JJ Belanger has staked a claim on Tofino’s campaign trail by announcing he will be running for mayor in the March 6 byelection.
Belanger, the former chair of Tourism Tofino and current general manager of Crystal Cove Beach Resort, told the Westerly News that he was encouraged to put his name on the ballot by community members concerned about a growing divide between tourism and residents.
“I’m getting a lot of people in the community that have approached me and said, ‘Tofino at this point needs a business leader to step into the role,’” he said. “We need to bridge the gap that occurred specifically last summer between the community and tourism and I think I can do that.”
He said the past summer’s tourist season was the worst he’s seen in terms of negative impacts on residents and he believes the town’s tourism economy is growing at an unsustainable rate.
“There was definitely a disconnect between tourism and the community. It’s been there ever since I moved here over eight years ago, but it really came to a head this summer with all the issues that we had,” he said. “I really hated this community this summer because it just wasn’t the Tofino that I know and I’ve got long-term guests that approached me and said that they’ve lost interest in coming to Tofino in the summer, so we have a problem, nobody seems to be really talking about it and we need to deal with this…We’re setting ourselves up for failure if we think we can keep developing and adding more and more and more to an infrastructure that’s built to support a town of 2,000 people.”
He added he believes it’s time to “push pause” on developing new tourism accommodations.
“We’re a community that lives with tourism and we have to make it so we can actually do that, that we can actually live here and it’s becoming more and more difficult,” he said. “It’s always been talked about, but nothing has come of it, so we need to see more action from local government.”
Belanger hopes to launch a tourism management committee to develop a clear vision for Tofino’s future.
“We’re just spinning in circles at this point and I think it’s time to start thinking about the future, not one year, not three years, but 10 years, 15, 20 years. What do we want to be when we grow up?,” he said. “I think it’s really important that we come together as a community and we’re all singing from the same song sheet, which is not the case right now.”
Belanger is the third candidate to announce a bid for the mayor’s seat, left vacant by the resignation of Josie Osborne after she was elected Mid-Island Pacific Rim MLA in October.
In December, municipal councillors Dan Law and Andrea McQuade both announced their plans to run for mayor and each resigned their council seat to do so, which means the town will also be electing two new councillors on March 6.