Tofino will elect a new mayor and two new municipal councillors on March 6. In an effort to keep the community informed of their choices, the Westerly News will be asking each candidate a question and publishing their answers in the newspapers leading up to the March 6 byelection. For this week, each candidate was asked ‘What do you think is the biggest issue facing Tofino right now and how do you plan to address it?’ Responses were limited to a maximum of 300 words. Below are the responses from Tofino’s three mayoralty candidates: J.J. Belanger, Dan Law and Andrea McQuade.
Although Tofino is facing several significant issues, I believe the top of the list is the current pace of development and the lack of infrastructure and water capacity to support it. A few years ago, the District of Tofino, Mayor, and Council discussed limiting development to 2%; or the equivalent of 26 units per year, which is what our current system can handle. And yet, in the past year and looking ahead to 2022, we have over 10 small/large housing and tourist accommodation retrofits, as well as new developments, that are proceeding without serious consideration of water to service them. Based on my calculations, this would mean another 2,000 residents and tourists in our community by the summer of 2022.
Case in point: in 2020, almost 300 new units were added to the hospitality mix, including Surf Grove, the expansions at Hotel Zed and Duffin Cove, plus new housing developments at Yew Wood and Gibson’s Heights. Over the next couple of years, we have development permits moving on another approximately 250 units, including affordable housing at District Lot 114 and Sharp Road, the reopening of the Maq Hotel, the new 60-unit RV park at Tin Wis (Tla-o-qui-aht land), the new Woodsmere neighbourhood, and the new resort being built between Crystal Cove and Ocean Village.
Again, Tofino simply does not have the water infrastructure to do this. And if it’s a dry spring and summer, we will be reliving the shuttering of our town like in 2006 when we ran out of water before the Labour Day weekend.
Bottom line: we need to expand our water storage capacity now before we all have to swallow the cost of trucking in potable water for our community to survive.
There are important issues facing Tofino, and many opportunities. Most importantly, our community has the ability to tackle big challenges head on with open dialogue, optimism, and determination. Yes, we are in a pandemic. Yes, our wastewater treatment plant project is a priority. Yes, housing availability and affordability need to be tackled. But as Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
One overarching challenge Tofino faces now and into the future is how to constructively and manage our tourism industry so that Tofino continues to benefit from tourist visitation, while at the same time remaining a socially, fiscally, and environmentally responsible, resident centred community. I’ll support multiple approaches to deal with immediate tourism related pressures on traffic, parking, bylaw, hospital, emergency, policing services, and housing. I’ll establish a tourism management committee, and work with staff and Council on a new Tourism Master Plan, which will focus on broader community capacity, resident quality of life, and lived experiences. I’m confident that many tourism related issues will be mitigated through community focused policies, projects and bylaws.
Let’s act quickly to ensure Tofino remains a vibrant, healthy and happy place to live long into the future.
I tend to push back against questions that seek to prioritize some issues over others – by ranking the issues that Tofino faces and prioritizing one, we run the risk of ignoring how deeply intertwined all community needs and benefits are.
I know that there are starkly different, competing visions for Tofino’s future at play within our community. We are talking everyday about capacity, tourism and industry while holding up ideals of community fabric, family life and affordability. To separate these issues ignores the complexity of the conversations that need to be had and actions that need to be taken to support and plan for equitable and balanced benefit. I know that our resources, families and community need support – and I know that we have an opportunity to move forward together as whole community to advocate and make change.
Leveraging our history and tourism success, we have the chance to build new opportunities in a way that is consistent with the town we want for generations to come. We can and must make balanced decisions together about supporting our community and supporting our businesses, about attracting and retaining people, and about the benefit, strain, and impact we create. This process will take all of us working together to advocate for, engage, and implement those ideals. This work can and must align to support our community, and I believe I am the person to lead those conversations and help make real that vision.
Whether this happens in a Tourism Advisory Committee, at the Council table, through public consultation or budget processes, my agenda is to give action to that conversation, informed by the community and guided by Council.
READ MORE: Belanger enters Tofino’s mayoralty race