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Whistler union organizer banking on years of advocacy to carry him into office

UFCW organizer Keith Murdoch is the NDP’s candidate for the Sea to Sky riding
Keith Murdoch 2 (1)
UFCW organizer Keith Murdoch is the NDP's election candidate for the West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding. FILE PHOTO

A local union organizer has thrown his hat into the ring as the NDP’s candidate for the West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding in this month's provincial election, and he’s confident his experience advocating on behalf of Whistler workers will serve him well in office.

“It’s all pretty simple and it’s similar to why I do my union work: I care about people and I’ve always wanted to fight injustice,” said Keith Murdoch on his decision to run in this month’s provincial election.

An organizer with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) for more than 15 years, Murdoch is the founder of the Whistler Workers Alliance, which was launched two years ago in partnership with a small group of Whistler Blackcomb Snow School employees. The UFCW and the Alliance have set their lofty sights on unionizing WB’s entire workforce, and most recently, Murdoch has led an application to recognize the company’s snowmaking department as a collective bargaining unit. (That application now sits with B.C.’s Labour Relations Board.)

A Vancouver resident whose work brought him to Whistler in 2017*, Murdoch said his advocacy gives him “a pulse of the people and a sense of what matters to folks who live in Whistler and the challenges they’re facing.”

Chief among those challenges in Murdoch’s mind—along with the obvious strain on the tourism economy that COVID has created—is an issue that has persisted in Whistler for years: affordable housing. 

“I think it’s a real shame that the BC Liberals ignored this issue for the 16 years they were in power and allowed it to come to this. In saying that, the NDP is very cautious at making changes in the housing market because we understand that people’s life savings are invested in their homes,” said Murdoch, pointing to the efficacy of the NDP’s speculation and vacancy tax as a means to combat the issue.

“We have introduced a speculation tax and the great news is it seems to be working,” he added. “The revenues that are coming in from that speculation tax are being invested in affordable housing projects, including the new employee housing project in Whistler [and] the Northyards rental project in Squamish that I recently visited. Certainly I’m excited and I want to help encourage this progress to continue.”

The speculation tax is not without its detractors, however. Everyone from opposition critics to realtors have warned against implementing the tax in resort destinations such as Whistler—it currently only applies to urban centres deemed to be unaffordable and subject to land speculation—where second homeowners frequently leave their properties vacant for portions of the year.

Murdoch acknowledged such a move could discourage second homeowners from setting down roots in the resort, but his greater concern is “when housing is treated and traded like a commodity just to make money,” he noted.

“[Homeowners] don’t have to use the property for three months a year during the ski season and leave them vacant for the rest of the year. They do have the option to rent them out, and if they choose not to, it’s their home, their decision, but they’re then being asked to pay a small tax that would help fund affordable housing in the community, and I view that to be a good thing.”

An admitted “NDPer for life,” Murdoch applauded B.C.’s governing party for how its handled the COVID crisis, specifically crediting its $1.5-billion economic recovery plan and the $100 million earmarked for the tourism sector for helping keep businesses afloat. 

“These funds will help businesses operate in the Sea to Sky, they’ll help employ the many young people who have lost their jobs and been affected within this industry,” he said, adding that he’s looking forward to hearing more ideas from the sector.

Some in the industry—including Tourism Whistler—have warned that that $100 million in support, while welcome, would be stretched thin across one of the hardest hit sectors in the province. With that in mind, Murdoch believes it’s imperative destination marketing organizations like Destination BC continue to market the province to Canadians looking to stay closer to home for their next trip.

“The odds are the U.S.-Canada border is not going to open up anytime soon, so certainly doing our best to stimulate Canadians to come visit British Columbia, Whistler, Pemberton, Squamish, etc. is the best route to try to get those tourist dollars into the community,” he added.

Calling climate change “one of the most important issues” to his platform, Murdoch welcomed the NDP’s pledge, last week, to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in the province by 2050—but would like to see that timeline accelerated.

"This announcement to go net carbon neutral by 2050 is a bold move by the government to help protect the future of our province,” he noted. “Personally, I think 2050 is great but I would like to see that actually pushed up to make those improvements sooner. If I’m elected as the MLA, environment is my top priority.”

Murdoch would also like to see movement on a regional transit plan for the corridor, an effort that has been at a standstill as local and provincial governments wrestle with the cost-sharing arrangement. 

“We have the provincial funding available and we’re committed to working with local governments to find a funding structure that will make it happen,” Murdoch said, adding that he brought the issue up to Premier John Horgan last week, who said the NDP is committed to finding a solution.  

British Columbians head to the polls on Saturday, Oct. 24.

*An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Murdoch has been a Whistler resident since 2017. While his union work often brings him to Whistler, Murdoch is a resident of Vancouver.