With the divisive debate about B.C.'s harmonized sales tax finally over, Premier Christy Clark turned last week to launching the cornerstone of her Families First agenda: "Creating wealth through new business and job creation." Her first three stops were in smaller rural communities.
Renewal of the job-stressed rural economy is vital after the decline of traditional mainstays such as fish processing and wood pulp. Fortunately, rural British Columbia is well-endowed with other job-creating resources including enormous shale gas and metal deposits. In a place that is home to some of the world's great rivers, projects such the proposed Site C dam on the Peace River will create many jobs while providing clean, competitively priced energy. And while weak markets have shut many of the Coast's aging pulp mills, growing demand for wood-frame houses from China and Japan has lessened the woodlands' dependency upon moribund U.S. house construction.
The province's resources are indeed crucial to job creation. But the most important endowment doesn't lie underground, nor grow out of it. It's termed "Beautiful B.C.," and it holds the biggest job-creation opportunity. With more and more retiring baby boomers choosing to spend time in the province, the potential for recreational property development is huge. And while manufacturing has largely moved to Asian factories, growing numbers of Asian tourists are able to afford the beautiful B.C. experience. Provided, that is, there are quality rural recreational developments. While hiking the gruelling West Coast Trail is a "bucket list" experience for the fit and adventuresome, much of the central and western parts of Vancouver Island offer few of the comforts older visitors want, and would be happy to pay for.
Given this job-creation opportunity, one would have thought a carefully planned new eco-resort on the island's southwest coast would gain strong support. The Marine Trails Cabin Resort was to occupy some 95 hectares on the edge of hundreds of thousands of hectares of undeveloped wilderness. Because it was to lie adjacent to the Strait of Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, the resort plan included forested buffer zones so that no part of the development would be visible from park trails. Eco-sensitive water and waste systems and the latest green building technology were to be used in the cabins and central service buildings.
A developer-commissioned study by internationally respected Peterson Economics concluded that the resort project would result in more than 1,000 full-time jobs in the 70-kilometre, almost-jobless stretch between Sooke and Port Renfrew. The report also noted that the resort would maintain its own roads and utility services, but would still pay full property taxes, "generating millions of dollars of new property tax revenues." Not included in the job-creation estimate was the broader regional spinoff gain for businesses, such as tourist services and shopping.
But alas, after more than two years of design work and planning, what started out as a constructive and largely supportive consultation with the local community disintegrated into acrimonious debate driven mainly by urbanites from outside the area. Nevertheless, four of the five Municipal Region Board members who would decide the project's fate continued to voice support. The final step in the approval process was a public hearing two weeks ago. As a result of a frenzied "Save Juan de Fuca Park" campaign by a coalition that included environmental alarmists such as the Sierra Club and a Victoria-based group calling itself the "Protect the Juan de Fuca forest lands from development wilderness committee," the hearing room overflowed with opponents who made more than 200 emotional, doom-laden speeches. Mistaking this orchestrated attack for general public opinion, the panel turned down the development.
After years of financial outlays and intensive effort, owner Ender Ilkay has declared the project dead and put the property up for sale. (The land is zoned for logging, a fate that would have been prevented by the resort project.) One thing seems certain: Mr. Ilkay will not be proposing another eco-tourism project in British Columbia. And, after what he went through, why would anyone else?
Recreation and tourism are among Canada's cleanest and greenest job creators. The Marine Trails Cabin Resort project is yet another casualty of eco-extremist propaganda being mistaken for rational public input.