"I realized I was only truly happy when I was in the mountains. That's when I decided I had to find a way to create a life there."
- Jayson Faulkner
He thought that getting involved in local politics was all about giving back. But he didn't mind that. He really thought he could give something back to the community. "It seemed at the time," he explains, "that the social contract at Whistler had broken down. The conflict between council and muni staff had spread throughout the whole community. And that really disturbed me."
He sighs. Shrugs. "I'm a current events junkie... I follow a lot of politics. And I've come to understand that our system falters when people stop participating in the political process." He laughs. "So that's why I decided to run for Whistler council in 2011. It really came down to: If not me, then who?"
More laughter. "Back then, I didn't realize that so many good people had also decided to run for office. You know, people like Roger (McCarthy) and Duane (Jackson) and John Grills. If I'd known about them, then maybe..."
Before we go on, I need to make one thing perfectly clear. Jayson Faulkner has zero regrets about his decision to throw his hat in the political ring. A year into his term, the 53-year old has nothing but good things to say about the process. "It's been an amazing learning experience," says the co-founder and former owner of Whistler's venerable The Escape Route. "I really like what it's been teaching me."
Indeed. Faulkner came into the election thinking more about giving than learning. "I'm a total outdoors guy," he explains. "I come to it from a very clear mountain passion." He takes a breath. Continues. "And my business background reflects that fact. As you know, I've spent my entire career working in the outdoors industry.
"It's who I am! I'm the guy with the outdoor store and the guide's bureau and... in my opinion it's a point-of-view that wasn't being heard enough when decisions about Whistler's future were being made. That's another big reason why I ran."
Although he still thinks his perspective and experience are both important assets in his role as council member, one of Faulkner's biggest surprises is just how much the job is teaching him about his own community. "And I already thought I knew it well," he says. And laughs. But his point is important. "You know, being a member of Whistler Council is not at all what I expected..." A long pause. "Really," he insists. "You get back so much more than what you're giving!"
Faulkner's the real thing. Born and raised in B.C., Jayson spent his early years in Kamloops and cut his skiing teeth on the hoary slopes of Tod Mountain (now Sun Peaks). One of his first instructors there was a guy called Jim McConkey...
When his family moved to West Vancouver in the mid 1960s, the young jack-of-all-sports fell desperately in love with the unique attributes of his new north-shore home. And while Grouse was the local hangout on weekdays —"You couldn't beat the $99 season's pass," he says — Whistler was always his destination on weekends.
And we're not talking casual skiing here. "I remember waking up at 5:30 on Saturday mornings," he says of his teen years, "throwing my ski stuff on and hitchhiking my way up to Whistler (most times standing on the highway in the pouring rain), and then hitchhiking home at the end of the day. It was such a fantastic experience. I'd be totally bagged by the time I got home, but I couldn't wait to do it again on Sunday."
See what I mean? Full-in, full-on, all the time. There's nothing casual about Jayson. He lives the 'just do it' ethos to the max. Whether working or playing, climbing, skiing or hiking, Faulkner gives his all to everything he does. No surprise then to hear that he's applied that philosophy to his new council duties. "It's all about vision," he explains. "I ran so I could participate in creating a new — and dynamic — post-Games vision for Whistler." He pauses. Searches for the right words. "You know," he says, "we kind of got caught drinking our own kool-aid there for a few years. We got sidetracked, distracted from our core strengths..."
And now? "I think this is a very important time for Whistler," he asserts. "As a community we have some really big decisions to make." He stops talking again. Sighs. "From my perspective, the most important thing to remember is that we can't ever divorce ourselves from our physical place. Whistler is all about the interrelationship between this stunning mountain environment and the people who come to live and play here. It's our geography that makes us who we are, defines the kind of people we should be attracting as guests and visitors here. We're not Disneyland. Nor are we Richmond or Surrey or Burnaby. We're Whistler. And we should never forget that!
"I get a little impatient at times with all this 'cultural tourism' talk." He lets a few beats go by. "We already have a culture here. It's called Whistler culture. And its story is all about how we, as a community, have adapted to our beautiful and inspiring mountain surroundings. I think every event we put on in this town should reflect something of that relationship. We already know the power of having people participating rather than just standing there and watching..."
Still, Jayson will be the first to admit how much he's learning about the local political process. "I've been a small-business man all my life," he says. "And the research is very clear on this — a healthy economy depends on small business entrepreneurship. And you know, when you're a businessman it's really easy to throw rocks at the government..."
But now that he's standing on the other side of the fence, he understands why things don't always move at the kind of torrid pace most entrepreneurs prefer. "It's all about being answerable to the electorate," he explains. "Government is a process. And whether you hate or love that process, that's what democracy is all about. You've got to slow things down. Consider all the consequences of any given proposal. Sure, it can be frustrating. But now I understand why it works that way."
That doesn't mean, he's quick to add, that you can't improve the process. "Ultimately, the municipality must always remember who its customers are — the residents." Which means, he says, "that our job is to make sure the community is managed in the most efficient — and effective — manner possible."
And that, to a large extent, relies on establishing a good working relationship between council and RMOW employees. "I'd heard lots of hyperbole about the muni hall staff," he says. And laughs. "I expected to run into a bunch of bogeymen there — but that hasn't been the case at all! The people that I've worked with to date are all conscientious, responsible and absolutely want to do the right thing by the community."
The good vibes, it seems, are flowing both ways. "I think there was a lot of concern among staff at first that the new council would come along and chop off all their heads. But when that didn't happen, most of them understood that we were simply agents of positive change."
He also thinks the recent shift in management styles has made a big difference at muni hall. Like every other councillor I've spoken to these last few weeks, Jayson is an enthusiastic fan of CAO Mike Furey. "Maybe the best thing the last council did," he says. "Mike is very sophisticated politically. He knows exactly how government works, and he's acutely aware of how to get things done. He's a tremendous asset for Whistler. He understands the role the municipality has to play, what role his staff needs to play." A pause. "The guy is a real pro."
And Mayor Nancy? "She's been great," he says. "She's been really good at pulling us all together. She's the consummate consensus builder and virtually without ego — which is wonderful."
The best part, he says, is just how well everyone on council gets along. "I was hopeful that we could work together, you know, but I didn't really know how the dynamics would play out. The biggest surprise for me is how much I respect and like the other people around the table. Whether Jack or Duane, Andrée or John, Nancy or Roger, each is an expert in his own field. And that gives us all a tremendous amount of trust in each other's opinions."
He pauses for just a beat. "But it's more than that," he says. "This is a really hard-working group of people. And they really care about the community. But they still like to have fun. They smile a lot. They laugh. And for me, that makes all the difference."
This is the last in the Alta States series on Whistler's councillors as they mark one year on the job. You can find them on www.piquenewsmagazine.com starting Oct.11, 2012.
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