Ukee Mayor talks tech

While fiber optic cable can’t reach the West Coast fast enough, not all technology fads are worth using tax-dollars to buy into.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Beggars Checklist published in 2009 suggests local governments should take advantage of new technologies to reduce costs and calls out municipalities for lagging behind private industry when it comes to technology.

Ucluelet Mayor Bill Irving said decisions made at the municipal office aren’t made on behalf of shareholders but rather on behalf of 1,700 community members.

“We have to look at the broader picture in the sense of what our community objectives are,” he said. “Each step of moving forward we are obliged morally and technically to go back to the community and say here’s how we’re going to shift gears with your taxpayers’ funds.”

He said if return-on-investment was the district’s primary objective, decisions like replacing Ucluelet’s Seaplane Base Rec Hall with condominiums would be in play.

“The community cannot do those kind of things, they cannot react like that because they’re obliged to their whole community for both the short and long term,” he said.

“When we start looking at new technologies we have to go through the same process. We could react very quickly if we were in industry and say ‘this is going to save us money and this is going to be a good investment, we hope,’ and take a leap at it but as a community you’ve got to think of the safety and benefit to the whole community and their tax dollars.”

He said Ucluelet’s Official Community Plan and Economic Development Strategy lay out clear guidelines for investment.

“That’s hugely helpful because rather than react we laid out, with the community’s input, the kind of things that we saw was important to encourage in the sense of investment and development in this area.”

One of the needs the community has identified is increased Internet capacity and speed and local officials are scrambling to get the stalled West Coast fiber optic project back online.

In March 2012 Telus and BC Hydro partnered on a project that would have brought fiber optic cable from Port Alberni to the West Coast increasing internet capacity and speed.

Hydro agreed to replace over 300 poles along Highway 4 for Telus to coil the cable through and Hydro was confident the new poles would be in by November 2012, allowing Telus to begin coiling in December.

Before shovels hit the ground, Telus balked at a 40 per cent cost overrun and when Telus stepped back to reassess, Hydro cancelled the pole removal plans and the project went into a limbo that is still in effect.

Irving is anxious to hear what he hopes will be good news.

“We’ve been very aggressive with Hydro, Telus and Network BC in saying this is a crucial issue and they have understood that and have been very busy trying to find a solution that can occur very shortly,” he said.

“We hope there’s a very positive announcement very soon on that…I don’t want to lead anybody astray it’s still in the hands of those three or four parties but the West Coast has pushed very, very, hard to have this dealt with.”

He acknowledged it is unique for local government to lobby private business but said it is becoming more common as online communication

becomes more vital. “It is an area that municipalities traditionally weren’t involved in, pushing and lobbying private companies, but in the current environment and the changing technologies those kind of access-infrastructure, roads, hydro, and communication, are vital,” he said.

“We take that message to the Province, not so much the industry, because the Province regulates and then the Province encourages the industry to be aware that it’s important for them to look beyond just the dollars and cents.”

He said without the fiber optic project coming to fruition, it will be hard to attract industry to the West Coast and locals who rely on communicating nationally and internationally may be forced to relocate to larger city centres.

reporter@westerlynews.ca