Province’s resort strategy will be put to test in next few months

They are registering protesters for a rally this weekend. No, not in New York; the Republican convention doesn’t start until next week. This weekend’s action is at Sun Peaks, where a small group of First Nations activists are continuing their protest of that resort’s development.

The protest won’t include those First Nations members who have set up shops in Sun Peaks, and it is not part of the Assembly of First Nations conference that will take place this weekend in nearby Kamloops. However, the protest will capture headlines and be seen on television news for a day or two.

But beyond its 24-48-hour life as a news story, what will the First Nations protest mean in the context of the provincial government’s coming resort strategy, and in the context of the First Nations treaty process?

They are separate issues, but they often overlap. The recent purchase of the Mount Baldy ski area near Osoyoos by a consortium that includes the Osoyoos Indian Band, and the consortium’s plans to expand the resort, are held up as an example of what is possible.

The proposed Cayoosh resort is at the other end of the scale. Four years ago this month the project received an environmental certificate, after four years in the environmental assessment process. But virtually nothing has happened since then, as far as the resort’s development, because of First Nations’ opposition.

"The basis of this whole problem comes from land claims and the failure of senior levels of government to deal with that," Al Raine said of his Cayoosh project in 2000.

"They see me come along and see the government handing me their land. They’re upset with 100 years of European encroachment. They’re upset with governments not listening to them. They’re upset with Whistler."

Resort development is a small part of the much larger issue of treaties and land claims. A treaty process was started under the Social Credit government of Bill Vander Zalm more than 15 years, and seven premiers, ago. Progress, not to put too fine a point on it, has been slow.

Meanwhile the provincial government is formulating a resort development strategy based on the recommendations of the B.C. Resort Task Force. The task force’s primary objective was "to promote resort development in British Columbia through the identification and elimination of the barriers to investment, development and expansion."

Resort development means economic growth; construction entails a lot of spending over several years. Presumably that will be followed by growth in tourism, although most people in the industry feel significantly more money needs to be spent on marketing B.C. as a tourism destination in the next few years for that to really happen.

But just as some people in the mining industry saw the decision on the South Chilcotin park as a test of the government’s support for mining, the next few months may be a test of the government’s enthusiasm for resort development.

The environmental assessment of the proposed Jumbo Creek resort in the Kootenays has been completed and a decision to approve or kill the project should be announced next month.

The Garibaldi at Squamish resort proposal, which was challenged by the Squamish Nation after new investors expanded the scope of the project, will be back in court next month. Subject to the court’s ruling, the project is at the stage where provincial approval or denial should be handed down soon.

Expansion plans at Mount Mackenzie near Revelstoke and at Red Mountain in Rossland may be more dependent on investment than government approval, but what happens at those resorts will also be considered when people try to decide if the province is serious about resort development and investment, or just talking.

Meanwhile opponents to resort development may rightly ask how many resorts B.C. really needs. While the provincial government is doing what it can to encourage investment and development, there has been less effort put towards defining the market for resorts. Who is going to fill the beds?

The Olympics will generate interest in B.C. as a tourism destination, but a long-term answer to that question is needed. A long-term answer may even alleviate some of the concerns of opponents of resort expansion and development and help the provincial government with its resort strategy.


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