Hell hath no fury like Whistlerites

Several years ago someone at VANOC said there would be high points and there would be low points in the lead up to the 2010 Winter Olympics. July 2009 would be one of the low points, at least in Whistler.

It's not that VANOC, or the IOC, did anything special this month to piss off Whistler; it just seems like Whistlerites are pissed off about a lot of things, and for some the Olympics make a good catch-all receptacle for their frustrations.

And if the Olympics aren't the target of Whistlerites' fury, the municipal council they elected eight months ago is. Tuesday's marathon council meeting was a case in point. The feeling among some people seems to be, if we could just get rid of the Olympics and this council most of our troubles would be gone.

There is a shopping list of grievances. Pay parking seems to be at the top, but it includes removal of a median on Blackcomb Way, the new bus facility, paving of some of the day skier lots, the retrofit of Meadow Park, the clearing of trees to create a medals plaza, the compost facility, Olympic jackets and tickets, a cost of living increase in council wages... and the thing that makes all of these issues personal is higher property taxes and utility fees that were due earlier this month.

Both VANOC and the RMOW have had communication "issues." This hasn't helped either organization and has contributed greatly to Whistlerites' frustrations.

But if many people are mad at the current municipal council, they aren't all mad for the same reasons. For some the issue is municipal spending in the middle of a recession and after development - and the revenue it produced for the municipality - has ground to a halt. Finding additional sources of revenue has been talked about for years but the municipality's record on things like Yodel and the True Local program is not encouraging. The most viable new source of municipal revenue, the additional hotel tax, has shrunk with the economy and hotel rates.

There is a sense, though, that others are mad at council because things like pay parking affect them personally and directly. Where they used to park for free they now have to pull $2 out of their pockets. That's a legitimate gripe, and people can make the case that pay parking has meant they go to the village less and they spend less in village businesses.

Fewer have expressed concern publicly that pay parking will deter visitors from going to the village. It may, if directions to the free parking aren't improved. But some people just seem more concerned with how pay parking affects them than how it may affect the whole resort.

Of course some things could have been handled better. Council declining the cost of living increase would have been a symbolic gesture that council members recognize how tough things are. Other decisions, such as the implementation of pay parking at the conference centre and removal of the Blackcomb Way median, seemed to surprise a lot of people.

But on other issues, the standard response - "now, just before the Olympics, is not the time to compromise on municipal standards" - is correct. The Olympics, despite the frustrations, are still an opportunity unique to Whistler, at a time when every tourist destination in the world is looking for attention.

Certainly Whistler has been buffeted by larger forces in Ottawa, Victoria, Vancouver and Lausanne who have their own interests in the 2010 Olympics. But the "I told you so" chorus from some corners only distracts from real issues. The Games are going ahead, why not make the most of them?

The issue, for those who aren't vehemently opposed to the Olympics, has been making them tangible. To date the Olympics have been mostly about construction, budgets, deadlines and trying to get details about transportation and accommodation plans. That's the foundation for a successful Games, but the Games themselves are about people and their stories. If Manuel Osborne Paradis, the Whistler Mountain Ski Club alumnus whose grandfather taught him to ski on Whistler Mountain, wins a medal in the men's downhill on Feb. 13, the Olympic bandwagon will become a runaway freight train. The Blackcomb Way median will seem trivial, even if it did cost $150,000 to remove it.

(On the other hand, if Canadian athletes don't win any medals in the first week of the Games, as was the case in Beijing, the Blackcomb Way median may be an issue again...)

These are difficult, extraordinary times. Just about everyone is under more pressure or feeling a greater financial squeeze than usual. Tuesday night's venting may help. Better communication in the future will help.


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