Three councillors say farewell 

Voters face tough choices in council election as all-candidates meetings reveal more about contenders

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAVID BUZZARD/WWW.MEDIA-CENTRE.CA - ARound the tables The discussions got lively during the WORCA election meeting, which was set up like an election speed date, with candidates moving from table to table, on Monday, Nov. 3.
  • Photo BY David Buzzard/www.media-centre.ca
  • ARound the tables The discussions got lively during the WORCA election meeting, which was set up like an election speed date, with candidates moving from table to table, on Monday, Nov. 3.

It was a council swan song befitting this past term — heartfelt, genuine, and with an eye to Whistler's best interests going forward.

"It's been an honour and a pleasure to work with you," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden to her three outgoing councillors before emotion overcame her and she passed the floor to them — Councillors Duane Jackson, Jayson Faulkner and Roger McCarthy — for their final say at Tuesday's meeting.

They each spoke to their extensive work of the last three years, the rapport at the council table and with staff, the respect and the cohesive teamwork.

They also spoke of their hopes.

"My advice to the voting public is look for experience but most of all, look for integrity," said Jackson.

Municipal CAO Mike Furey spoke from the other side of the staff table too.

"What I've seen from you three is you use your head in making the decisions, but you never forget what was in your hearts, which is your love of Whistler, and that really showed. And that's a pretty hard balance to find."

So, amid hugs and tears, the sun set on a special term on council.

Now Whistler must turn its collective mind to electing a new mayor and council and as the last two all-candidates meetings revealed it's still anyone's game in the race for a council seat.

While the three council incumbents have a definite leg up in the contest, given their experience and track record of the last three years and the lack of stiff competition, no clear winners have emerged to round out the council team.

That's after three back-to-back all-candidates meetings in the space of a week.

Getting to know the candidates

Monday's WORCA (Whistler Off Road Cycling Association) speed-dating format, the last of the three election meetings, was perhaps one of the most telling about who's running for council and why.

It gave the roughly 50 community members, who braved the steady downpour to attend, a little more insight into the personalities of each candidate — how they present themselves, how they handle the tough questions and the easy ones, how they will represent Whistler on a provincial stage and beyond, and how they will mesh with a team that must work together for the next four years.

And that may be just what tips the balance for some.

Long-time resident Bruce Watt didn't come to the meeting to have any issues clarified, per se. Rather, the time with the candidates reaffirmed to him that these are people who are all ready to get to work. The trick is picking the ones who will work well together, something Whistler has grown accustomed to this past term.

"I think everybody's still focused on the same forward-thinking business ideas that we've been using for the last three years, so I think that's positive," said Watt after the one-and-a-half-hour session in which candidates spent five minutes at each table of community members.

"For me, I look at the personalities, whether they'll work together. I look at how a team will work."

So, with no burning issues like asphalt plants and paid parking, and no unique campaign platforms, what did the WORCA meeting reveal about the personalities of the eight council contenders (candidate Tristan Galbraith was not present)?

The incumbents — Jack Crompton, John Grills and Andrée Janyk — brought a level of confidence to the tables, confidence not only in their track record of the past three years but in their chances, too, of being re-elected.

"Hit me!" said Crompton, after a quick introduction, encouraging the people at his table to ask questions so that he could speak to council's record and plans for the future.

But the incumbents weren't the only ones who were relaxed.

New candidate hopefuls speak out

Steve Anderson, too, came with a swagger, joking with his table, which was filled mainly with long-time locals, just like him.

He reminded the table that he lost the last election to Councillor John Grills by just three votes.

Michael d'Artois, too, has deep roots in the community, again evidenced by the way people responded to him and the questions they asked of him.

When asked about the oft-forgotten Holborn development of the tennis club amenity, d'Artois said the deal doesn't pencil out for the developers.

"The landscape is bigger than just them," he added, meaning that perhaps there is opportunity by not dealing with single-issue developments, as stand alone opportunities. There is value, he later explained, in taking a wider view of things for the benefit of all, developers and the community.

While d'Artois and Anderson may have the advantage of deep roots, lesser-known candidates were able to give more insight into their motivations for running.

Pete Crutchfield, for example, was asked to elaborate on his financial credentials.

Crutchfield, who works in finance at the Pan Pacific, said he does the daily audits and works with accounts payable and receivable.

Jen Ford, too, revealed more about herself Monday night, acknowledging she has spent the last three years readying for another bid at the council table after losing in 2011. She said it was at the tough WORCA all-candidates meeting in 2011 that she was asked to outline her volunteer work in the community — things that would recommend her for public service. And she felt she came up short.

"I didn't love the answers that I had," she told her table. "I decided to get myself prepared."

In the last three years she has sat on the board of WAG — Whistler Animals Galore and, the WHA — Whistler Housing Authority.

Sue Maxwell, virtually unknown in the community before the election, calmly delivered sure and steady answers, drawing down on her years as an environmental consultant.

When asked her position on the three years of zero-per-cent tax increases, she said she knows it has been a popular decision in the community. She had a cautionary tale too.

"I used to work in health care and eventually they were asking us to keep on cutting the budget until there was nothing really left to cut," she said.

"Eventually, you're going to have to say 'what do we value and is it worth it?'"

'Big picture' view is what's needed

At the end of the meeting, Keith Bennett, who retired three years ago but has vast experience sitting on the opposite side of the council table as a general manager at the hall, said the WORCA meeting helped narrow his choices for the ballot box.

"It's definitely added another whole layer of information that helps filter things," he said.

"I think there's tough choices. I'm pretty confident with the incumbents and then it's finding the right balance that will work really well over the next four years.

"You really want people who have a big picture view, critical thinkers who can make a decision and have respectful discussions and debate and... listen and respect other people's opinions and what they have to say."

Affordability key issue at meeting

At the Oct. 30 all-candidates meeting, much of the discussion centered around the thorniest issues facing the community, like housing, the development of arts and culture and the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) program.

Hosted by Pique, the Question, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and the Whistler Arts Council, the agenda touched on a wide range of subjects, but in what has become a recurring theme of this campaign, addressing affordability and Whistler's housing crunch was near the top of the list.

D'Artois admitted to being "a little stymied" with the issue, but pointed to the positive work done by the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) in providing affordable housing to residents.

Entrepreneur Tristan Galbraith, who has at times looked out of his element at the community forums, said it's up to the WHA and resort employers to fulfill "their civic duty of giving people a good wage and a place to live here."

Ford was the only candidate posed the question around affordable housing who offered a different perspective, saying that the municipality should continue to support and attract new social programs, like those offered by Whistler Community Services Society, that "add value to the product we have here for our residents and guests."

When asked about the possibility of establishing a mandated minimum wage across the resort, Wilhelm-Morden said it falls outside of the municipality's authority, but that the RMOW "can exercise some moral suasion with the other employers in town to ensure that employees are paid a fair wage."

Whistler's mayor was evasive at various points through the night, occasionally skirting certain questions, such as one posed from the host panel on whether holding the line on property taxes in the next term is financially prudent.

"I can't say what our tax increase, if any, will be in 2015," she said. "There are things that are increasing in costs; fuel in particular and salaries as well. It may be that we will have to have a modest tax increase, but that will be a job for the new council and the finance and audit committee."

With the news that Victoria is re-examining the RMI program, candidates were asked for their plan of attack in the event the roughly $7-million in annual tourism funding the resort receives dries up. Candidates spoke to the vital importance of the monies to Whistler's events calendar, and vowed to lobby the province if funding is discontinued.

"If it dried up tomorrow, I think we need to take a look at what the return on investment has been for some of the events we sponsored," said Maxwell.

There was also much talk around how to continue the diversification of Whistler's economy, with candidates pointing to arts, culture and heritage as one of the keys.

"With the one-dimensional aspect of a ski town and how limiting that is for future prospects, sectors like the arts, crafts and the cultural plan really rounds out the resort as a year-round destination," said Anderson, who admitted to reading last year's Community Cultural Plan, one of four major reports completed by the RMOW in the last term.

D'Artois pointed to the rich cultural and historical experiences found in places like Quebec City as an example of what Whistler could offer guests, particularly with the new Audain Museum opening in 2015, as well as a proposed cultural connector aimed at linking visitors to the resort's other cultural venues.

Transportation

Crompton looked confident at Wednesday's meeting, and outlined his plan to increase transit ridership in Whistler.

"In a town that has really high transit ridership, that's not an easy task," he said. "I'd like to look at a U-Pass sort of scenario like UBC has. It's significantly increased ridership there and I think if the partners got together in our community, that's something we could probably deliver on."

He also detailed plans for a transit phone app that would track buses in real time.

"Preferred methods of transportation" was also a key platform point for Anderson. He said he would like to see "local transit hook up with regional transit to get people to and from Vancouver."

Meanwhile, it has been announced that the RMOW is offering free bus service to the polling station at Myrtle Philip Community School on election day, Saturday, Nov. 15.

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