Squamish mayoral race more of a walk
Squamish’s mayoral sash is not so much a matter of campaigning as it is a matter of time, and it’s a safe bet that Greg Gardner is resting pretty easy.
The two-year councillor declared his intentions in the summer, when his chances were still anyone’s guess, if only because no one else had made their candidacy known. While Ron Bahm publicly considered the ticket, he opted for a council run instead. When the nomination deadline had come and gone, Gardner found himself in a three-way race with Terrill Patterson and John Erickson, neither of whom is considered a strong opponent.
Still, though confidence comes easy to Gardner, he’s been careful not to appear overly assured. During last week’s all-candidates debates, he used words like “if” and “should,” rather than the off-putting language of “when.” A good move given one of his central planks is nailed to the theme of communication.
“It’s a two way process,” he said. “They call it dialogue for a reason.”
To his mind, strategies like the district’s Create the Oceanfront are examples of effective communication, though Gardner would like to see the public showing up to open houses in greater numbers. While he insists there’s no substitute for face-to-face communication, he admits open houses aren’t for anyone. In addition to the planning department’s Oceanfront Facebook and homepage, Gardner sees a role for digital chat rooms and other means of electronic communication.
So far, he’s been putting paid to his face-to-face beliefs. Though the mayoral debate is not scheduled until Nov. 10, Gardner contributed to both of last week’s debates. Erickson and Patterson, both absent from other twists in the campaign trail, didn’t show up.
While Patterson could not be reached by press time, Erickson said he’s running because district hall is an antidemocratic institution.
“I’m not allowed to question anything when I sit there,” he said. “Why are you going to sit there and listen to them dummies when you’re not allowed to put a point of order on something on the agenda?”
Erickson said he wasn’t aware of the first debate, which was put on by the Arts Council. Though he’s something of a regular face in the municipal foyer, he seldom attends an entire meeting. He cites in camera segments as the reason, claiming they run too late for him to get home safely.
“I haven’t seen you there,” he added. “I look in the Pique in the past three years, and I haven’t seen anything on the Nexen Lands. And that’s a bonfire.”
If there are themes in this campaign, then the Oceanfront — including Nexen Lands — is figuring rather large, not least because the district’s renewed planning process is unfolding in the middle of the race.
Part of that debate is job creation, something all candidates speak to, a trend Gardner calls reassuring. He’s quick to point out his long-standing support for job creation on those lands, a theme that figured into his campaign for councillor.
“I was troubled by the knowledge that, at some point and time, the Olympic construction would come to an end and the residential construction boom wasn’t going to last forever.”
Though there are themes, there hasn’t been a singular issue, something Gardner said is beneficial. According to his math, council makes about 1,000 decisions in a term. With no one issue eating up the electorate’s attention, said Gardner, voters are able to assess candidates on a plethora of issues.
At the outset of the campaign, there were rumours of a Gardner slate, one that included candidates like Doug Race, who ran Gardner’s campaign in 2006. Both men have said no slate exists, though rumours persist.
“The concern I have about a slate and why I’m so opposed to them is why you see the word ‘independent’ on my major election signs,” he said. “I think people should be making decisions for themselves.”
A different shade of green
David Clarkson, tenderfoot, enters Squamish politics
David Clarkson strolls into a Squamish coffee shop, and in his wake dissolve the drab and dour associations that cling so readily to the political set. Not a bad trick in a town with 51 per cent of the population under 35. At 20-years-old, Clarkson doesn’t look like suit material, although he can roll that way if he wants to. Rather, the T-shirt and jeans combo seems more becoming under the shock of shaggy, blond hair.
“I have to defy that college-frat-boy-drinking-every-weekend thing,” he says. “But people who would cut me out right away as a 20 year old probably wouldn’t have voted for me anyway.”
He’s not likely to get too stung about that. In 2006, during the by-election to replace the late Ray Peters, Clarkson was trounced by Greg Gardner. But no biggy. He’s back, undeterred, and has the benefit of a general election to work with, a slightly more pitched atmosphere in which to relate ideas. If Clarkson is a little light in the tie department, he makes up for it when it comes to platform.
First up, affordable housing. Drawing on experience gained from a volunteer seat on the district’s Board of Zoning and Variance, Clarkson has zeroed in on a nifty, if somewhat sexless, solution to Squamish’s affordable housing issue. It’s all about the zoning bylaw.
“That’s a low-hanging fruit on the affordable housing tree,” he says, “and nobody’s bothered to pick it.”
Basically, he wants to reduce the minimum square metres of district lots by 33 per cent, from 690 to 460. Instead of 120 houses on 100 lots, you get 120 houses on 80 lots. It’s a market-based tactic that ramps up supply in order to lower prices. Throw in a few incentives to develop basement suites, and suddenly the district’s 80-per cent-of-market-rate strategy is a little more applicable.
Also a member of the Trails Committee, Clarkson finds a few of his ideas informed by the politics of a district board. There are too many members, he says, though not enough representing the community at large. You wind up with a 20-person body where two members represent 7,500 people, while the rest — all recruited from advocacy groups — answer to a few hundred or less. Smaller committees, more stringent requirements and recorded votes are all changes Clarkson would like to help introduce.
Ideas like that are part and parcel with his campaign. To improve debt management at town hall, he’d like to explore a municipal bond program, which could see debt removed from the hands of banks and into the ownership of residents. That program would be backed up by a bylaw that triggers public hearings whenever debt looms larger still.
At the same time, Clarkson isn’t aloof to issues more in the mainstream. Consider job creation, top of mind for a lot of people in Squamish, island of the commuter.
“It’s a two-sided coin,” he says. “You have the economy, and you have the environment. On the federal level, at least this election, we saw people start to merge those ideas.”
Clarkson subscribes to the sustainability of a mixed economy. A student at Capilano University, he’s happy to see his school expand its presence in town. He has faith in knowledge-based industries and tourism. He sees a place for light industry. It’s all about making Squamish comfortable for these kinds of ventures, and the way to do that, typically, is through land use designations. And to do that, you need an effective Official Community Plan (OCP).
“In theory, the OCP should be this master reference,” he says. “I think it’s turned into a lot of talk and not a lot of action. I’d really like to see the community come together on that.”
Squamish is no stranger to young municipal candidates. Bryan Raiser ran for office in his mid-20s. Paul Lalli, elected at 23, was the youngest ever to sit near the chamber gavel, though he later lost a subsequent mayoral race to Ian Sutherland. Both men are back on the ticket for this November.
“In a nutshell,” muses Clarkson, “when you think about politics, the image that comes to mind is someone in their 40s or older. And the make up of this last council kind of reflects that.”
But what of the young bloods? Is the table too crowded for their elbows?
“In rounding out a good council,” concludes Clarkson, “it’s important to have a lot of perspective on that council.”
Jackson wins second term as SECS president
Imagine working a year-long shift, only punching out when sleep overtakes you. Catherine Jackson doesn’t have to. As president of the Squamish Environmental Conservation Society (SECS), she’s spent the past year whirling from one meeting to another, pecking out letter after letter, digging through mountains of research and generally making herself a key player in the town’s environmental movement — all this while working as a teacher at Capilano University.
Tonight, ankles crossed on a flight of stairs in the back of Brackendale Art Gallery, Jackson is set to orchestrate the organization’s annual convention, included in which is a leadership vote. In another few hours, she’ll find herself at the beginning of a second term.
“I think we serve a useful function,” she says. “People have busy lives, and they’re grateful to have an organization that reflects their values.”
A great many surely are. Meanwhile, a great many have some very nasty things to say about Jackson. To be polarizing is often the result of a job well done, of work that, regardless of final result, has had impact, has drawn attention.
Though one of several files, SECS’ staunch opposition to Garibaldi at Squamish (G@S) has defined the organization over the past year. Working with the Save Garibaldi Group (SGG), SECS spent much of its energy on its fight against G@S, a resort proposal that’s still up in the air.
“The main reason we’re against it is because it’s against Smart Growth principles, will have a huge carbon footprint and will have a lot of environmental damage,” says Jackson.
Of course, the proponents beg to differ, and the resulting schism has been back-framed by a series of technical arguments that often leave laypeople bewildered. Just the same, Jackson sees SECS as crucial in delivering the final decision to the community. The province, through local MLA Joan McIntyre, has said Squamish will have to expand its boundaries to accommodate the development — and that situation will trigger a rezoning process, which comes complete with a public hearing.
“SGG and SECS, working together, have managed to reframe it, by working with Joan McIntyre, as a question to the community rather than how it was originally put as a done deal,” says Jackson.
Aside from work against G@S, Jackson points to the estuary for another success story written in the past year. Though board members and representatives from all levels of government, including Squamish Nation, were at it for some 20 years, the estuary was only this year declared a Wildlife Management Area.
Oceanfront planning has been another of SECS’s ongoing efforts, with Jackson contributing to workshops and stakeholder meetings as the representative of an interest group. Just as she has done with the Oceanfront, so too she contributes to shaping the Official Community Plan, the Downtown Plan, the Upper Mamquam Plan and the transportation study.
Though the SECS organization supported her in a second stint as leader, Jackson is also running for a seat on district council. If she wins, she won’t be able to stay on as SECS president. In that event, someone else will take her place, likely to push on with the same course.
The midwife man
Bryan Raiser and the birth of Squamish
Imagine a pregnancy without end. The body bloats and bloats. Energy reserves are overburdened. Stress and discord send shockwaves through the social unit, and, come birth, the results are something beyond the norm. Perpetual conception — sounds rough, doesn’t it?
Is there a parallel to be drawn here with the District of Squamish? Bryan Raiser thinks so. “We have to streamline development and land proposals,” says the bespectacled candidate for council. “People get into municipal hall, and they’re stuck there for three years. Developers don’t like it because they don’t know where they stand. People don’t like it because they don’t know what’s going on.”
The prolonged pregnancy parallel is perhaps most easily embodied in the Red Point affair, a years-long saga starring the district, Kingswood Properties Ltd and an unsupportive public. The story ends with the developer sent packing, thousands of dollars lighter, only to return with an unpopular idea that requires no rezoning to realize.
“We strung them along for so long,” says Raiser. “We should’ve told them what we want right off the bat. And they’re good developers. They’re who we want around.”
As far as problems go, that particular one is easy to spot, and many sitting members of council have done just that. And yet, solutions, much like Red Point’s rejection, seem a long time coming. Raiser calls for more visionary planning, for a clear and focused direction that lets everyone, developers included, know what fits the future of Squamish.
Some might say that vision has been stalled by the competing interests of a town in flux. Squamish, the theory goes, is in transition, hurdling from old to new, and residents are inextricably caught up in the shift. But Raiser isn’t having that. The transition, he says, is over.
“The common question is: What’s with all the condos? Let’s make jobs. Everyone in the community is on the same page. The whole condo boom with no job creation was a horrible mistake.”
Economic development figures large in platforms across the race. It would be political suicide to run without that plank. For his part, Raiser sees limited lands gone to waste. The industrial park, with its sprawling retail outlets, is not what’s needed. Of course, it’s too late for that. As planners turn their attention to downtown, some residents aren’t holding their breath — though Raiser sees a suitable ending, if not a happy one.
“I think downtown is going to survive,” he says. “What I’d like to see is gathering places, town squares. They create a sense of community.”
It’s hard to have collusion without community. Create that, says Raiser, and suddenly opportunities are born — showcasing businesses for the 2010 Olympics, for example.
Further, healthy communities are often expressive. One of Raiser’s central planks is propped up on the idea of increased communication between resident and politician, whether it’s bike lanes or recycling.
“Everyone agrees, and we’ve agreed for years. But nothing’s happened. We’ve been navel gazing for the past six years, and its time to act — with the community’s input.”
This theme of suspended pregnancy is huge in Raiser’s rhetoric. So, too, are the sometimes freakish births that can result.
“I was excited about the OCP (Official Community Plan) 10 years ago,” he says. “I went to all the meetings and the charettes. But it’s been a long, long time. It’s a great document. The fear is that it’ll be revised to fit the needs of whoever. We have tons of good documents at community hall, but none of them are stuck too. They have no teeth.”
This is not Raiser’s first effort a district midwifery. He’s run before, though success was limited. This time, he says, things are different. He has the time, for one. A stay at home dad and professional writer, he’s got the flexible schedule necessary for low-pay politicking. And, with his name near ubiquitous thanks to his columns, local socials, and volunteering, he’s not at a loss for recognition. He might deny there’s a strategy there, but, just the same, it sure doesn’t hurt.
“How do you get all the new people from Vancouver and Whistler to pay attention?” he asks rhetorically. “You listen to them.”
The occasional salesman
Alan Forsythe on the campaign trail
By Paul Carlucci
As the race for Squamish council wends its often tedious and sometimes illuminating way to mid-November, two very distinct electoral strategies have emerged through the miasma of signage, rhetoric and websites.
There’s the public mirror set — candidates like Ken Perry, John McIllwraith, and Corinne Lonsdale — who promise to be a reflection of community desire in most whatever form it may take. And there’s the platform set — people like David Clarkson, Patricia Heintzman and Deb McBride — who hope public desire will shape itself in the image of their platforms.
Alan Forsythe counts himself in the latter camp, though, as with a good number of candidates jostling for room on this 18-person trail, he doesn’t seem the consummate politician.
That becomes apparent when canvassing in Garibaldi Highlands on Halloween. When a father and daughter answer the door, it takes Forsythe — who, with a checkmark on his forehead, is dressed as a vote — a few minutes of presenting his platform before he zeroes in on the familial implications of his ideas. And, when another voter says environmental ideas are putting him off, Forsythe ignores the cue and explains a vision for green collar economics.
It’s refreshing when someone refuses to pander. But it also paves the way for a tough crowd. Still, he handles ruffled brows and sarcastic dismissals with the thick skin common to reporters — perhaps unsurprisingly, as he worked the print media beat in Whistler, founded the Sea to Sky News three years ago in Squamish, and has since moved on to Squamish Online . So it’s no wonder he can stand next to a guillotine, axe and severed head, absorb a gentle scolding for bringing politics to a candy party, and then easily shrug off the symbolism.
“I’m not running just because,” he says. “I’m running because I think I have a good chance.”
While the front step may test the salesman in Forsythe, the panel brings it out of him. He’s fared well in all debates, ably and smoothly getting his ideas out, all the while tempering his promises with notions of fiscal reality. As with the thick skin, that comfort zone no doubt roots itself in his journalism experience. So too does his ease in interview settings.
Interlinked in the centre of Forsythe’s platform are the planks of affordable housing and economic development. To his mind, a diversified economy requires unique business ideas, and he points to the success of niche and boutique businesses downtown as proof.
“To attract people that are going to bring those ideas,” he continues, “they need to be able to live here.”
And so increased affordable rental stock is a must, though a housing authority should not be considered. District-owned lands, he says, should be offered to developers for rental housing developments. He also supports a warm beds bylaw, legislation that turns back the tide of absentee ownership. Further, Forsythe favours revisiting the zoning bylaw to create small lot single family housing.
“That’s critical,” he says. “It ties in with the economy. If we want young families to move here, we’ve got to create a housing option for them.”
According to Forsythe, the Squamish Sustainability Corporation has covered the gamut in terms of promising industries. Now it’s up to council to facilitate their fruition. Housing is just one part of the wooing process that diversifies an economy. Taxes, lifestyle and zoning are also necessary roses in the courtship bouquet.
“What council could do is get over the image of saying no,” he says. “Squamish has the reputation of a no community.”
In the absence of that reputation, there’s still a number of planning processes that have to unfold. For example, the Oceanfront, he says, has to conclude itself before downtown revitalization can fully take hold. He subscribes to the three equal uses of Oceanfront lands: part commercial, part residential and part civic. The sooner that process is complete — especially with financial issues looming large for the Squamish Oceanfront Development Corporation — the sooner more of downtown’s boutique businesses can enjoy more prosperity still.
“Let’s get more people like that,” he says. “And let’s support them with sound policies so that we’re not going to open conflicting industries after we encourage them to open.”
For profiles of some of the other Squamish
council candidates visit www.piquenewsmagazine.com
White collar compassion
Beyond the bank with Rob Kirkham
By Paul Carlucci
Politics has long been the secondary banquet of the professional. Lawyers and accountants, journalists and business magnates, doctors and teachers. Even — or, depending on how you look at it, especially — actors. In Squamish, the debate tables have been heavy with professional elbows, although there’s still a healthy dose of T-shirts and at least one winter jacket. Regardless, Rob Kirkham is only one professional resume out of several, and the Bank of Nova Scotia manager has been campaigning to distinguish himself.
That’s no easy task in a tank of 18 fish. While his penchant for dark suits and groovy spade of a beard set him apart somewhat, it’s ideas and personality that’ll spell success or failure for the political neophyte.
“In working with my clients, I have experience in delving into all kinds of sectors of the economy and the resources in those sectors,” he says from behind his desk downtown. “What I’m bringing to the table is a background and common sense approach to delving into issues and looking at things as they’ll impact us in the long term, as opposed to the short term.”
There are candidates in this race who return again and again to their professional backgrounds. Consider Larry McLennan, who mentions his career as an accountant at nearly every turn, a suitable message in a municipal climate of climbing taxes and fiscal vice grips, but potentially dangerous in its mono-dimensionality. For his part, Kirkham quickly folds his professional hand, dealing himself an entirely new set of cards. Rather, he frames himself as a compassionate family man, excited about sports and the arts.
Years ago, during trips to Mexico, he was struck by the class divisions stinging that nation.
“Just seeing and talking to people in an experience we’d call poverty, and the isolation of people who were really well off and those just trying to put food on the table.”
Experiences like that set him down a path that saw him wind up as president of the Squamish Community Foundation, a charity group that collects gifts and sets up funds available to the community through grants. Wild at Art and the Helping Hands Society are two local groups who’ve successfully leveraged grants.
Though he lives in Brackendale, his job has him spending a good chunk of his day downtown, where homelessness and drug use aren’t exactly the district’s best kept secrets. Finding solutions for that type of thing is difficult for a municipality, as health and social housing jurisdictions are the purview of senior governments. Kirkham sees council working through the Union of British Columbia Municipalities and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to lobby for solutions.
“I’ve been observing the struggles that downtown has been going through, and experiencing them,” he says.
Asides from his employ with the bank, he’s been president and director with the Chamber of Commerce. The Downtown Neighbourhood Plan is a document Kirkham favours, though, when it comes to planning paradigms, he thinks Smart Growth enjoys support of a somewhat dogmatic nature. For example, were he seated at the current council, he would’ve voted in favour of the recent Paradise Trails equestrian community rezoning application.
“With the plan they put forward, I don’t see it as a big burden financially — water, sewer, roads, lighting and all that stuff. When we talk about the vibrant and varied Squamish, I think this is a part of it.”
At the same time, he fears a bedroom community and believes in Smart Growth development downtown. With a residential base established, the time has come for increased job creation. There was a time when Kirkham himself was one of the town’s many commuters.
“My life was consumed with being at work and being on the road, and I feel I and my family suffered from that,” he says. “And I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”
Comments like that feed the compassionate persona the man presents in favour of his professional identity.
“I’m so much more than that,” he says. “That’s just the base. That’s not enough.”