Make a strong case using numbers and anecdotes, but don't ignore the other side of the argument.
That was MP John Weston's advice for Whistler residents in their ongoing battle against a proposed 35-metre cell tower at the corner of Highway 99 and Lorimer Road.
At a Jan. 8 focus group meeting with about 20 Whistler residents, Weston heard the local case against the tower while providing some advice of his own.
"I would encourage those of us who are against this installation to think about all the reasons why it might be good, and then make sure that you've got arguments in mind that are stronger on the other side. What never works is to ignore the other side of an argument," Weston said.
Weston is no stranger to the issue, having gone through a similar dispute over cell towers in West Vancouver last year.
"I was impressed by the spirit of the people, who love their community as the people of Whistler do, and who rose in common cause to express concerns about the erection of a cell tower in residential areas of West Vancouver," Weston said.
The residents created the West Vancouver Cell Tower Action Group, which lobbied against the towers.
"Council ultimately voted against it," Weston said.
"All along I kept the minister briefed, and ultimately the proponent withdrew its application."
Like opposition to the proposed tower in Whistler, the Cell Tower Action Group grew out of a core group of concerned citizens.
"When we started off there was only about six of us," said Elaine Grotefeld, one of the group's organizers.
"We started from a very small base. It was a very informal group. The first thing we did was set up a new email and a distribution list."
Once the group had numbers to back it up, it began lobbying council with its concerns.
Grotefeld said the group was able to leverage the fact that the proposed towers did not follow West Vancouver's policy that they should avoid neighbourhoods and schools.
"One of the cell towers they wanted to put up had four schools, including a daycare... within 100 metres of the tower," she said.
"And we were able to leverage that."
It also helped the group's cause that the proposed towers were to be built on provincial land, Grotefeld said.
"We were in direct contact with our MLA, and he agreed that he would follow whatever council's voting decision was about the proposal," she said.
"So that's why for us, everything came down to making sure that council was on board."
During the Jan. 8 meeting, Weston told attendees that minister of industry James Moore will take into account what recommendations come out of council.
"They're non-binding, (and) the minister can ultimately decide to do what he wants consistent with national interest, but certainly he will take into account local government," Weston said.
"You guys are my guides... you give me a mandate to go to the minister and say, 'the people of Whistler just don't want this.'"
The 1,000 signatures collected on a petition — along with the support of local government and an effort to find alternative locations — present a strong case for the municipality, Weston said.
"Give him lots of reasons to say no," he said.
Weston said those opposed to the tower might find success by "speak(ing) Conservative talk to a Conservative industry minister.
"He wants to encourage the economy and jobs, so how are we doing that? We're doing that by encouraging tourism in the jobs sector," Weston said.
If there is concern that the tower could affect tourism, Whistlerites need to prove it, he said.
"It's good to have stats and numbers, and then a good, solid anecdote," he said.
"It happened, it happened recently, here's the name of the company."
One such anecdote was brought up at the meeting by Meredith Hodder of Whistler Peak Productions — a company that scouts locations for film and TV shoots.
This past summer, the CBC was in Whistler filming, Hodder said.
"They were spending probably $200,000 in Whistler to film for two days... (and they) chose not to film in Celebration Plaza because there was a crane that was being used for the Audain Museum... and it was going to be in the backdrop," she said.
"They wanted the mountain view."
Following the meeting, councillor and acting mayor Jack Crompton said he felt confident that council could influence the situation.
"I got the sense that our input is going to be taken very seriously by Industry Canada, and I'm extremely hopeful that will happen," Crompton said.
While a formal council decision won't be issued until early March, Crompton said he was personally opposed to the tower.
"I don't like it," he said. "Whether it's a palm tree or a pine tree, its a 100 to 150 foot tower right at the end of town."
Residents have until Jan. 26 to file comments with SBA Communications, the proponent of the tower.
Details about how community members can share their comments or concerns can be found at www.whistler.ca/antennapolicy.
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