The first time Brian Walker laid eyes on Whistler Village more than 30 years ago, he couldn’t help but liken it to another bustling commercial area in his former home of Hamilton, Ont.
“When I first saw Whistler, I saw Hess Village on steroids, to tell you the truth. I moved here to continue doing what I loved doing at Hess Village, but at the level of Whistler,” he said. “[Small business] is the crown jewel of our resort industry and I just want to see the thing thrive and survive.”
The current supervisor of Whistler’s two recycling yards, the 68-year-old is the former operator of the popular Hess Village tavern and live venue, Gown & Gavel, and co-founded a Hamilton business network, so he knows full well how crucial a satisfied front-line workforce is to the success of a community.
“It’s a vital aspect of what we do here and it’s dying away,” he said.
As Walker has watched service staff in Whistler struggle to make ends meet and find affordable accommodation, and businessowners being forced to slash operating hours due to significant gaps in staffing, he’s convinced the resort needs to shift how it views what he called its “greatest resource.”
“[Staff] are just as important as the guests that come here. We have to change our minds from housing people some place so they’re just a warm body that’s going to show up and do something, into actually reaching out and accommodating people in our service industry, because it’s just that important,” he said.
Walker is a firm believer in having service staff living throughout the community, not just in designated staff housing, as it would help add vibrancy and a greater sense of belonging to Whistler’s neighbourhoods. Ramping up infill housing is one way he hopes to contribute to that goal.
“There is a frustration with council and some of the people at municipal hall that just aren’t on the ball enough to get these projects up and going here. We have to get going. There are things that need to be done and there’s just not enough action,” he said. “Infill housing isn’t the only thing we should do, but I really feel that infill housing will warm up our community, because I want staff living throughout the community, not just in areas for staff only.”
Further addressing the resort’s staffing woes, Walker pitched a concept he first introduced years ago in the pages of Pique (Full disclosure: Walker wrote restaurant reviews in Pique for a period in the ’90s], called the University of Whistler, which he envisions as part training accreditation program, part employment directory that would connect qualified workers straight to employers.
“We should set up an academy of service here, and we ought to have a website that has all the job descriptions of anything anyone does in this town. And what you could do is go onto this website and you could take a look at the job description and get yourself accredited if you read through and do a multiple choice questionnaire that shows you read this thing, and the more accreditation you get, the bigger of a draw you are to anyone who is a prospective employer,” he explained, noting it could be a municipal program. “So if you’re looking for a busboy, you can go on to this site and check all the people who have been accredited as busboys or dishwashers or general managers of restaurants, general managers of hotels, any of that stuff, and find people who have gone through the accreditation process.”
Known for booking regular music acts at the Hamilton pub he used to run, Walker is a big booster of the arts, and, if elected, said “If there is one thing I’m going to do as mayor,” it’s allowing busking on the Village Stroll.
“I’m a big proponent of live entertainment, I’m a big proponent of the arts. It’s just life,” he said.
A candidate for mayor in both ’05, when he placed last among seven hopefuls, with 15 votes, and ’08, when he placed third among five hopefuls, with 63 votes, Walker said he was encouraged by the fact Whistler will have an actual race for the mayor’s chair this fall after incumbent Jack Crompton ran unopposed in 2018.
“I think that everybody who is in business understands that if you work for somebody or run a business that there is such a thing as a performance appraisal,” he said. “That’s what elections are, they’re a performance appraisal. That’s how I feel about it. I almost ran in the last election against Jack and I was a little upset that anybody got in by acclamation. That’s not the way you run this thing. People should have to get up there and make their case.”