It came right down to the wire.
Bill 27, the legislation to change the makeup and size of the Cultus Lake Park Board, was the very last piece to be introduced in this spring session at the B.C. legislature, according to Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness.
The bill seeks to amend the Cultus Lake Park Act to cut the board from seven commissioners down to five — with three elected by Cultus residents, and only two by Chilliwack residents.
Yesterday morning in Victoria, Throness was making a speech in support of second reading of the bill in the legislature.
“The changes I wanted to implement were small but effective in shifting the balance of accountability at Cultus Lake,” he told The Progress.
Two years ago, during a provincial by-election, Throness was approached by Gary Lister, a Cultus resident, who along with wife Sue, were collecting signatures on a petition asking for a restructured Cultus park board, and increased accountability and democracy for lakers.
They eventually obtained more than 900 signatures.
“That’s a formidable chunk of people,” the MLA noted, adding the Listers and other volunteers must have knocked on every door at the lake.
“When I saw there was broad-based support to change things, with support among almost 1000 of my constituents on a specific topic, I decided I needed to act. So I took it up in a big way.”
The Cultus Lake Park Board initially rejected the idea, passing a resolution against it.
“That for me was a perfect demonstration of how the Park Board was not championing the will of the people it served,” Throness added.
The MLA later gained the support of City of Chilliwack for his proposed changes to the park board, which helped in his bid to get the provincial government to take up the cause.
Throness said he was first going to make it a private member’s bill, but in the end he didn’t have to.
“I was very happy that the government included it on the list of legislation to be introduced,” he said. “It came right down to the wire.”
Gary Lister said it was a long, hard struggle to get the changes, but it was worth it.
“We feel great that this is happening,” he told The Progress on Tuesday. “It shows that average citizens can make positive change.”
It feels like a big victory for those fighting for justice.
“Someone said this is a watershed moment for Cultus Lake,” Lister added.
“Everybody we’ve heard from is extremely happy and thankful to everyone who was involved in the process.”
They were only two of the the many residents and leaseholders at the lake who championed the cause of increasing democracy, Lister underlined.
Park Board Chair Sacha Peter said he appreciates the fact that the proposal brings the size of the Park Board down to similar size of other comparable jurisdictions.
“It will also save the Park Board a little bit of money,” he said.
The estimate is for a savings of about $16,000, which will inject “a modest contribution” toward keeping the park board financially sustainable.
“I also think the board will be well-served with five commissioners, without any loss of representation,” Peter said.
But those elected to the scaled-down board in 2014 won’t escape any of the most pressing issues at Cultus.
“Whoever those five commissioners are, they will face the same challenges, including the land tenure situation, ongoing financial management of the park including budget balancing, management of Sunnyside Campground, the Vedder River Campground, municipal type services and bylaw enforcement,” Peter said.
But MLA Throness said he felt land tenure would not be impacted in the short term.
“None of the changes affect land tenure in any way, we’re just changing the structure,” he said.
Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz also had praise for the efforts to date.
“Council is appreciative of the work MLA Throness has undertaken regarding election representation at Cultus Lake and endorsed his recommendations with the understanding that no costs associated with the proposed change to the Cultus Lake Park Board Act would be incurred by the City of Chilliwack,” she said.
For Park Board Chair Peter, there is some residual frustration, in the wake of the decision to move ahead at the provincial level.
“One of the frustrating aspects is that we were told by the provincial government that they would not amend the Cultus Lake Park Act, despite the fact there are components of it that have not been substantively reviewed since 1932.
“We’ve brought that to their attention so in a way it’s disappointing clearly since the government is now amending it. But it’s also frustrating that this opportunity is not being used to enact other changes to the Act,” such as the need for clearer language on the subject of leases and board powers.
“It’s still an antiquated framework. So while Bill 27 is an incremental good, because the board size is reduced and (Cultus Lake) residents will get a greater say on who gets elected, it should not be viewed as a silver bullet.
“We’ll still need to address challenges around land tenure and the financial management of the park.”