It feels like public engagement is the flavour of the day right now. There are no fewer than three different opportunities to have your say on issues that impact Whistler life right now — the Climate Action Plan, the 2016 Corporate Plan and the Vital Signs survey.
We are still digesting the results of the the Community Life Survey, which were released in March for 2015, and the Whistler Public Library's Discovery Survey — 843 people took part in that — just wrapped up too.
The Whistler Housing Authority closed its annual housing survey in May and will report the findings in September.
Amid all this democracy there may be a tendency to get complacent and take the bike out for a spin rather than invest time in giving feedback to local government and community groups.
But let's remember that the results of these surveys inform decision making at the local level.
Or at least we hope they do. Nothing makes the voting public more apoplectic than spending time doing surveys, taking part in community forums or joining community stakeholder groups and then having their input disregarded.
Cast your mind back to the deep public engagement that went on around the formulation of the new Official Community Plan (OCP). More than 35 committed Whistler citizens ranging in age from 13 years old to worldly wise advised the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) throughout 2010, and as the process moved into 2011 community engagement continued in public forums. No fewer than 130 people showed up to the April 2011 meeting at the Hilton, in all 1,500 residents took part.
(As we know, the OCP is on hold after being struck down by the Supreme Court of B.C. over the consultation process between stakeholders and First Nations. No word yet on when this will be settled.)
This week we saw a community forum hosted at the Audain Art Museum by the RMOW to seek input on the Corporate Plan, which deals with issues such as transportation, housing, water supply, fire protection, economic diversity and energy reduction.
The plan is based on a "strengthened economy with growth in visitation during both summer and winter seasons, while Whistler's contribution to provincial GDP has increased from $1.27 to $1.53 billion." Fully 25 per cent of the tourism export revenue of the province comes from Whistler.
"As always, staff and Council encourage your feedback, your participation... as we strive to continue to improve the quality of service we provide to the resort community," states the plan.
So let's give some feedback. We need more staff housing. Let's take some of the landbank and build. It's understood that we are not building in the same climate as the Whistler Development Corporation built in the lead up the Games, as it constructed the Cheakamus community, but surely a solution can be found. We need sensible, affordable housing and we need it now (See "Maxed Out," pg. 94, for more on this).
We need better transit. You've heard it before but when the Olympic-bus schedule was operating everyone took the bus and it was good. The transit needs to reach Pemberton and Squamish as well. Obviously we don't need full-sized buses, but what about some vans heading back and forth as more and more Whistler workers seek homes in those communities?
And let's not forget that the millions Whistler produces in taxes also goes to the federal government — perhaps there is room there for some give back to the resort.
The RMOW handled a budget of $76.4 million in 2015 supporting an average daily population of 29,800 (10,500 permanent residents), and the town saw 2.7 million visitors.
There can be little doubt that these numbers put pressure on our community. And sharing how those pressures affect is was at the heart of the Community Foundation's Vital Signs survey, the results of which are expected in November.
What needs to be realized is that giving power to citizens can help councils work more effectively. It's a way to gain useful customer insight and pinpoint where people think money can and should be spent — that can lead to efficiencies.
"Good public engagement can be part of a way of working that helps councils to take tough decisions, find efficiency savings, and innovate through the economic down turn," said authors Simon Burall and Jonathan Carr-West during a study on local government in the U.K.
It's refreshing to see the community involved — a change from what we saw in decades past when the dialogue was really driven by interest groups with an agenda.
And face-to-face discussion is a vital part of the transfer of information. Anyone can just click "like" on Facebook. Valued input must be thoughtful input — and surveys can be part of this information sharing as well.
So get your cup of tea, log in, and start sharing your thoughts.
To take the Vital Signs survey, go to www.whistlerfoundation.com/successes/vital-signs.
For the Climate Action Plan go to www.surveymonkey.com/r/climateplan.
To have your say on the Corporate Plan members of the public may ask questions or provide submissions to council at the June 21 regular council meeting.
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