For more than seven years, Jumbo Glacier Mayor Greg Deck has been in the unique position of running a municipality nobody lives in.
“It was easy to make fun of,” said Deck, appointed mayor by the provincial government in 2012 in anticipation of a proposed ski resort in eastern B.C. spurring development of a 6,300-bed resort village.
“But it’s what happens in every new subdivision in every municipality in [B.C.] in advance of people showing up: you try to have an entity in place to make sure services are in place and interests of the incoming residents will be taken care of.”
Bogged down by local opposition and then indefinitely delayed due to court losses, Jumbo Glacier became less and less likely as time went on.
And with the land in question now being turned into a conservation zone by the Ktunaxa Nation, the provincial government is formally beginning the process of dissolving the town that has no people — but does have a mayor, council and senior staff.
“There is no longer a need for a municipality,” said the Ministry of Municipal Affairs in a statement.
“We will continue to engage with the municipality, the Regional District of East Kootenay and local First Nations to ensure that their interests are included as we go through the disincorporation process.”
How do you dissolve a place that only exists on paper?
A municipality in B.C. hasn’t been legally dissolved in B.C. in nearly 100 years, since the company town of Phoenix was abandoned following a downturn in copper prices after the First World War.
The government said it would be a “complex process,” and Deck said he would be happy to follow their lead.
“I don’t know. I’ve never done one,” he said, when asked what role he would play in eliminating the municipality he’s mayor of.
“So we’re going to take our guidance from [the province]. I presume it’s mostly administrative activity, just closing up accounts, passing claims back to the province advising insurance companies and things that we no longer require coverage. Really boring nuts and bolts stuff.”
That “nuts and bolts stuff” involves some money — Jumbo Glacier has received around a million dollars in provincial grants and federal gas tax funding, and Deck received annual compensation in the mid-four figures as mayor.
But Deck, who was appointed mayor partly due to his experience as the first mayor of nearby Radium Hot Springs, said the planning work was necessary.
“It’s just good design policy to have planning in place before you do things,” he said.
Opponents claim victory
Not everyone agreed: in 2014 the Union of B.C. Municipalities passed a motion called “Municipalities with No Residents” opposing Jumbo Glacier’s funding, and last year the city of Rossland asked the province to dissolve it.
“Local government is there to serve the population, and in Jumbo there was no population,” said Rossland Mayor Kathy Moore, who was happy to hear the government take action.
East Kootenay Regional Director Gerry Wilkie, whose electoral area borders the Jumbo Glacier lands, was equally dismissive.
“I think they averaged maybe one and a half people at their meetings,” he said.
“An area of absolutely huge ecological importance was subject to a ridiculous white elephant development proposal … for 25 years.”
Both Wilkie and Moore praised environmental and Indigenous groups that fought against the idea of Jumbo Glacier for many years. While they wait for the unique denouement of its official dissolution, the first and only mayor of a B.C. municipality with no people wonders what might have been.
“I think we’re looking at the demise of the best ski hill we will never have in this country,” said Deck.
“That’s the source of some sadness to me but I went into it with my eyes open … we knew what we were up against.”