On the eve of Jumbo Glacier’s official creation as a municipality, a West Kootenay environmental group filed a court challenge against the appointment of a council for the community, claiming it was unconstitutional.
The West Kooteay Eco Society filed a petition in Nelson court Monday, February 18, applying for a judicial review on the creation of Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality. The application argues that the B.C. government’s appointment of a mayor and council for the new municipality without any electors violates the constitution.
“Our action today is in defence of democracy,” said Eco Society executive director David Reid. “Every Canadian should shudder at the idea of a provincial minister appointing a mayor and council for a municipality with no residents. It’s an affront to our constitution and our democracy.”
According to the Eco Society, there is a common law understanding that a municipality is a democratic institution created for a public purpose. Therefore, the creation of a municipality with no residents for the purpose of furthering a private development is inherently unconstitutional, said the society.
“We couldn’t sit by and see this perversion of democracy move forward in an area that we have fought to protect for 20 years,” said Reid. “We’re confident that the court will agree with us, and that the Jumbo Wild community will support our efforts.”
A judge will review the case and decide whether there are grounds for the case to proceed. The BC Attorney General and the Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development have been named as parties in the case. Based on previous judicial reviews, the process could take up to six months to resolve.
Last November, the Ktunaxa Nation also filed an application for a judicial review of Jumbo’s creation over concerns about consultation rights for aboriginal title holders.
Bill Bennett, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development and Kootenay East MLA, said he cannot comment on the Eco Society’s legal action “except to say that government is confident in our decision to use a municipal structure to facilitate the development of this important project.”
He clarified that when local government legislation was changed last spring, it was not to allow the creation of a municipality without residents.
“We changed the legislation last spring because the pertinent section was silent on whether a mountain resort municipality could be created without residents. The legislation did not say there had to be residents,” said Bennett. “We were given a legal opinion that we should clarify the point so we did.
“There have been municipalities created in the past by a B.C. government that had no residents. This is not unique. We chose this structure because it is best suited to dealing with the land use issues that the project will have to settle in the new community and because the Regional District of East Kootenay asked us to use a mountain resort municipality,” he said.
Meanwhile, the appointed council for Jumbo Glacier mountain resort municipality will have its first official meeting on Tuesday, February 19 at 1 p.m. in Radium, using the Village of Radium Hot Springs council chambers.
Radium’s mayor Dee Conklin will call the meeting to order, before Radium’s corporate officer Mark Read swears in Jumbo’s Mayor Greg Deck and Councillors Nancy Huganin and Steve Ostrander.
The first business of Jumbo’s council will be passing a resolution that, although Mayor Deck is given a seat at the Regional District of East Kootenay table, he will not attend board meetings unless expressly asked each time by the board chair.
Phil Taylor will be appointed Acting Corporate and Financial Officer.
The council will also vote on a set of procedural bylaws, such as which bank the municipality uses, council renumeration and expenses, and freedom of information and protection of privacy policies.
“We have no delegations. All of it will be public; no in camera session is planned,” said Greg Deck.
Environmental group Wildsight has organized a rally outside Jumbo’s first council meeting tomorrow, starting at 12:15 p.m.
Spokesperson Robyn Duncan said that previous rallies have drawn hundreds of people, and a shuttle is running to bring Jumbo Wild supporters from Nelson.
Wildsight is against the appointment of a council for Jumbo when there are currently no residents.
“The mayor and council have been appointed, yet there is no population for them to govern. They have to adopt an official community plan, yet it cannot deviate from the master development agreement of the Jumbo Glacier Resort. Local government officials should be elected by the population they are representing, not appointed to represent a developer,” said Duncan.
Mayor Greg Deck said he hopes the rally does not disrupt the council proceedings, “but rather use the occasion to demonstrate that not everyone is pleased with this step in the process.
“I hope that civil discourse prevails in our region to the extent that public meetings are still allowed to occur unobstructed,” said Deck.