Whistler’s first all-candidates meeting before next month’s municipal election saw a fairly sparse turnout, but for the prospective voters who did attend, it proved a valuable opportunity to ask pertinent questions directly to political hopefuls.
The Whistler Off Road Cycling Association (WORCA)-hosted event at Whistler Secondary School was attended by roughly 50 people, who first got to hear a one-minute “elevator pitch” from each of the 15 council hopefuls, three mayoral candidates, and three school-trustee candidates, before the night moved into its “speed dating” round, with each hopeful rotating to a new table of voters every five minutes to answer questions from the public.
For the community members Pique spoke with, the format offered a welcome chance to have a face-to-face interaction with the candidates that went beyond their prepared platforms.
“This was my first time coming to this and I'm sorry I didn't do it last [election]. It helps a lot,” said attendee David (Pique agreed to use attendees’ first names only to allow them to speak more freely). “It really helps a lot to look them in the eyes, hear them speak. Even if it's just for five minutes, you get a good first impression. It’s really helpful. And then at least you’re feeling like you're making an informed decision.”
The candidates themselves took varying approaches to the roundtable discussions. Most went in ready and willing to engage with voters on their most pressing concerns, while a handful dominated their allotted time, leaving little room for questions. Some came in with well-rehearsed talking points, while others used the five minutes to share more of their personality and demeanour, which proved valuable with a slate that includes several newcomers to resort politics.
Attendee Dan said the event helped him whittle down his shortlist of candidates, and also “brought some other people to the fray” that he was previously unfamiliar with. “And a lot of it has to do with their demeanour, their ability to speak publicly, which I think is important for municipal representatives to be able to engage comfortably.”
Light on specifics
By and large, the candidates were well-versed on the challenges that have persisted in Whistler for years, if not decades—namely housing, affordability and staffing—so any hopeful that touched on issues outside of that seemed to leave an impression.
“I think they were concentrating on what we thought were going to be the main concerns: housing, staffing. That's what they were prepared for,” said attendee Kee. “A couple of the candidates had some other issues that they brought forth. Like … management and efficiencies. And I thought that is a different topic, it's important and I'm glad that was brought up.”
While there was much talk of the problems at hand, there was a noticeable lack of ideas to solve them amongst a good chunk of the candidates, which could partly be to do with the speed-dating format itself.
“I'd say that the format doesn't lend itself to specifics. A one-minute elevator pitch, and then you have a very quick five minutes, so few of the candidates were able to articulate, in that framework, specific things they would do differently,” said David. “There seems to be a good realization of what the issues are and that they're not simple issues, but how to fix them, we didn't hear that tonight.”
Where are the young voters?
Notably, despite so many of Whistler’s biggest challenges impacting its young working class most deeply, they were largely absent from Wednesday’s all-candidates meeting, with the crowd leaning older, as has historically been the case at local political events.
“That’s one of our real problems in Whistler, I think,” said attendee Alan. “If you look, even at this very limited turnout, it’s older people. It’s all people our age. And this has been going on for years. It’s the workforce of Whistler, the younger people who are really suffering, but yet they’re not here.”
Attendee Kee, who works with Whistler’s vulnerable populations, said most of the issues discussed at her table don’t affect her directly as a retired homeowner.
“I actually didn’t talk about a single problem that I'm going to face in this community. My problem will be health-care as I get older. I'm not going to have a housing issue. I'm not going to have an employee issue. I don't want to own a business because I'm retired. So we brought up problems tonight and discussed things that affect almost nobody in this room,” she said.
Northlands a hot topic
The development slated for 4500 Northlands Boulevard—the largest and last significant piece of developable land in Whistler Village—was a recurring topic, and even among the sparsely attended crowd, there was a healthy contingent of Whistler Racket Club (WRC) supporters voicing their opinions on the future of the facility, which sits on the planned site of the Beedie-led project.
As has been the case since the two development concepts for the 5.8-hectare site were first made public in June, there has been a wave of support for the facility to remain, either at its current location or somewhere else in the community, delivered by the developer as a community amenity that the municipality could attach to the project.
WRC pickleball coach Ben Thomas believes it to be such an important development that it could become a wedge issue that ultimately moves the needle on election day.
“I feel like there's enough passionate people that will understand how important this opportunity is that any candidate that gets behind it, I think will do better. I think it's been underrepresented and it hasn't been out there,” he said. “But now that we've had a chance to discuss it with the candidates, they seem to be saying, ‘OK, we get it.’”
Three more candidate events to come
The Whistler Racket Club is hosting its own informal meet-and-greet with candidates on Friday, Sept. 23 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Then, on Wednesday, Sept. 28, Pique joins Arts Whistler and the Whistler Chamber of Commerce in hosting an all-candidates meeting at the Maury Young Arts Centre, from 6 to 9 p.m. Candidates will have an opportunity to address the audience and answer questions from the host organizations as well as community members.
The event is free, but registration is required. Register here.
There is also an option to attend virtually, which can be registered for at the above link. A link to the livestream will be sent prior to the event, and virtual attendees will have the chance to ask questions remotely on the day of via Slido.
Campaign season culminates on Wednesday, Oct. 5 with the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) and the Whistler Community Services Society co-hosting their own all-candidates meeting, focused on "Conversation, Climate and Community Wellbeing." Held at the Maury Young Arts Centre from 6 to 8:30 p.m., the meeting will give candidates time to answer questions from the host organizations and members of the public. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
The event is free to attend, but space is limited, so arrive early to secure a seat.
For those unable to attend in-person, the meeting can be viewed online by registering here. Registrations close at noon on Oct. 5. A link to access the livestream will be sent out prior to the event. Virtual attendees will once again have the chance to pose questions to the candidates remotely via Slido.
Pique will have more election coverage—including hearing from the candidates themselves—leading up to voting day on Oct. 15.