First Nations unable to find consensus with Whistler over OCP 

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Ongoing talks between Whistler's neighbouring First Nations and the resort municipality over the draft Official Community Plan have broken down and further consultation has been abandoned.

After 18 months of consultation, the two sides are now at an uneasy impasse.

They are unable to see eye-to-eye on Whistler's all-defining land use plan that in no uncertain terms puts a "hard cap" on future development and limits growth within Whistler's boundaries.

That's a hard pill to swallow for the Nations, which see potential for economic development in Whistler and want that potential written right into the municipal plan — a request Whistler reps say is not within its jurisdiction.

"They need to sort out their issues of rights and titles with the two senior levels of government," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. "We made that clear and they were nonetheless continuing to ask us to make those statements in the OCP and we can't do it. So, we're moving forward."

Chiefs from Squamish and Lil'wat Nations said the RMOW "severed discussions" with them last week via a teleconference call and then a letter, paving the way for council approval of first and second readings of the OCP bylaws at Tuesday's meeting.

Reached before the meeting both Squamish Chief Ian Campbell and Lil'wat Chief Lucinda Phillips expressed their displeasure and disappointment in the recent turn of events.

"Well, we're not happy," said Campbell bluntly. "We don't feel our issues have been adequately dealt with."

Phillips in Lil'wat echoed the concerns in Squamish and said: "I am very disappointed. We had a working relationship with the previous mayor and council."

That relationship, painstakingly built on trust and mutual respect over time, is now a little more tenuous.

At the heart of the issue is the Crown land in Whistler; that's land owned by the provincial government.

The Nations do not want to be hindered by Whistler's OCP policy in pursuing economic opportunities on that Crown land in Whistler.

But giving Squamish and Lil'wat some developments rights on Crown land is not within the municipality's power, explained Wilhelm-Morden after the meeting.

"We simply could not go where the First Nations wanted us to go with respect to no regulations on Crown land," she said. "It's outside of our mandate and the provincial government would never approve it."

On Tuesday, council rescinded first reading of the OCP bylaw, passed by the outgoing council in its last meeting in 2011 before the election, and gave first two readings to an updated version of that draft.

It has been 20 years since the OCP has been updated and it's a top priority of this council, as outlined in its Council Action Plan, to have the OCP adopted into law.

But it has not been without its hiccups, most significantly the concerns raised by the Nations.

"We think we've done as much as we can within our authority and within what we think would be an acceptable arrangement to the community," said municipal administrator Mike Furey.

"The language in the RMOW's OCP in terms of acknowledging First Nations interests and trying to take First Nations interests into account is very much in line with what I understand to be the language of other OCP's around the province."

The mayor echoed that sentiment saying there had been extensive consultation and that the record of that consultation was thick.

Despite that, disappointment in the failure to reach consensus was evident.

"It would have been in everybody's best interest if we were just able to work on this together," said Phillips.

When asked if it would colour the relationship between Whistler and the First Nations in the future, Phillips said she did not want it to.

"There's going to be a lot of joint initiatives coming in the future I hope," she said. "I would hope this doesn't jade our future ongoing relationship."

The mayor said she hopes cooler heads will prevail, and that First Nations reconsider their position in light of the RMOW's position.

"If we end up in court, of course it will (change the relationship)," she said.

Chief Campbell said from here the Nations would be speaking to the province, which must ultimately approve Whistler's plan.

The RMOW is scheduling a public hearing for Tuesday November 6 at 6 pm. The public hearing is needed before considering third reading of the bylaws and ultimately trying to get them adopted by the New Year.

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