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Candidates need to show commitment to community

Sniff, sniff. Smell that? No, not autumn, not Thanksgiving, not Halloween. That's the smell of hope. There's an election in the air and candidates are finally starting to fall out of the woodwork like leaves dropping from autumn trees.
Whistler Village near Market Place at dusk. photo by Mike Crane / Tourism Whistler

Sniff, sniff. Smell that? No, not autumn, not Thanksgiving, not Halloween. That's the smell of hope. There's an election in the air and candidates are finally starting to fall out of the woodwork like leaves dropping from autumn trees.

We now know what the final count is, with some familiar names, some unknown, some surprising and some perennial appearing in the last week. Whoever's on the ballot, this election will be nothing like the last rock 'em, sock 'em donnybrook that witnessed zero incumbents being returned to their posts.

In political terms, the last local election was unprecedented. It marked a rebirth of both hope and civility. There was cautious hope the new mayor and council might tackle some of the more contentious issues, pay parking and rapidly-escalating property taxes among them, that had become such a sore point between residents and the sitting council it was deemed impossible for those holding office to ever bridge the gap they'd been instrumental in opening up.

No one talks much about pay parking these days, except when an event comes to town, takes over Lot 4 and people suddenly remember it's an issue that's never completely disappeared. Three years of notionally zero property tax increases hath soothed the savage breast on that point.

More importantly, this council has been seen to work hard. They've at least tried one resolution to the issue of illegal space — while greed drives the issue to new, absurd heights — they've controlled spending, engaged in meaningful financial reporting and brought about modest reforms to the overall compensation and benefits package for municipal employees.

They haven't been perfect but they have accomplished a great deal. And they've done so with an unprecedented level of decorum and consensus.

One reason has been, according to council members, the leadership of Mayor Nancy. Another has been because egos and agendas have largely been left at the door.

With half of council choosing not to return, that opens the question of who we want to replace them. I'd like to draw on some suggestions I made three years ago. They still have currency this time around, and may help focus some attention away from personalities and shine a light on qualities.

I want councillors who have demonstrated commitment to this community in some way other than simply being resident here. I want people I've seen on committees and task forces and boards and volunteering for things that have needed volunteers.

I want councillors who have had some real world experience grappling with tough problems, difficult people and tight finances. Council isn't a good place to learn those skills; it's a place to demonstrate them.

I would prefer councillors who are going to have to find the time to do the work required of them, not people who need a job. Whistler has part-time councillors, at least in part because we don't want full-time ones. While that may sound tautological, it isn't. It's a choice to have citizen representatives, not career politicians. Council should never pay enough to be someone's job. Get in, make your contribution, get out.

I want councillors who have struggled to live here — even if that struggle is in their past — because they understand why people are so pissed off when they see what they perceive of as waste in the way their tax dollars are spent. One of the unique aspects of this town is the fact we've all chosen to live here. Living here isn't easy and I'm not sure it should be. The payoff is spectacular and nothing that good should come easy. But the sacrifice and effort to stay here and be a part of making this town what it is should be respected by the people elected to steer the ship of state.

I want councillors who understand politics is the art of the possible. Not the perfect, not always the most rational, not the cheapest, or most expensive but the possible. What's possible is what Whistler residents will buy into. What they'll buy into is what's possible. Now that is a tautology. But it's also profoundly true.

I especially want councillors who will play well together, and who understand that reasonable people can reasonably disagree, but still find a way to move forward and compromise. That means councillors who represent the best interests of Whistler as a whole, not necessarily the best interests of a single group, demographic, or business. It's not about young families, seniors, business owners, underpaid employees, developers, environmentalists or cosmic muffins. It's about all of us and this place we call home. Self-interest is the worst kind of interest when you're supposed to be serving the public interest.

Two accomplishments of the current council help bring these qualities into focus for me. The first is the Audain Art Museum, currently rising from the wasteland that used to be an impound lot across from muni hall. Council can't take any credit for the unexpected generousity of Michael Audain and Yoshiko Karasawa, who, in a move that both shocked and outraged much of the Vancouver art community, decided they wanted to site their museum in Whistler. What council can take credit for is knowing a great deal when one was offered and doing everything possible to help make this gift a reality.

The Audain Museum will be a game changer for Whistler. It already is as evidenced by the announcement this week that Jacques Barbeau has offered any 15 of his large collection of E.J. Hughes works to the museum. Why? He wanted to make sure the public would see the paintings instead of having them languish in the basement archives of one of the country's larger, more established museums.

When things like this start happening, they tend to snowball. And like snowballs, they start small and grow. With art and culture identified as a strategic direction for Whistler to grow, this development is, as Mr. Barbeau said in a different context, manna from the heavens.

The second accomplishment was putting to rest, finally, the rezoning proposal for the Zen lands and stating unequivocally the proposal for Whistler International Campus was a non-starter. At the core of the various reasons given for declining the rezoning was the notion Whistler would not choose growth for growth's sake, regardless of the possible benefits. Council recognized a bad idea when it saw it.

As the town nudges up against its self-imposed growth limits, and as it experiences periodic economic downturns, growth will always be an offered way out, a way to increased prosperity. It will become harder and harder for future councils to decline the offers developers dangle in front of them. It will take good people to make good decisions.

And that starts with voting for good candidates. And that's our job.