Tofino Mayor Josie Os­borne gov­erns a sea­side town that punches above its weight in busi­ness

BC Business Magazine - - Contents - By Lucy Hys­lop

Tofino Mayor Josie Os­borne

Josie Os­borne may have left be­hind a ca­reer as a marine bi­ol­o­gist to be “con­sumed” by her role as mayor of Tofino, but there's plenty of science be­hind her po­lit­i­cal modus operandi.

Os­borne, 45, was ac­claimed to the of­fice in 2013, af­ter in­cum­bent Perry Sch­munk re­signed, and won the elec­tion the fol­low­ing year. She swapped be­ing nosy about the ocean for delv­ing into what makes so-called Tuff City's 2,000 res­i­dents and al­most a mil­lion yearly vis­i­tors tick. “I'm a very cu­ri­ous per­son,” Os­borne says over a bowl of clams at Cardero's Restau­rant on a day trip to Van­cou­ver for a Board of Trade meet­ing. “That's the hall­mark of many sci­en­tists, and so is not over­re­act­ing, be­ing ob­jec­tive, and calmly tak­ing in the in­for­ma­tion and be­ing crit­i­cal.”

She's also a pro­lific so­cial me­dia user, not only to show her man­date “to have fun” as mayor (be­ing soaked in a dunk­ing booth for a fundraiser, for starters), but to com­mu­ni­cate with cit­i­zens as much as pos­si­ble. The lat­ter duty in­cluded her re­sponse to the tragedy of whale-watch­ing boat MV Le­viathan II, which cap­sized off Tofino in 2015, killing six peo­ple. “Noth­ing pre­pares you for that,” she says.

Like many Tofi­tians, Nanaimo na­tive Os­borne, who landed in the Van­cou­ver Is­land re­sort in 1998, never thought she'd be­come a long-term res­i­dent—let alone mayor. Af­ter earn­ing a bach­e­lor's de­gree in marine bi­ol­ogy from UBC and a mas­ter's in re­source man­age­ment at SFU, she be­came a marine bi­ol­o­gist with the lo­cal Nuu-chah­nulth Tribal Coun­cil, ad­mit­tedly af­ter “truly flub­bing” an ear­lier in­ter­view with the Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans in Van­cou­ver. The planned-for cou­ple of years to cut her chops turned into six in the then-sleepy fish­ing vil­lage, plus an­other nine as a fish­eries con­sul­tant and run­ning a busi­ness sell­ing lo­cally har­vested goose­neck bar­na­cles to Europe. Af­ter meet­ing her now hus­band, Ge­orge Pat­ter­son, she also helped run the Tofino Botan­i­cal Gar­dens, which he es­tab­lished.

This ca­reer dove­tails with the “en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit” of a town that has 500 busi­ness li­cences and, ac­cord­ing to Os­borne, punches above its weight in that field. Aided by newly in­stalled fi­bre op­tics, Tofino (me­dian age: a young 34) is grow­ing in sec­tors such as food and bev­er­age, man­u­fac­tur­ing, and health and well­ness spas, ex­plains the mayor, who has made it her mis­sion to boost di­a­logue be­tween lo­cal gov­ern­ment and the busi­ness com­mu­nity. To that end, she helped cre­ate Tofino's first eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee.

In a nod to her knowl­edge of the ecosys­tem, she stresses that busi­ness must strike a bal­ance with na­ture. It's about un­der­stand­ing the en­vi­ron­ment's lim­its to “fig­ure out how to work and live within them,” Os­borne adds. “There's a lot of en­ergy in Tofino, and it can also be an in­cu­ba­tor for things—not just prod­ucts, but ideas and ways of think­ing. That's why we have to pre­serve our con­nec­tion to the wilder­ness, the beaches, the for­est, be­cause I think your mind works dif­fer­ently when you're out in that than when you are here in down­town Van­cou­ver.”

Tofino, how­ever, suf­fers from a lack of hous­ing, a prob­lem that is firmly on Os­borne's agenda. She has taken mea­sures in­clud­ing en­forc­ing short-term rent­ing reg­u­la­tions, en­abling more de­vel­op­ment with the town's own land or work­ing with de­vel­op­ers to in­crease sup­ply, and favour­ing smaller and in­fill homes.

Most im­por­tant, Os­borne doesn't want to be afraid of mak­ing mis­takes in try­ing to solve th­ese so­ci­etal puz­zles. Of course, coun­cil must make in­formed de­ci­sions, but she won't “let the fear of do­ing it wrong stop us from try­ing—you have to have an elected lead­er­ship will­ing to take a risk.”

Go­ing be­yond the mu­nic­i­pal scene to pro­vin­cial or fed­eral pol­i­tics ap­peals to Os­borne, but not now. “I love be­ing mayor—and I hon­estly had no idea I would en­joy it this much.” ■

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