OP/ED: Lillooet rapidly becoming basket case of municipal governance in B.C.
IntegrityBC is calling on the provincial government to appoint a conciliator to try and resolve the escalating disputes in the town of Lillooet over local governance and water management.
IntegrityBC’s call follows on the heels of the government rejecting the request of 336 residents for an inquiry into town affairs earlier this month and came hours before area citizens meet to discuss water management issues.
“Since the shocking resignations in January of former mayor Ted Anchor and councillor Kevin Taylor after only a month in office, the situation in Lillooet has deteriorated to a point which can only be described as municipal governance run amok,” said IntegrityBC executive director Dermod Travis
According to IntegrityBC, the essential trust that is required between any government and its citizens has been broken by various events, perhaps irreparably. Increasingly, citizen groups are being pitted against each other and in turn their local council.
Local residents are hotly debating a variety of issues, including spiraling town spending, a proposed $10 million water system and town governance.
According to a recent study by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, from 2000 to 2009 Lillooet saw its population decline by 16 per cent to 2,300, against a province-wide increase of 12 per cent. Despite this alarming drop, per capita spending jumped by 83 per cent during the same period, the 27th worst performance of any town or city in the province.
Lillooet is about to begin construction on a controversial $10 million water system capable of serving a population base of approximately 30,000, while residents remain in the dark over its sustainability and long-term operating costs. Town officials are seemingly refusing to consider alternatives that may be less costly.
“At best the relationship between citizens and officials in Lillooet could be called dysfunctional,” said Travis. “While the government has rejected a request from residents for an inquiry, IntegrityBC believes a conciliator may be able to bridge the widening gulf between residents and town officials.”
IntegrityBC recommends that a conciliator review and report on local governance, town spending and water management. The work of a conciliator should include the commissioning and release of an independent analysis on competing proposals for the town’s proposed water system, including long-term operating costs.
“With more-and-more smaller B.C. communities facing uncertainty over their future, Lillooet could very well be the proverbial canary in the coal mine,” said Travis. “That’s why even if there’s a cost to the government for a conciliator, their report may provide a cautionary tale and road map for other smaller communities in B.C. on how to avoid the predicament that Lillooet now finds itself in.”
Dermot Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.