When people resort to dirty pool, and choose to do so anonymously, it’s time for those responsible for protecting the public interest to be very cautious. This is how the bad stuff starts.
I refer to the recent effort to gag Banff councillor Peter Poole with regard to discussing a draft area redevelopment plan for the Banff train station, by subjecting him to a conflict of interest complaint because he owns a hotel at the base of Mount Norquay – a couple kilometres away from the area under discussion. By that standard, every Banff councillor with tourism business interests in town is in a conflict of interest and should withdraw from discussion of the train station lands too.
I’ve known Peter Poole for many years. He is a man of utmost integrity, and one who loves both the Town of Banff and the national park. He exemplifies the best qualities of a councillor in Canada’s oldest and most-scrutinized national park because he stands for the vision that Canada’s finest national park should and can have Canada’s finest national park community. I have never known him to put his business interests first in any of my interactions with him; he always leads from his ideals.
Because he leads with his ideals, he often takes positions that are inconvenient for those who have a more pragmatic attachment to their bank books or those willing to compromise on national park values in order to advance more parochial ones. It’s never easy dealing with a person of principle, but it’s essential. Banff has been blessed with some excellent councillors and mayors over the years, and their quality is reflected in the leadership position the town often takes on environment, social fairness and national park issues – Peter is one of them.
He is the one who always asks the hardest questions and serves as the conservation conscience of his team. Excluding him from the discussion about a gondola from town to Norquay would be unconscionable, especially if it is done on the basis of an anonymous assertion of a non-existent conflict. Shooting from cover isn’t exactly an indication of high ideals or courage.
In any event, there shouldn’t even be a discussion. The site guidelines for the Mount Norquay ski area did not open the door to a gondola. Read in context, it directed Parks Canada and the owners of the Norquay resort to find effective, meaningful ways to reduce wildlife disturbance in the Cascade wildlife corridor. That means fewer vehicles on the Norquay road. Given the difficulty some had in imagining how that could be done, a gondola was mentioned as an example of the creative thinking needed – not prescribed as the solution. To be very clear: the plan called for less road traffic and more wildlife security – not for a gondola.
Parks Canada, as I understand it, subsequently evaluated the proposal put forward by the current owners of Norquay and decided it was simply unacceptable. That is their decision to make because they, not the Town of Banff, manage the ski area lease and all the other lands affected. The Town of Banff itself is a lessee of Parks Canada. Peter Poole is correct when he says, under the incorporation agreement that enables the Town of Banff to manage its own affairs, the Town is obliged to align itself with Parks Canada policies on growth and development. Providing for a gondola terminal in the Town boundaries would be a direct slap in the face to the Town’s landlord and a breach of faith in what has been, to now, a relatively respectful and harmonious relationship.
Silencing Coun. Poole in response to a trumped-up allegation of conflict from an anonymous complainant will not change that, nor the possible consequences for the Town.
But it would be a very ugly thing to do, when all he has done, and can be expected to continue doing, is to speak truth to power.
Kevin Van Tighem,