Whistler’s third all-candidates meeting ahead of election day gave voters the most fulsome view yet into their platforms, with the slate of 18 council and mayoral hopefuls fielding questions from the three host organizations, the public—and each other.
Co-hosted by Arts Whistler, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and Pique Newsmagazine, the event drew a sizable crowd to the Maury Young Arts Centre—at least for the first half of the evening.
To begin the night, each of the 15 council hopefuls had one minute to address the audience, an opportunity most candidates used to rehash their platforms and preferred talking points.
Check back with piquenewsmagazine.com Friday, Sept. 30 for Part 2 of this story, which focuses on Whistler’s three candidates for mayor.
Find a recording of the event here: https://vimeo.com/event/2213328.
As always, affordable housing a recurring theme
The real substance came during the question-and-answer period, with each host organization asking a question to a handful of chosen candidates. Housing was a recurring topic, as is usually the case in Whistler, and several candidates touched on how interconnected the issue is to the resort’s other persisting challenges.
In response to a question asking what specific ideas they had to help Whistler’s young working class, each of the candidates asked touched on the need to solve the resort’s housing crisis first and foremost.
“I commend the mayor and council for their worker security work that they've done through the Whistler Housing Association (WHA), but we need a different kind of housing for entrance-level workers,” Rhonda Millikin responded. “We need gap-year students in dorm-type housing and we need cross-generational housing to address the crisis in well-being that Whistler Community Services has documented.”
Curtis Lapadat answered next, saying one of the first things he’d do if elected is “tap into the federal housing fund to make sure we get our fair share of it.” He also promised to ensure the 36-unit, three-storey, resident-restricted rental apartment slated for White Gold “gets approved pretty quickly”—a rezoning bylaw for the project received first and second reading at this week’s council meeting, nearly five years after it was first proposed. The electrical engineer also said he would “extend another loan to the [Whistler Development Corporation] to start doing some more development.”
The final candidate to answer was Gordon Jeffrey, who believes Whistler needs “to be willing to admit that we have a real [housing] crisis” to the province in order to access much-needed housing grants. He also promised to “fight for more housing by incentivizing Airbnb operators to offer housing to more locals,” as well as offering free transit and parking passes to local employees so “they have less bills to worry about and they’re more empowered in these times.”
Housing was a hot topic among members of the public as well, who had the chance to pose questions in-person to candidates of their choosing, or online via Slido. A couple questions touched on the possibility of bringing in an empty homes tax to Whistler, where 61 per cent of privately owned dwellings sit vacant for much of the year.
Two-term incumbent and WHA board chair Jen Ford believes such a tax isn’t "well understood in the context of a resort town."
“I'm certainly open to having my mind changed on that. But I just think that [B.C. Finance] Minister [Selina] Robinson specifically singled out Whistler and other resort communities as not being a good fit for that taxation. So there's a reason they did it and we have to honour that,” she said.
Later in the evening, incumbent and Whistler Valley Housing Society chair Cathy Jewett explained how the organization could help fill in the gaps in the resort’s housing continuum that the WHA doesn’t.
“We don't have the same mission and vision and regulations as WHA, so what we're able to do is take a different look at housing, and, for instance, look at the social housing needs that we have in this community,” she explained. “It would mean that people that are not Canadian citizens would potentially have a place to live. And we would possibly be able to also prioritize essential workers.”
The Whistler Racket Club lobby out in full force
In a sign of how significant the facility is to a swath of voters, meeting host and Arts Whistler executive director Mo Douglas jokingly said the public-submitted questions online had been “taken over” by Whistler Racket Club supporters, who were eager to hear the candidates’ thoughts on the future of the community hub. Located on the current site of the planned mixed-use development at 4500 Northlands Boulevard, several members of the public asked similar questions via Slido about whether candidates would support maintaining the facility in its current location or having it rebuilt elsewhere, a potential condition that could be attached to the Beedie Group-led project.
“I have committed publicly on a number of occasions, including at council meetings, that I would not want any deal that does not include at least as much racquet facilities as we currently have,” said incumbent Ralph Forsyth. “I believe it is tied to the zoning, but it’s an amenity that was offered to the community for an incredible amount of bed units and it needs to be honoured. I've also said publicly that it needs to be 50-per-cent employee housing and it needs to be commercial zoned in the bottom of the facility for medical services and care.”
Council candidate Jessie Morden said she would support part of the developer’s community amenity contribution (CAC) tied to the project to be given to the Whistler Racket Club itself, “so they can either update the current infrastructure or build new.” She also said she’d like the final development to include more than the 42 employee-restricted rental units floated in the initial plans.
“I'd like to see more of this and more WHA rental units. I would also like to see some of those units designated for seniors. I'd like to see a portion of the CAC given to a health-care facility to be put in to that unit as well,” Morden added.
How to hit Whistler’s environmental goals
Sustainability was another popular subject at Wednesday’s meeting. Several candidates have made hitting Whistler’s ambitious climate goals a key plank of their platform, and the ideas vary on how to incentivize the kind of behavioural shift needed to meet them.
Council hopeful Brendan Ladner explained his vision for “a skiable future” in Whistler as something to inspire the community.
“This town was built as a ski community, and if this town cannot rise to the challenge of lowering our emissions here, then who can?” he asked. “And it's the municipal level that controls land-use planning, and controls transportation. We have the levers here at this table to make the biggest impact on our emissions, and we are some of the biggest emitters around. So I look forward to exploring a new transportation network that is able to enable e-bikes to get off the Valley Trail. Let's figure out a way to heat our homes with electricity. We've got a lot of great tools and solutions right in front of us.”
Incumbent and Whistler Blackcomb’s former environmental manager Arthur De Jong has made protecting Whistler from wildfire a key tenet of his campaign, and, responding to a question about his views on wildfire mitigation in the context of the Cheakamus Community Forest, co-managed by the municipality, Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations, he said he’d be in favour of never logging another tree commercially in Whistler again.
“With respect to First Nations, if they were onside with us, I would really like to see us not commercially log one more tree within our town limits. We need to manage our forest for ecology, for tourism, for climate change, for carbon storage,” he said. “Commercially logging in a 100-per-cent designed resort community, it really is a disconnect.”
Making the case for regional transit
For years, the Sea to Sky has been making the case to the provincial powers that be for a regional transit network that would better connect Mount Currie and Pemberton to the rest of the corridor, and beyond.
In response to a question asking what ideas he would have to fund a regional transit network, council candidate Jeff Murl said it’s all about advocacy.
“Advocacy is a big component of what I've been doing for the boards I've sat on, and I'm really excited to work at another level, to head to that provincial level and see if I can make a difference there, because I think we do have to make a difference,” he said. “The regional transit and on all the other things that the province is the keyholder of, we do have to either make a loud enough voice here in the community or team up with other communities that faced similar situations and see if we can provide enough momentum to make it an easy case for the government. They need to see projects, they need to see proposals that are something they can rubber stamp and get some PR from, and I think we can do that a lot here on some of our opportunities.”
Only in Whistler
A few of the assembled crowd used their time at the microphone to ask telling yes-or-no questions to the candidates that could only be posed in a place like Whistler.
Find a sampling of those questions, and their answers listed in the order they were responded to, below.
Q: Are you a rental tenant in Whistler?
De Jong: No.
Q: Would you support a 2030 OIympic bid for Whistler?
De Jong: Yes.
Q: If needed, would you prioritize employee housing over commercial ventures, including the Racket Club?
Lopez: “Not mutually exclusive.”
Titus: “Not mutually exclusive.”
Millikin: “Not mutually exclusive.”
Ladner: “Not mutually exclusive.”
De Jong: Yes.
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.
Whistlerites head to the polls on Oct. 15.
There are 15 hopefuls vying for six spots on Whistler's council, along with three candidates for mayor. There are also three candidates bidding for one school trustee position.
View a list of all the local candidates at whistler.ca/municipal-gov/elections/candidates/candidate-bios, and read more local election coverage here.