like every other area, our community is undertaking a big, broad look at what the housing needs are, like housing for farmworkers in our agricultural areas. It’s a super big topic; you could write a whole newspaper on it.

We’re trying to address the needs of all the different areas while respecting the regional growth strategy. And we are still keeping our eye on the fact that there are a lot of new needs that aren’t being met, and we want to make sure that we can house the people that live here.


Many of the projects the SLRD deals with, like the Benchlands development in Pemberton (which extends partly into the SLRD) or WedgeWoods development expansions, bring about conversations on the municipalities sprawling out.

How do you deal with the challenges around sprawl in the regional district as each new project grows?

We take the decisions we’re making today very seriously, how the decisions are going to affect the needs of the surrounding residents and the neighbouring communities. To build a complete community is very important, especially when we’re also trying to manage and understand our impact on climate change.

With regional transit, that’s still very much a priority. It feels like it’s stalled out, it feels like we’ve been talking about it for 20 years, and we have. But we’re very encouraged after meeting with the province about regional transit.

They’re very much open to talking about it because their mandate letter states that the Sea to Sky regional transit system is important to approaching our climate goals and completing our community in a meaningful way.

At Whistler’s budget open house on Dec. 1, Mayor Jack Crompton briefly mentioned the region could potentially get the province to add a regional gas tax to fund regional transit. Is this a possibility or a policy of the regional district?

It’s not a policy. I would say that it’s one of the tools [to fund regional transit]. There are many ways to skin a cat, and one of the ways to fund regional transit would be taxpayer money, which I don’t think anyone feels that that’s necessarily the sustainable way to do it. Or a fuel tax like they have in the city, which is an established model of funding regional transit. It’s how they fund Fraser Valley Regional District transit and transit on Vancouver Island.

So it’s not a new thing. It’s not a policy. But it’s one of the options that we’ve put on the table with the province to say, if we were going to fund this, how are we going to fund it? And this is one way of doing it.

What can you tell me about the recent strategic planning session you and the other directors had?

We had that (Dec. 1 and 2), two very full days, where we talked about [priorities for the coming term], and I guess every regional district and municipality goes through this at the beginning of the term because we have some new members and lots of returning members. We have a new CAO, who is very forward-looking. He’s very astute about the needs of the regional district, which is awesome.

It was our opportunity to work with senior staff and the new board and say, How will we work together? What’s important? And how will we get the best out of the next four years? …

We came up with our four priorities, and they’re not very exciting. They won’t make big headlines, but good governance and healthy organizations … housing and regional transit are the focus of our big four priorities.