Squamish says no to borrowing $20 million 

Sutherland admits his council got ‘whooped’ in referendum

Ian Sutherland was elected mayor of Squamish in 2002 under the banner "Squamish New Directions".

But after Squamish residents voted "no" to borrowing $20 million to build community amenities last Saturday (Feb. 26) Sutherland is now facing a community that might not want to follow his new direction.

Saturday’s referendum essentially asked the community if they were in favour of raising property taxes to repay the $20 million loan. The answer was a resounding "no". Of 3,386 votes cast, 2,491 rejected the initiative.

The results mean that Squamish residents won’t be getting the amenities they said they wanted at the last election – a second ice rink, a seniors’ centre, an arts centre and other facilities – at least not as soon as they would have liked.

But the most profound message that may have come out of the vote is about the community’s confidence in council.

"I don’t think the mayor has endeared himself to many of the populous other than the people who seem to be telling him what to do," said Larry Mclellan, an accountant that ran for council in the last election and is one of several experienced businessmen who helped mobilize the "no" vote.

Squamish Chamber of Commerce President Patricia Heintzman said she was disappointed that the council was not able to convince voters to back the $20 million plan. She added that it could reduce Squamish’s ability to contribute during the Olympics.

"I think some of the bigger repercussions down the road are how much having another ice rink might have influenced some Olympic potential," said Heintzman. "I’ll leave that open ended because I mean it could have been anything from teams, to figure skaters or possible Paralympic involvement.

"So a no vote… it sends the wrong message because I think Squamish has been really proactive in trying to be good for 2010.

"From a personal point of view I was disappointed in the result but I was not surprised," said Heintzman. "From what I understand, the reason why people voted against it was because they felt there needed to be more planning and a clear indication of where the money was going and how it would be spent. Whether the district had that information or not, it wasn’t communicated to the people in a way that resonated.

"I also think the no side was much more organized and much more strategic in fighting the referendum and the yes side took some things for granted."

Sutherland, who last fall was considering running for provincial politics in the upcoming election, admitted his council had been "whooped."

"We accept the fact that we got whooped on Saturday but that happens in sports, it happens in life and it happens in politics, but you know life does not come to an end," said Sutherland.

"The message to council is that we have to go back and find a way to move and find a different way of presenting a package that will be accepted by the community. We’ll probably enlist the help of an outside committee to help us move forward and to identify a course of action."

Sutherland disagreed that this vote was a reflection on his leadership.

"We had a 33 per cent voter turnout, which is in some ways high for a single question referendum, but it’s still a small part of the overall population," he said.

"When I got elected and other members of the council got elected we said we would try and build the arts centre and a second sheet of ice and we committed to that and we brought forward a proposal, but people decided not to vote for that.

"Perhaps people are more conservative before they give green lights to spending projects than other communities are.

"But what went wrong, well, for whatever reason we had a hard time convincing people that this was a first step. Had they said yes on Saturday then we would have started an in-depth consultation on all the projects to figure out capital costs and feasibility costs and all those things. But for whatever reason people couldn’t wrap their heads around it."

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