Sparks fly in debate on World Economic Forum 

Decision put off to April 2 to allow for community input

After nearly nine months of trying to keep the lid on discussions about hosting the World Economic Forum, the pot boiled over Monday in council chambers.

Emotions ran high as the debate wandered from what business Whistler is in to how Whistler can advance its own agenda; from communicating with the community to security issues and the potential for violence.

"If we’re not interested, we’re just going to be a little ski area. Maybe Desmond Tutu won’t rent skis from you, Dave," Ted Milner said referring to fellow Councillor Dave Kirk, who owns several ski shops.

"I know these people are intensely capitalistic, but they bring some socialists with them," Milner continued.

"We’re all wringing our hands – it’s a five-day conference two years from now. I don’t get it."

"I really resent your glibness, that I may suffer for five days because Desmond Tutu won’t rent skis from me," Kirk fired back. "I think it’s time you got back before a cash register."

Mayor Hugh O’Reilly was also frustrated by the opposition, and Kirk’s complaint that he wasn’t prepared to discuss the World Economic Forum because it wasn’t on council’s agenda.

"We didn’t discuss this last meeting because you and others were away," O’Reilly said to Kirk.

"The question is, is this a fit? Is it appropriate?

"I thought we should do this. I bought in (to the sustainability initiative). I’m now trying to do something meaningful on a global level," O’Reilly said, referring to how Whistler could make sustainability part of the agenda if the WEF held its forum in Whistler.

"But there’s no backbone. If we’re all going to end up dead, Dave, we’re not going to worry about your store. This is five days. Where’s the backbone?"

After more than an hour’s debate on the issue, which at times produced applause from some of the 50-or-so people who jammed council chambers, councillors decided to put off a decision until a special meeting is held April 2. In the meantime municipal staff will put together information packages and guiding principles that will be available to the public, and public input will be sought.

A motion by Councillor Ken Melamed to schedule an open house on the matter failed.

Communication with the community about the World Economic Forum was at the forefront of councillors’ concerns. Councillor Nick Davies said: "I tend to support the World Economic Forum, but I’m troubled by the lack of public input." He later said if he was forced to vote that night he would oppose the forum, but if the vote was held two or four weeks hence he would support it.

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