By Les Leyne
Most ghost towns earn the title after emptying out and dying when the boom times end.
But Jumbo Mountain Resort Municipality is starting out as a ghost town and stands a chance of staying that way.
Cabinet minister Bill Bennett on Tuesday released the order-in-council that turns an abandoned Kootenay sawmill site surrounded by uniquely skiable glaciers into a municipality. Bennett named an appointed mayor, council and administrative officer on Tuesday and said they’ll take up their jobs in February.
It’s the latest in a recent series of approvals the B.C. Liberal government has given the long-stalled ski resort plan.
But Jumbo (pop. 0, and holding) still has one big hurdle before it can start living up to its name. That’s the May 2013 general election. The NDP Opposition is looking like a very strong contender and the
party has been unalterably opposed to the project.
Leader Adrian Dix issued a flat-out “no way” a year ago, saying: “It’s a very simple question. We need to say ‘no’ to this proposal. We need to keep Jumbo wild.”
The party issued a news release to that effect and has filled pages of Hansard over the past several years raising objections to the proposal. That’s despite the fact the previous NDP government in the 1990s encouraged the project along, in the early going.
Since then, the project has inched its way through the government-approval mills. After years in environmental approval process, it got a certificate with 195 conditions attached, and set out fulfilling every one. It won one lawsuit over the project and stands ready to contest another one, from an unhappy First Nation.
The master plan for the resort was approved earlier this year. The imminent creation of the empty municipality is another milestone. The designation comes with $260,000 in taxpayer money to help with start-up costs.
One of the more ardent NDP critics of the project is Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald. He accused Bennett of ramming the project through against the wishes of local residents.
Given the 22-year history of the project, it’s hard to buy the idea it’s been rammed through. But it does look like election timing is in play as far as the new municipality is concerned.
Bennett got particularly worked up Tuesday about what might happen to Jumbo if the New Democrats win.
Discussing their criticism, he said it was a perfect example of what to expect from them.
“If they’re going to cancel this project, what else are they going to cancel?” he said, imagining mines, other resorts and logging shows falling like dominos.
“They’re doing what they typically do,” he complained, saying opposition to the approved project undermines investor certainty.
In a letter to the editor earlier this year, Liberal candidate Doug Clovechok, running against Macdonald, put it in starker terms: “The prospect of these NDP authoritarian and ideological zealots once again taking power ought to scare the
living bejeezus out of every British Columbian.”
There’s no question the recent series of green lights will put the NDP’s approach to investment and development under the microscope, should Dix become premier.
He sided with the Ktunaxa First Nation in opposing a project that has won every legal approval it needs, and it won’t go unnoticed by investors.
If he sets out to make good on the multiple stands he’s taken against the project, it’s almost certainly going to involve a major court battle or a huge settlement with the proponents.
“Multiple tens of millions of dollars” is the best guess as to the value of the losses, if the project is killed at this late date just for political reasons.
Sunk costs over two decades and lost opportunity costs could make the stand against Jumbo one of the more expensive undertakings of Dix’s career.
Maybe that’s why Macdonald sounded a touch less certain about his party’s opposition on Tuesday. He said Bennett’s creation of the municipality makes things more complicated.
“To meet the commitments that were made (by the NDP) — it’s a more difficult scenario,” he said.
As he is the first to acknowledge, that was partly the point.
Les Leyne covers the legislature for the Victoria Times Colonist.