Lost in the translation 

Squamish council gives lukewarm support to language program

The Olympics will put Whistler and the Sea to Sky corridor on the map like never before, and Squamish - designated the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada - is well-positioned to attract a growing number of international mountain bikers, climbers, kayakers, wind/kite surfers, campers, and more.

But while the world is welcome, there are concerns that the language barrier could ultimately pose problems for visitors during and after the 2010 Games.

At the June 2 council meeting, councillors agonized over the wording of a letter of support to the Sea to Sky Multi-Cultural Networking Project. The project has a total budget of $2 million dollars, and will include everything from bilingual signage to "Ask Me" buttons in many different languages to establishing a database for communities that identify who is available to assist visitors and what languages they speak.

"The primary part is making ourselves more friendly for people that speak languages other than English," explained Mayor Greg Gardner.

While the project was looking for a letter of support, the mayor also explained that they were essentially committing $7,500 to the project. Whistler has already approved $15,000.

The District of Squamish has also looked into providing an additional $15,000, which would be contingent on the project renting space - if available - at the Squamish Adventure Centre. That money would be coming back to the district in the form of rent.

Councillor Corinne Lonsdale had some reservations about supporting the program.

"My first concern is committing to give (the project) space in the Adventure Centre. We need to look at it to see what the best return is to the community," she said. "I'm also concerned about the $17,500 for bilingual signs at either end of the community."

In addition to her concerns about spending money on bilingual signage, she also questioned how it would work if someone was looking for assistance in another language. "I'm skeptical, and can't support the motion," she said.

Mayor Gardner pointed to the fact that Squamish is growing its tourism industry, and that not everybody is comfortable speaking in English. As for bilingual signage, he says there is economic opportunity attracting visitors from Quebec and other French speaking communities.

Paul Lalli also supported the project.

"We will have the world come to us (in 2010) and this was part of that, and to be welcoming," he said. "When you can't speak the language it makes it hard to get around. Meanwhile Squamish, B.C. is full of different cultures, and this is one way to promote and enhance that."

Councillors Patricia Heintzman and Rob Kirkham both supported the concept of the project, although Heintzman would like to see the money come out of the district's contingency fund or economic development fund, and Kirkham wanted to add a caveat to their letter that council's support was on the condition of renting space in the Adventure Centre.

Lonsdale supported the rewording of their statement of support, but still couldn't support the concept.

"This is contingent on getting a grant from Western Diversification - we can't get a grant to dredge the (Mamquam) Blind Channel but we can get a grant to have interns that speak different languages?"

Councillor Bryan Raiser was concerned about any new expenditures, and wanted to check with the Adventure Centre before approving any statements. "Times are tough and we don't know what's going on with the Adventure Centre. I would just like to send a letter of support like they're asking... (rather) than putting any dollar value (on our support," he said.

He joined Lonsdale in opposing the motion. 

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