By Loreth Beswetherick
With less than 15 days to go until the nomination window for council candidates closes and only a handful of incumbents announcing they will seek re-election come Nov. 20, it may seem like conspiracy of silence out there.
By Sept. 4 three years ago, Hugh O’Reilly, Max Kirkpatrick and Helmut Banka had announced they would run for the mayoral seat and councillors Dave Kirk, Kristi Wells and Bill Murray had stated they would seek re-election. Greg Lee announced his run for mayor later that month and Don Goodall and Richard Wyne said they would run for council. By the time the nomination period closed in October 1996, there were 15 vying for six council seats and six after the mayor’s spot.
To date, Councillors Ken Melamed, Kristi Wells and Stephanie Sloan have said they will seek another term in office. Ted Milner said he will most likely stand for re-election but Dave Kirk and Nancy Wilhelm-Morden will make their decisions public within the next 10 days.
Hugh O’Reilly said he definitely will run again for the mayor’s spot but no-one else has stepped up to challenge him yet.
Greg Lee has announced publicly he will not run again and West Vancouver-Garibaldi Liberal MLA Ted Nebbeling has quashed rumours that he may be after the Whistler mayoral seat. "I have been asked by a number of people," said Nebbeling. "But I have said categorically that I have committed myself to provincial politics and I can serve Whistler very well in the capacity."
A group of disgruntled property owners who have vowed to have the issue of nightly rentals opened up again have said they will put forward a candidate but no word yet on who.
David Wright, a White Gold homeowner, said the group has met with residents from the Benchlands and from Alpine Meadows. They are now in the process of contacting Emerald Estates residents unhappy with the cost burden of connecting their subdivision to the municipal sewer system. Wright said the intention is to pool votes in an effort to oust councillors who took a stand against tourist operations in residential neighbourhoods.
O’Reilly, Whistler’s longest-serving elected official at 11 years, said someone challenging him from the outside will likely take a position of attack but he intends to hold the course and promote the achievements of this council. O’Reilly said this term has not been characterised by tangible, ribbon-cutting achievements.
"In previous years a lot of work council has done has been visible externally — new arenas, new pools, new parks and new buildings." By contrast, he said this term saw work done on several behind-the-scenes, long-term strategies that will lay the groundwork for councils to come.
"These long-term plans are not as visible," said O’Reilly. "They are kind of like sinking deep roots and I think those roots will benefit the community for years and years. They will help us weather storm and adversity." He said the plans — including the Vision 2002 document, the environmental strategy, the transportation plan and the yet-to-be-released business and financial plans — anticipate changes and identify challenges. He noted Whistler has long been dependent on development cost charges as a revenue source. That, he said will change.
"We clearly have to be creative to find answers to the challenges that face us," he said. "I would hope the next council picks right up with these and carries on and starts to use these strategies as tools because the real benefits are in the next three to five years."
Most councillors say it took a while for this council to gel, with an intensive break-in period for some who had never been in office before, combined with a new administrator.
"I think it also took a while for the public to get used to a council that debated issues thoroughly and then at the end of some of those debates, agreed to disagree," said Wilhelm-Morden. "We had quite a number of split votes and there was some criticism that we couldn’t get our act together," she said. "I think the approach of vigorous debate and agreeing to disagree — that’s very healthy."
Melamed said the break-in period took almost a year-and-a-half before he felt comfortable with the process and understood the background on issues. Melamed said he has learned enough this term to feel confident he is not seeking re-election as a one-ticket item. Although the environment will be at the top of his campaign, he said so will the Olympics.
"Everybody is expecting the next council to deal with the Olympic issue." The International Olympic Committee will award the 2010 Winter Games in 2003, but the formal bid will be submitted earlier.
"The next council will be preparing the terms of reference for that bid." Melamed said he is neither for or against the Games at this stage.
Wells has identified eight key issues she expects will dominate dialogue over the next three years. For each she will schedule a "let’s talk" session as part of her re-election campaign. Her topics are: Intrawest – friend or foe; Whistler’s financial future; the challenges and opportunities of doing business in Whistler; finding middle ground in the tourist accommodation issue; deciding who should pay for the Emerald sewer project; raising children in Whistler; the Olympics; and the environment.
"For me the environment isn’t my passion. It’s a lot to try and understand how you weigh a wildlife corridor versus a wetland versus a pretty tree," said Wells. "We can’t save everything. I want to focus on a no net loss approach."
Sloan would also like to see the tourist accommodation issue back on the table and a "mutually beneficial" solution found, perhaps using temporary permits. "I think we can find a better way." Sloan said more discussion is also needed on who will pay for the Emerald sewer project.
Most councillors, just off the Emerald Forest/bed unit trade, are still focused on key projects on the table right at the end of their term and will look toward election campaigns once the Whistler South Comprehensive Development Strategy has been dealt with. The CDS is due to come before council Oct. 4.
"Frankly I am exhausted after the Emerald Forest," said Milner. "The next is the CDS. I think with those two things no one has managed to really focus on the election ball." Both Milner and Kirk want to leave themselves some manoeuvring room before committing to run again. "I have been somewhat preoccupied with what’s on the table rather than what is coming up," said Kirk referring to the major issues still before council.
The Chamber of Commerce will likely decide on a venue and date for the traditional All Candidates gathering at their next meeting, to be held the second week of October.