Whether you’re for the Galloway Lands development, against it, or somewhere in between, the B.C. Ministry of Municipal Affairs and the Regional District of the East Kootenays are not upholding Fernie residents’ democratic rights.
The core problem is lack of local representation.
Fernie’s municipal boundaries are drawn unusually close to town, which means the RDEK is in charge of decisions about nearby parcels of land. Fernie residents have almost no voice in choices that may directly impact their jobs and the value of their homes.
If Fernie were a large city, this would not be an issue. Even Sparwood has a roomier footprint.
So Fernie voters are being relegated to the sidelines as RDEK board members, almost all of whom have no connections to Fernie, make decisions about the city’s future. Fernie’s mayor has one vote out of 14.
This leaves Fernie residents with less ability to negotiate with the investors in Vancouver, Toronto and further away making changes affecting the community.
Investors looking for trophy homes have no pressing need to plan for mixed income residential housing. Fernie is increasingly short of it.
Adding to these issues, the B.C. laws governing regional districts give the boards control over how to hold public hearings, which can limit residents’ ability to share their opinions. A few examples that stood out during the May 4 hearing:The hearing wasn’t recorded.
The RDEK limited each speaker to two minutes. The time limit could have been set at any length up to 10 minutes.
RDEK did not share complete copies of the assessments with the public.
RDEK staff decided how and whether to record people’s views in the meeting notes. At least one person’s opposition was not recorded.
A woman who tried to object on the basis of an alleged conflict of interest was not given the correct guidance about how she could continue the discussion.
The B.C. Ministry for Municipal Affairs says on its website that growing communities often “find they lack the local representation […] necessary to meet their needs.” It resolves these gaps by redrawing municipal boundaries.
Fernie is growing outside its small footprint. It’s up to the province to ensure residents get their fair vote.