By Loreth Beswetherick
Although few candidates had officially filed nomination papers by Wednesday, Oct. 13 the election race was showing signs of heating up with a slate of 11 having announced their intention to run for council positions.
The mayor’s seat will not go unchallenged either.
As of Wednesday, with two days left until the nomination window closed, incumbent Ted Milner had filed his papers along with newcomers Tyler Mosher, Casey Niewerth and Richard Wyne, who is taking a second run at a council seat. Wyne ran for councillor in the civic election three years ago.
Mayor Hugh O’Reilly had officially stated he will be seeking re-election and Chris Childs had filed notice of his intention to contest the mayor’s position.
Council incumbents Stephanie Sloan, Kristi Wells and Ken Melamed have all said they will run again. Nancy Wilhelm-Morden has stated she will definitely not be seeking re-election but, as of Wednesday, Dave Kirk had not announced his intentions either way.
Nick Davies, Scott Kittleson, Stephane Perron and Greg Lee have also said they will be filing their nomination papers before the Friday deadline.
Most of the newcomers said they want to see a more open government with fewer decisions made behind closed doors and a council with ears more in tune with the community.
Perron, who will step down as president of AWARE if he is elected, said the focus of his platform will be the environment but he is also prepared to tackle the social and economic issues facing the resort town. The 13-year Whistler resident has sat on various municipal committees and helped develop Whistler’s environmental strategy, which he is keen to work towards implementing. Perron said other issues likely to dominate dialogue over the next three years will be finding new sources of funding for the municipality as development income wanes and resolving the issue of nightly rentals. He said keeping Whistler affordable for the locals is also key.
Mosher, a landscape contractor and environmental planner, said he identifies with the 25-34 age group. He has been a full-time Whistler resident for the last four years but has been coming to the community on and off for nine years. He said his platform includes small business interests, the environment and affordability. "I want to see corporate partnerships developed to lower the cost of living for locals," said Mosher. "We are what make the wheels go round." He said locals don’t get much in return for being good ambassadors. Mosher said he alone sends a couple of thousand dollars worth of business Intrawest’s way. "And I don’t even get a free bus pass thrown in with my seasons pass." He would like to see the Winter Olympics issue go to referendum plus facilities established for local artists.
Lawyer Davies said he is being backed by both locals and weekenders who own property in Whistler and feel disenfranchised. He said too many decisions are being made behind closed doors and issues, like the 19 Mile Creek employee housing development, warrant a closer look.
Lee who ran for mayor last election and had announced publicly he would not be seeking election this time round, has had a change of heart. He said he was urged to run by a group representing most of the subdivisions in Whistler. He said the group’s consensus is that accessibility to council has been lost.
"What I think is good for Whistler is irrelevant. What the people think is important. Council keeps saying they are making decisions for the good of Whistler and that they know better... no one knows what they are doing. They have this agenda. For example, I don’t particularly want the Olympics myself but it sure would have been nice if I had been asked."
Lee said the current council only hears community input as a token gesture. "They seem to have made all the decisions before they listen to people. I represent accessibility, representation and openness. I don’t think 19 Mile (employee housing project) should have been done, for example, because there was such an uproar from the people around there."
Niewerth, a newcomer to politics, said the foundation of his campaign is to ensure the affordability of living in Whistler. "We’re lucky to be here and we want to stay here. We don’t want to be taxed out of Whistler." Niewerth said if public money is spent, the public should be asked first. The potential cost of the Olympics is of concern to Niewerth, as is the fact residents will have to pay for parking every time they go to the pharmacy or medical clinic or liquor store. "These are some of the issues I really want to get in to." He also expressed concern about too many "in-camera" meetings.
Mayoral hopeful Childs has been active in B.C. politics for the last 10 years and a Whistler resident for almost two years. He did not want to see O’Reilly run uncontested.
"I am uncomfortable with people being acclaimed," said Childs. "I don’t think it is healthy for Whistler or for Mayor O’Reilly should he get re-elected. He won’t know what sort of mandate he has from the people because he won’t know how many people are upset with what he is doing."
Childs will, however, be running to win. "I am going to put together a platform I think the people of Whistler will like. At the same time Mayor O’Reilly is now going to have to go out and do some work."
Childs joined the B.C. Liberals in 1990. He left the party in 1996 "extremely dissatisfied with the direction the Liberals had taken." He managed Allan Warnke’s campaign for MLA when he ran in the Richmond-Steveston riding as an independent after he too left the Liberal Party.
Childs said key to his mayoral campaign will be a move to include the people in the process of government. "Far too many decisions are made in-camera or in the back room." Childs, 30, said he hopes his youth will attract political interest from Whistler’s younger demographic majority. He said he is running for mayor as opposed to council because he wants to be able to "put forward a position of leadership. The mayor is where the leadership comes from. He is the guiding force that spurs council in the direction he feels it should be going."
Wilhelm-Morden said she made her decision not to seek re-election several months ago but did not want to make an announcement until the Emerald Forest-Intrawest deal was completed and before the issue of finding a municipal administrator had been dealt with. She said resolution was close on both issues.
Wilhelm-Morden said her law practice needs her attention in the next three-year period but she is not ruling out running next time around. "I really enjoy being on council and I have every expectation I will run again in the future." Wilhelm-Morden said there is always unfinished business but she feels she has accomplished what she set out to achieve three years ago. She said the lack of affordable housing has been quite successfully addressed through the creation of the Whistler Housing Authority. She said several long-term strategies have also been put in place.
"We inherited a mess at municipal hall when we were elected three years ago. We have sorted it out and that took a fair amount of concentrated effort too. Although I would really like to stay on, I don’t feel badly about leaving because of what I have done over the last three years."
Only two candidates for the two positions of Whistler school trustee had thrown their hats into the ring as of Wednesday — Alix Nicoll and incumbent Andrée Janyk.
At the Myrtle Philip PAC meeting Tuesday (Oct. 12) a call was made for more candidates to step up to the plate. PAC members want to see an election and they would like to see better representation for the elementary school. It was noted both Janyk and Nicoll are more oriented toward secondary school needs.
The Whistler Chamber of Commerce is organizing an all-candidates meeting Saturday, Nov. 13 at Myrtle Philip school. More details will be available closer to the date.