Tofino’s council split on ice rink decision

"I don't think that's the highest priority of the dollars that we have for a recreation facility."

With the West Coast Multiplex survey results now on their desks, the bell is tolling for local leaders to make their final decision on the long-proposed ice rink and swimming pool facility.

Tofino’s council, whose constituents were the most opposed to the project of all eight West Coast communities, took their first crack at discussing the survey’s results during their Jan. 9 regular meeting, but came up split, with three opposing the project, two supporting it and two remaining on the fence.

They agreed to delay their decision until their Jan. 23 meeting.

Of Tofino’s 602 survey respondents, 59 per cent were opposed to raising property taxes to cover the operating costs of the facility’s first-phase, an ice rink. The tax increase is expected to be roughly $93-$128 for a $500,000 home.

Coun. Dorothy Baert said the survey results clearly showed Tofino does not support an ice rink and added that the potential facility is preventing the district from investing in other, more favourable, recreational options.

She said Tofino should reassess its priorities and move an ice rink down the list.

“What we asked for, as council, was a clarifying survey. We got the survey. It clarified exactly what has been consistently stated over time,” she said. “We heard loud and clear that that’s not the interest.”

Coun. Duncan McMaster also opposed the project. He noted 45 per cent of the survey’s respondents said they would ‘never’ use the ice rink facility and some respondents suggested they could not afford to stay in Tofino if property taxes increased.

Mayor Josie Osborne opposed the ice rink as well and said she does not feel it is a high priority in Tofino or a good fit within the community’s unique culture.

“I’m afraid that if we put all of our eggs into the ice rink’s basket today, that we’re foregoing other opportunities that I actually think are of a greater benefit to the region and the community at large,” she said.

She added that, while the communities have so far only been asked to cover operational costs through taxation, taxpayers would likely be asked to pay some of the capital costs as well as she suggested expecting the West Coast Multiplex Society to fundraise the ice rink’s $14-$18 million price-tag is “unrealistic.”

“It’s not inconceivable to me that we could be in the position of needing to borrow $5-$6 million ourselves in order to make this project go forward,” she said. “I don’t think that’s the highest priority of the dollars that we have for a recreation facility.”

Coun. Ray Thorogood supported moving forward with the project and added the ice rink facility could be used for community gatherings, festivals, trade shows and other activities.

Coun. Greg Blanchette also supported the project and said building an ice rink first and a pool second made sense.

“If you build the pool first, you’d have to build a source of heat to heat the pool, which is a big cost,” he said. “If you build an ice rink first, you’ve automatically got a source of heat, because you’re pulling the heat out of the ice.”

He noted local First Nation survey respondents expressed “extremely strong support” for the facility and he said Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns has touted the multiplex as an “opportunity for reconciliation.”

“All of our individual communities are kind of inward looking. I know we are as Tofino,” Blanchette said. “I think, in terms of reconciliation and of starting to think of ourselves as a region, this might be an excellent catalyst for us to start pushing forward.”

Ucluelet’s council, whose constituents were split 45 per cent in favour and 43 per cent opposed, is expected to discuss the survey’s results during their Jan. 23 meeting.