Semiahmoo First Nation councillor Joanne Charles – addressing what she says is formal notice by the City of White Rock to terminate water and sanitary-sewer services to her reserve – says the nature of the city’s relationship with the First Nation has deteriorated in recent years.
Indeed, many things seem to be changing in White Rock, and it’s not simply the water issue. Whatever’s going on behind closed doors – whether at city hall, on native land or in private residences – there’s evidence of a growing animosity between civic leaders and their critics.
For some residents and business owners, conflict began not long after the 2014 election, when council decided in-camera to abandon solid-waste management for multifamily residences, yet announced it as a decision to “privatize” recycling and garbage collection… without mentioning that taxpayers would be required to find their own providers.
For others, it was elected officials’ seeming determination in the ensuing months to bypass the city’s official community plan when determining where highrise development should be concentrated, under the misplaced notion that the city was required by provincial law to provide housing for an additional 7,000 residents by 2040.
The water supply to Semiahmoo First Nation, it should be noted, is only the most recent water issue to pop up since the city announced one year ago its purchase of the water utility from Epcor. Arsenic and manganese levels, the limited amount of water available (deemed inadequate in the wake of the Five Corners fire) and the undetermined utility purchase price have all been called into question by the city’s most vociferous critics.
City leaders, it should be noted, have stood by their decisions. Regarding Semiahmoo First Nation’s allegations last week that the city announced Aug. 29 that it would shut off the reserve’s water, Mayor Wayne Baldwin says the letter advised them that is one possible outcome, if the two parties can’t come to an agreement.
As well, Semiahmoo First Nation have a history of not being accessible to discuss issues with their own neighbours, most notably recently in allowing the operation of a helicopter-tour company on its park, to the chagrin of others residing not far from the waterfront.
So much conflict in such a short time period. And, if history repeats itself, city officials will eventually announce – all too dismissively – that communications could have been handled better.
It’s high time communicating becomes top of mind for all involved, not merely an afterthought.