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Supporters of a proposed sister city relationship based on Blaine’s theme of peace are trying to put on an upbeat face after a disappointing and surprising snub from Blaine City Council.
“What’s good about this is it has people talking,” said Jerry Gay, who came to the April 10 council meeting with over 20 supporters of a sister city relationship with Pugwash, Nova Scotia. “I guess peace can be controversial.”
Council member John Liebert’s motion to formally invite Pugwash into a sister city relationship died for lack of a second after council members Bonnie Onyon and Jason Overstreet brought up concerns that the association would be too political.
“The Pugwash conference is a quasi-political organization whose mission goes way beyond local ideals of peace,” Onyon said. “I am for peace, certainly, but I believe it’s something individuals need to pursue or promote in their own way.”
The village of Pugwash has, like Blaine adopted the theme of peace. For Blaine the theme is rooted in the Peace Arch, while for Pugwash it’s the 1957 conference that brought together 22 scientists to discuss the nuclear threat and work for peaceful resolution of global conflicts. Pugwash industrialist Cyrus Eaton hosted the first conference and today an international organization sponsoring international conferences and discussions on “reducing the danger of armed conflict and seeking cooperative solutions for global problems” takes its name from the village.
In response to a letter from Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic, Harold Patterson, chairman of the Pugwash Village Commission, wrote that their village was interested in pursuing a sister city relationship with Blaine. “We are also interested in this because of our common dedication to international peace,” he wrote. The village, he added, was reviving the theme with a $5 million project “combining a conference space and an amphitheater with a high-tech peace museum,” the Pugwash Peace Exchange.
Pugwash and Blaine also have many other commonalities, Patterson added, including a history of fishing and boating. In their presentation to Blaine city council proponents of the sister city proposal added to the list: the cultural legacy of native Americans and European settlers; a commitment to preserve wildlife and the environment, recreational amenities such as marinas and golf courses; and of course, peace.
“We lie on the Atlantic, symbolizing strength, and the Pacific, symbolizing peace, and we want to bring them together,” said R.B. Porter, a Whatcom County resident who attended the meeting. Gay said the sister city relationship would be a “process of exchange on many levels and would hopefully lead to hosting a peace conference a couple of years down the road.”
In an interview after the council meeting Onyon said the possibility of that conference was the stumbling block for her, especially if it was affiliated with the Pugwash conferences. “Nuclear disarmament is part of their message. That’s very political,” she said. “Everybody wants peace. How to attain it is where everyone differs.” Personally, she said in a perfect world there would be no nuclear weapons but, “it’s not going to happen. There are a lot of evil people in this world.”
With the conference off the table she said she was ready to continue to have a dialogue about a sister city relationship. “If they could tell me they don’t intend to involve Blaine in an international conference and a brewing, teeming hotbed of controversy, I don’t have a problem with the village of Pugwash as a sister city,” she said.
Council member Jason Overstreet said he could not see a way to separate the two. “If Pugwash wasn’t the birthplace of the conferences, would we still be interested?” he said. “Pugwash has really serious political overtones.”
Gay insisted the proposed sister city relationship did not mean an official affiliation with the Pugwash conferences, but that there was no denying the village of Pugwash, and Blaine’s, legacy of pursuing peace. “We can’t erase Sam Hill’s desire for global peace and building the Peace Arch, it’s our heritage,” he said. “Pugwash can’t erase that first meeting. Their theme, like ours, is promoting peace, and you want a sister city you can grow with.”
With Bruce Wolf siding with Onyon and Overstreet and two council members absent, the sister city proposal failed to get council support to move ahead. “This could be very divisive in our community,” Wolf said, adding he wanted more information and to continue the dialogue with the full council present.
At the end of the meeting Liebert lambasted fellow council members for killing the proposal. “I find it repugnant we as a council did not listen to our city members by petition or in person,” he said. “I was embarrassed.”
After the meeting Gay said their group would continue discussions with council hoping to establish the sister city relationship, but he said they would not give up on the idea of conferences, concerts or other events to promote peace in Blaine.
“We are the city of peace but we don’t do much,” he said. “If you can’t even talk about it, that’s bizarre. If politicians are saying you can’t come and discuss things in our community, that’s really part of what’s wrong with the world.”