Juan de Fuca Electoral Area director Mike Hicks admits he met with a First Nations chief and band council about a development project at Juan de Fuca Park, but he refuses to share details about who was there and what was discussed.
"Whatever the reason for the meetings and the deals Mr. Hicks put together with the Pacheedaht band, it didn't serve the public interest," Forest Action Network director Zoe Blunt charges. "It didn't serve the Pacheedaht band's interests, because it started a terrible conflict within the band. And it didn't serve the developer's interests – he likely didn't know the project would be so controversial once people were informed about it."
"It seems these meetings were very private," she said.
Residents of the Port Renfrew reserve were not aware of a West Vancouver developer's plan to build a deluxe resort with 257 vacation homes on a seven-kilometer strip beside the Juan de Fuca Trail until they were informed by Forest Action Network in November 2010, Blunt said.
Chief Marvin McClurg delivered a letter of support on behalf of the band in October 2010 without consulting anyone outside the administration office, Pacheedaht members complain.
Many members strongly opposed the development plan on their traditional territory, speaking out at information sessions, the CRD board, and the public hearing. In September 2011, fifty-seven members signed a petition calling for the removal of the band council.
Meetings weren't disclosed
This past summer, Mike Hicks wasn't shy about discussing his meetings with the Pacheedaht First Nation chief and council. He spoke openly about it at the CRD board.
But when presented with a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act, he clammed up. No details about those meetings were disclosed.
In September, Forest Action Network requested all records, including emails, letters, and phone calls, between Mr. Hicks and the Pacheedaht chief, administrator, and band council. The documents received in response listed only one meeting, on March 30, 2011, and it is not clear whether Mr. Hicks was present.
Also in spring 2011, a letter from Pacheedaht band administrator Dorothy Hunt stated: "We have met and consulted with Director Hicks on these matters; he clearly understands that we fully support Mr. Ilkay's proposal. He is our messenger to the board for the CRD; we hold him accountable in relaying our message."
New Freedom of Information request
On November 3, 2011, Forest Action Network filed a second Freedom of Information request for the release of Mr. Hicks' calendar and schedule from July 2010 on.
In a followup message to Nancy Moore, the CRD's FOI officer, director Zoe Blunt said the public has a right to know when the meetings happened, who was present, and what was discussed.
It appears no CRD staff attended the private meetings, and only Mr. Hicks and the Pacheedaht chief and council were invited.
The resort plan was defeated by a unanimous vote at the CRD board on September 14. The year-long process leading up to that vote cost taxpayers an estimated $50,000.
Hicks, a resident of Sooke, is seeking re-election on November 19. His challenger is local environmentalist Alanda Carver, a yoga teacher, letter carrier, and president of the Muir Creek Protection Society.
Below are the relevant sections of the Freedom of Information request filed November 3.
Pursuant to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, (“the Act”, RSBC 1996, c. 165), I hereby request the following documents:
All scheduling records, including appointment books, daytimers, daily planners, weekly planners, monthly planners, calendars, memos, notes, digital records, Outlook and other email formats, smartphone, or PDA schedules used by, created for, or in the possession of Juan de Fuca director Mike Hicks, from July 1, 2010 to November 1, 2011 inclusive.
The public interest will be served by disclosure of Juan de Fuca director Mike Hicks meetings with the Pacheedaht First Nation (PFN). Mr. Hicks has stated in public meetings of the CRD board that he met with the PFN administration on several occasions. His statements are confirmed by the PFN band administrator. The meetings related to a controversial development proposal for lands on PFN territory adjoining Juan de Fuca Provincial Park. Mr. Hicks' public statements were intended to bolster support for the resort proposal.
PFN chief and council endorsed the proposal in a letter delivered to a public information meeting on the resort proposal in October 2010. However, the development was strongly opposed by many, if not most, of the members, once they were apprised of it. The subsequent controversy has led to divisions in the PFN and accusations that chief and council misrepresented the wishes of the members, failed to consult with members, and acted in a way that is inconsistent with the interests of the band as a whole.
The PFN dispute became public when accusations and counter-accusations from the band council and disgruntled members were reported by news media. The conflict has bred mistrust between PFN members and administrators, and between PFN and community groups.
Development in PFN traditional territory is likely to impact members' cultural, economic, and health interests. As such, it is a matter of local, provincial, and federal concern. In addition, conflicts on the reserve impact PFN members' day-to-day relationships with governance and administration of health, education, housing, and general welfare.
A September 2011 Freedom of Information request sought disclosure on correspondence with PFN. However, the response records showed only one meeting between PFN administrators, band members, and CRD staff, which took place on March 30, 2011. It is not clear whether Mr. Hicks was in attendance.