The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation is pushing hard to bring the proposed West Coast Multiplex into reality, but Tofino’s support for the project remains on thin ice.
A 2012 referendum gave the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District permission to fund up to $450,000 of a potential multiplex facility’s annual operating costs through West Coast property taxes. The project’s current plan is for an ice-rink to be built first and a swimming pool to follow.
The capital costs to build the facility, estimated at around $15 million, are not expected to be covered by local taxpayers as the West Coast Multiplex Society has long assured that the multiplex would be built using funds from donations, grants and potential sponsorships.
The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation recently announced that it plans to ask the federal government to cover 90 per cent of the capital costs through a Recreation Infrastructure Grant.
“The Nation is very much in support of this initiative, clearly. The fact that you have a variety of First Nations and non First Nations communities working together around a shared interest around youth and health, I think, hits all of the high points for funding applications and for the kind of reconciliation in action that the Nation wants to move forward with our neighbours,” Tla-o-qui-aht representative Eli Enns told Tofino’s municipal council during their Jan. 9 regular meeting.
“We also are always thinking long-term and we see the development at the airport lands as something that could potentially be a key to moving other developments forward in that part of our territory.”
The Regional District’s West Coast Committee—comprised of Tofino, Ucluelet, Electoral Area C and the Ucluelet First Nation—agreed to write a letter of support for Tla-o-qui-aht’s grant application during the committee’s Jan. 17 meeting, though Tofino mayor Josie Osborne was the least enthusiastic at the table.
Ucluelet Mayor Mayco Noel expressed excitement about the potential multiplex and noted that the proposed site near Long Beach Airport could open up the airport lands for further development.
“The other positive for this is the simple fact that it’s Tla-o-qui-aht stepping up and really endorsing this. As much as it’s going to benefit both of our communities [Tofino and Ucluelet], I think it’s going to benefit them the best with accessibility and stuff,” he said.
He added the West Coast Multiplex Society has been working towards the project for at least 20 years and should be commended for their efforts to date.
“This is the closest they’ve been, so it would be wonderful if this could actually step forward and it would give the airport lands a new start. I’m very supportive of it,” he said.
Electoral Area C Director Kel Roberts said he agreed “100 per cent” with Noel and Alan McCarthy of the Ucluelet First Nation said his government has fully supported the project “since the beginning.”
“It has been a long time and, on the West Coast, we need things like this,” McCarthy said adding his government is “very supportive” of the Tla-o-qui-aht’s efforts.
Mayor Osborne however, noted her community has been clear that it wants a swimming pool instead of an ice rink and that, while the Multiplex Society has suggested a swimming pool would be built immediately after the rink, she disagreed that the rink should be built first.
“I think everybody knows that Tofino council has been a bit more reticent about the project, especially as a stand-alone ice-rink project, than maybe some of the other jurisdictions have,” she said.
She added though that she would vote in favour of writing a letter of support to the Tla-o-qui-aht.
“Tofino council is supportive of Tla-o-qui-aht’s desire and rights to self-determination to say, ‘This is a project we want to spearhead and take on,’” she said.
“The question of ownership and operation is still very much, I think, in everybody’s mind and I think it’s fair to say that, generally speaking, Tofino council hasn’t supported the regional district as a local government taking on this project and doesn’t feel that it’s the right project to invest taxpayers’ money, and community effort, into as it’s proposed with the ice-rink.”
READ MORE: Tofino and Ucluelet at odds over ice rink
She also suggested that the project’s future weighs on the Tla-o-qui-aht’s grant application.
“What’s most important is that we continue to work together,” she said.
If the application is successful, how do we best set Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation up for success. And, if the application is not successful, then I think, especially from the Tofino council perspective, we really just have to ask ourselves where do we go from here and how much time and effort do we continue to put into it.”