Those that stuck around to catch the back half of Wednesday’s all-candidates meeting at the Maury Young Arts Centre—the third of Whistler’s five candidate events ahead of next month’s election—were eager to hear more specifics from the resort’s trio of mayoral candidates.
“You’re scrutinized and in the public eye, but I don't feel like you're answering questions directly this evening,” said one attendee when she took to the microphone. “I think we are lacking specifics when people are asking for solutions. You're not providing them. You're talking about past actions or [being] generic, and people want solutions.”
The demand for detailed policy plans came up a handful of times at the Sept. 28 forum co-hosted by Arts Whistler, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and Pique Newsmagazine, a clear sign of the electorate’s frustration with the vague promises and pie-in-the-sky ideas coming from some of the 18 hopefuls bidding for mayor and council.
In Part 2 of Pique’s coverage of Wednesday’s three-hour event, we home in on the three candidate vying for the mayor’s chair: incumbent Jack Crompton, environmentalist and chef Marcus Culver, and recycling supervisor and former bar operator Brian Walker.
Like the council hopefuls before them, each of the candidates had an opportunity for a short opening and closing statement, and fielded questions from the host organizations, the public, both in-person and online, and, notably, from each other.
With the comparatively smaller field vying for the mayor’s chair compared to the 15 hopefuls bidding for one of six spots on council, it allowed for more time to gain insights into each of the candidates’ respective platforms—or lack thereof.
In what was perhaps a signal that many local voters have already made up their mind for mayor, the sizable crowd that was initially on-hand to hear from prospective councillors earlier in the night had dwindled significantly by the time the mayoral hopefuls took to the stage.
Read Part 1 of this story, which focuses on the council candidates, here.
Find a recording of the three-hour event here: https://vimeo.com/event/2213328.
The business of business
Whistler Chamber of Commerce board chair Diana Chan was pointed in her question to the trio of candidates, asking more than once for specific ideas that would support the economic sustainability of local businesses.
“It's easy to say motherhood and apple pie. Many of our local businesses have had to be resilient, have had to be creative on the fly solving issues from labour, to supply chain issues, to commercial rent and tax increases,” she said. “This is a community, the business community, that understands how to be specific and how to take action.”
A soft-spoken Culver went first, noting how transportation, and particularly mitigating Whistler’s growing traffic congestion, would help.
“We’re dealing with huge congestion, which I’m sure most people here know,” he said. “We need some serious transportation options. There's some task force already working on that and along with [council candidate] Brendan Ladner, so potentially, maybe having valley gondola service, maybe having some more passenger rail. I'd like to brainstorm other ideas on that one.”
Next up was Mayor Crompton, who touched on a number of challenges facing the business community. On the topic of lengthy permitting times at municipal hall, which local building firms have chalked up, in part, to reams of unnecessary red tape, Crompton pointed to a council directive passed the day prior that would refer “a bunch of the decisions that would come to the council table to staff, and that will really improve things,” he said.
The incumbent also highlighted David Eby’s “ambitious” housing platform in his bid for leader of the B.C. NDP, just rolled out last week, that Crompton has discussed with Eby’s team.
The former housing minister’s plan, which proposes a range of expansive changes to B.C.’s housing landscape, including legalizing secondary suites, increasing density in communities areas zoned for single-family homes, and a new “flipping tax” that would be applied to sales of residential properties that are resold within two years, would “create a huge amount of money being made available to local governments,” Crompton said, “and that’s something we’ve been advocating for.”
Walker answered last and rehashed one of the main tenets of his campaign: creating an accreditation training system he has dubbed the Whistler Service Guild for local workers that would connect them to interested employers.
“What that does is accredit people for any position that they're employed in town so that employers can go on to say, a website, the Whistler Service Guild website, and see who has been credited as a dishpig or a waiter, general manager of a restaurant, general manager of a hotel, and the more accreditations that you acquire, the more valuable you are to businesses in town,” he explained. “Think of it like the Girl Guides and the Boy Scouts meet the service industry.”
Moving the needle on child-care
One question from the public came from an expectant mother who expressed fear over what would happen if her and her family are unable to find child-care once her mat leave ends. Directing her question to Crompton specifically, she asked what short- and long-term plans he had to address Whistler’s child-care shortage.
“We'll have 4500 Northlands Boulevard; it will be a large construction project. We have opportunities in Cheakamus, but as was mentioned earlier, it's not necessarily, unfortunately, just a facilities issue for us,” he said. “It's actually [about] teachers and it’s teachers getting fair pay … One of the biggest changes that's been made is that child-care is now moving into the Ministry of Education and a a lot of the barriers that have been in place allowing people to move across jurisdictions are being removed. And a lot of that is a result of the advocacy that's been done by Councillor [Jen] Ford and others.”
Taking big steps towards Whistler’s climate goals
A former board member of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, Culver was asked a question by a member of the public about how he would go about meeting Whistler’s climate targets, which it is not on pace to meet.
“Currently, our targets are very ambitious, so it's gonna take a lot of work, I think,” he said. “We'd have to have some task forces to come up with the best alternatives for what we're currently doing. That could include rethinking transportation, doing away with natural gas in homes, maybe having heat pumps. A lot of big ideas and, and then acting on those ideas. We've got a really good opportunity in Whistler. It's a global hub, so if we started making some drastic changes, other places might catch on.”
Alternative transportation solutions
Closely tied to the issue of climate is, of course, transportation, and during the portion of the evening when the mayoral hopefuls had the chance to pose each other questions, Culver asked his fellow running mates what alternative transportation solutions they may have considered.
Walker pointed to the robust transit system Whistler had in place during the 2010 Winter Olympics as a model for the kind of service frequency he’d like to see implemented.
“If we can use that as some sort of a model to move towards, that’d be great. It is very important that people have that kind of transportation just to be able to get around,” he said.
Acknowledging the “incredible stress” Highway 99 is under with increasing traffic volumes, Walker said he’d also favour installing parking lots south of town “that people stop in and get bussed into town, so that we can our bus system run efficiently because it just runs right off the rails at heavy-volume times and it’s frustrating for everybody.”
The goals of good governance
Not all of the questions at Wednesday’s meeting centred on policy. Several questions from the community were more about personality and communication style, signifying voters want more than just good legislation at municipal hall, but good governance, too.
In one heated question, a community member asked how the prospective mayors intend to “actually interface with the public you’re meant to be serving.”
Up first was Culver, who said, if elected, he would engage the community on social media as much as possible. “Certain Facebook group posts and polling and community engagement. More community forums would be nice,” he added. “And just chatting with the public and having more ‘I’m going to be in the park at this time.’”
Crompton was next, highlighting what he believes is a council that has been “very available” to the public during their term—including Crompton himself handing out his personal phone number, which he listed again for those in attendance. He also spoke to the sometimes combative nature of community dialogue that has taken place locally as swaths of the resort have grown increasingly frustrated with a number of pressing issues.
“I’m tired of beating up on each other. I don't think it's helpful to our community. I'm proud of us. I'm proud of how well we take care of this place, the buildings we build, the organizations that we run,” he said. “I want to do more of that and listen. If anybody wants to talk to me. I'm pretty easy to find and my phone number is 604-388-9588.”
Walker was last, and waxed poetic about the vital need to listen to your constituents as a political leader.
“As a talkative six-year-old, my father sat me down one day and said, ‘You have two ears and one mouth because you're supposed to listen twice as much as you talk.’ So that led to a great revelation in my life: You have to listen to what people say,” he said. “You have to process what they say. You have to give them respect for what they say. And then use that as a way to be able to do something, get things done—but listening is most important.”
Take a load off Whistler
Walker concluded the night with a bit of levity during his closing statement, which he used to sing a Whistlerified version of The Band’s 1968 classic single, “The Weight,” that drew chuckles and applause from the remaining crowd.
“I pulled into Whistler, feeling about a half past dead.
I just need some place, where I can lay my head.
‘Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?’
He just grinned and shook my hand, ‘No’ was all he said.
Take a load off Whistler, take a load for free,
Take a load off Whistler, and, and, annnnnddd, you put the load right on me.”
Still two more candidate events before voting day
The Mature Action Community, Whistler's seniors' advocacy group, will be hosting an informal candidates' meeting on Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Whistler Public Library from 1 to 5 p.m., a recent addition to the resort's schedule of pre-election events. Registration is at 1 p.m., with a Q&A session to follow from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Refreshments will be served from 4 to 5 p.m. to celebrate National Seniors Day.
Whistler’s final all-candidates meeting is slated for Wednesday, Oct. 5 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Maury Young Arts Centre. Doors are at 5:30 p.m.
Co-hosted by the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment and the Whistler Community Services Society, the event’s focus is "Conversation, Climate and Community Wellbeing."
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.