After 20 years, Jumbo still in limbo

Last week in the legislature offered good reminders of how surreal things can get in the grand old building.

Last week in the legislature offered good reminders of how surreal things can get in the grand old building.

The issue of whether the Jumbo Glacier resort near Invermere would be approved was big. Opponents, including former NHL star Scott Niedermayer, were in Victoria. The New Democrats backed them, and raised the issue in question period.

What’s surreal about that, you might ask?

Coincidentally, the next day I was clearing files off an old iMac. And I came across my last column about the controversial issue of approval for the resort. It was from October 2004.

Seven years have gone by and the governments involved haven’t been able to say yes or no to the giant project, which could include some 6,000 housing units, 23 lifts, stores, restaurants and jobs. And bring more than $500 million in economic activity.

The 2004 column noted that occasion was surreal as well. For one thing, the project had already spent 13 years in various efforts to get approvals and translate dreams into construction.

Then resource minister George Abbott had just announced that the project had passed provincial environmental assessment review. But even though the Liberals actually had a resort minister at the time, charged with promoting such developments, Abbott distanced the government from the proposal.

The real decision would be made by East Kootenay Regional District directors, he said. Look over there.

Seven years later, Lands Minister Steve Thomson has the responsibility for approving or rejecting the master development agreement for the project. He says he needs to think about the costs and benefits, First Nations opposition, community attitudes and other factors.

You can argue either way. Jumbo would be the only resort in North America where you could drive to high glacier skiing. The valley has already been logged and mined. The jobs and investment fit Premier Christy Clark’s stated agenda.

But the resort would hurt existing heli-skiing businesses. It could damage grizzly populations, which concerns First Nations and reduces ecotourism activities.

The Ktunaxa First Nation, an effective band with its own resort development and casino, opposes the project in territory it claims. An economic assessment it commissioned found the resort wouldn’t increase economic activity, as it would just take customers from other B.C. ski hills.

What’s really striking is that seven years have gone by without a decision. The issue has divided the community. The developer has kept spending money. Opponents have spent money too. Government workers have been preparing reports and memos, for which you have been paying.

And government is unable to say, this makes sense, or no, it does not.

Politically, the shadow of provincial Conservative leader John Cummins looms over the decision. If the government decides not to allow the project, Cummins will complain about the Liberals granting First Nations a veto on development.

Cummins likewise loomed over the week’s other wildly surreal moments.

On Monday, Liberal MLA Eric Foster introduced a private members bill calling on the legislature to support the federal government’s repeal of the long-gun registry.

That’s silly. It’s a federal issue; the province has no role.

But MLAs from both parties spent an hour talking about guns and crime, a remarkable waste of scarce legislature time (and the $100,000-a-year MLAs’ time). Liberal MLA Bill Bennett argued people need guns to defend themselves against the state, suggesting he’s got some concerns about just where Christy Clark is going with the government. Or something.

So why such a waste of time and money?

Because the Liberals want to line up on the side of people who think the gun registry was a terrible idea — voters who might drift to Cummins and the Conservatives.

Less time on pointless gun talk, and more on speedy project decisions would serve the public better.

Footnote: Bennett, who represents the Jumbo resort region, used a private member’s statement to blast both parties for their handling of the project approvals. “The twists and turns in government process over the last 20 years on this project are a disgrace.” he said. “All members should be embarrassed by the unjust way that this proponent has been forced to tread water for 20 years by both political parties in this House today. I ask, on behalf of my region: Please, let’s have a decision.”