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A funny thing happened on the way to the forum

By G.D. Maxwell Most modern dictionaries define diplomacy along these lines: "The management of international relations by negotiation.

By G.D. Maxwell

Most modern dictionaries define diplomacy along these lines: "The management of international relations by negotiation." Ironically, its Greek root diploma , simply means something folded in two, which is what secret state documents used to be until some smart cookie invented the envelope to keep curious couriers from taking a peek at what they were couriering. Eat a soda cracker and say that five times quickly.

As is not unusual in etymology, the French muddied the waters. While originally referring to an archival copy of a secret state document – more or less a true translation of its English equivalent – corps diplomatique somehow twisted itself into a phrase descriptive of the drab men who humorously administered them: diplomats. Of course, had it been left to the French, calamari would be served with some rich, buttery sauce.

Once the whole idea of folded pieces of secret paper came to be associated with the people who drafted, delivered and interpreted them, the art and practice of diplomacy fell quickly into disrepute. Sir Henry Wooton was the first of many to suggest "An ambassador is an honest man sent abroad to lie for the good of his country."

In diplomatic terms though, lying just isn’t done, Ol’ Boy. One prevaricates, obfuscates, dodges, weaves, embroiders, gilds and generally tries to avoid unpleasant truths in their unvarnished form. If that’s not possible, one at least wraps them up in pretty paper with an outsized bow.

Diplomacy is to do and say

The nastiest thing in the nicest way.

Or so wrote Isaac Goldberg 80 years ago.

Which brings us back to Whistler at the dawn of the new millennium.

We have, as they say, a sticky diplomatic situation here in Tiny Town. It amounts to this. We’ve already said yes to a potential suitor, the World Economic Forum. To torture this analogy further, the senior members of our family have also said yes, seeing the marriage as a "good" one. But now we – which is to say our elected officials – have to say no. They don’t want to say no but they know it’s good for their political future to say no. But they can’t just say "No!", that would be undiplomatic. So they’re going to say "Yes." Yes, but. Actually, Yes, BUT!

In diplomatic circles, it’s known as a positive negative. A Yes-No. Thanks, but no thanks. Peace is war and war is peace. In other words, it’s a real bitch.

Being the public spirited kind of guy I am – not to mention being adept at using words to throw up a smokescreen large enough to show up on weather satellites – I’d like to offer my help. I took copious notes on the terms and conditions council laid down at Monday’s meeting. I can’t find where I put them but I’m pretty sure I remember most of them. Whatever. Feel free to use any and all of this letter in your official, diplomatic correspondence. No attribution necessary.

Mr. Klaus Schwab

President, World Economic Forum

91-93 route de la Capite

CH - 1223 Cologny/Geneva


Dear Klaus:

How are you? Sorry for the delay in writing. A funny thing happened since last we spoke about the World Economic Forum coming here. The quaint villagers of Whistler got so excited about the idea of hosting your annual meeting that quite a few of them expressed a keen interest in helping us plan the nit-picky details of the meeting’s plans. Isn’t that nice?

Obviously we’re all still very excited about having you meet here. There are just a few details we’d like to discuss.

For openers, Klaus, I guess you know we’re a ski resort. Don’t get me wrong, that’s all changing, of course. As someone put it, we’re more than just a ski resort, we’re a conference resort too. Having said that, there is some concern the timing of your meeting may be slightly inconvenient. There are quite a few people who want to come here to ski in late January. Many of them are adept at negotiating the trickier parts of our mountains, the steeps, the moguls, the sweeping off-piste bowls we’re known for.

We’re not sure they’d be as skilled at finding their way around those pesky security forces though. It’s a standing joke around here how confused tourists find our labyrinthine walkways. Imagine the confusion if we started stringing razor wire hither and yon. It makes me chuckle just to think about it.

So what we propose is having you come in, say, late May or maybe some month ending in "tober" as a compromise. It’s beautiful in Whistler those times of year and much quieter. I’m sure many of your colleagues will appreciate fewer gawkers and celebrity hounds bothering them for photos and autographs.

Of course, I guess those misguided protesters will dog your footsteps no matter when you come, won’t they? That concerns us as much as it must you. In fact, we’d like to be proactive – love that word – in helping ensure security is both air-tight and, how shall I put this, not too onerous for either your people or the tourists who might be wandering Whistler Village those times of year.

We’ve kicked around a few ideas. What do you think of this? For starters, no roadblocks. The folks in Zurich tell us they didn’t really work that well in 2001. We’re thinking about a Special Protest Area where we can make the protesters feel as welcome in Whistler as we like to think we make all our guests feel. We have a couple of old gravel pits that may work or, if the golfers can stand it, a driving range that’s already ringed by high fences. I’m sure they’d enjoy the lush grass there.

As for other security details, we’re asking the RCMP to soften their image. We’re thinking fleece and shorts instead of flak jackets. It would be nice if your more important members could suggest this to their private bodyguards. We also believe squirt guns are more in keeping with our overall tone than MAC 9s. And it would be nice if your conference goers could make an effort to blend while they’re in town. To that end, we will be providing logowear for everyone and we’d like to see them sporting it when they’re out in public. Needless to say, no suits; it’s not that kind of town.

Finally, Klaus, we’d very much like to offer our help with the meeting’s agenda. We’re "into" sustainability these days and it would be great to have a plenary session along the lines of "Sustainability: Lifestyle or Buzzword." We’ve got some other ideas we’d love to share with you as we get closer to the happy date.

Always a pleasure, Klaus. Can’t tell you how much we’re looking forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship with you.

Very truly yours,


cc: Jean Chretien

Gordon Campbell