In discussing the council hopefuls with a friend, the comment was made that one of them didn’t seem to think the housing “crisis” was necessarily the most important issue. This, of course, was so contrary to the hair-on-fire stance most have taken.
“Well, I’m not sure that candidate was wrong,” I said.
Ducking the object thrown at me, I explained that employee-restricted housing is, and has been, being built as fast as the Whistler Development Corp. and Whistler Housing Authority can get them financed and built. Yeah, I, like everyone else, agree there is a crying need for more housing. But short of another Athletes’ Village for a 2030 Olympics or bringing in a fleet of ATCO trailers and building what’s generally referred to as a man camp, new housing is coming available as quickly as possible.
Consider, since 2018, at least one new building has been built and occupied every year. Two are likely to be started in 2023 and another not far behind.
Consider also the Resort Municipality of Whistler has, for almost 30 years now, understood the importance of building employee-restricted/retiree housing. But the municipality has never embraced, as some candidates believe it should, building seasonal employee housing, leaving that task, largely, to Whistler Blackcomb (WB) and other businesses.
It’s an option. And some day there may be enough hue and cry to go that direction. But one problem with seasonal employee housing is, well, it’s seasonal. Ask WB how many of their housing units are empty in the non-ski season. Think of the cost of holding housing inventory that isn’t generating any rental income. And no matter what you may have heard, more housing isn’t going to magically solve our lack of staff. Canada has nearly 1 million jobs it can’t fill from sea to sea to sea. And there are employers in Whistler who need staff and have empty staff housing. It’s not that simple.
The cost of proposed solutions seemed to be largely absent in discussing “solutions” at the all-candidates sessions. Whether it was “free” transit, regional transit, more housing or a host of others, virtually none of the hopefuls had any ideas about how to pay for those things. Oops, not true. The idea that kept coming up was, “Get the province to give us more money.” Cue an eyeroll from the sitting councillors. You have any idea how much time is spent trying to get the province, BC Housing, the federal government and others to provide more funds/grants so Whistler can meet its needs? The answer is “lots.”
There was such nonsense being tossed around the room during the all-candidates session on Sept. 28 I was left with two thoughts. First, I believe everyone who put their name forward did so with good intentions. No one seemed to just need a job and, hey, why not councillor? Second, I was saddened so few had put in the time to really get to know how council works, what it can and can’t do, and how important it is to understand issues in-depth instead of reducing them to buzzwords and half-baked ideas. I mean, that’s my job, not councillors’.
And sadly, I realized halfway through the evening I’d have to give up on my idea of rating the candidates on my Pie-in-the-Sky and Wingnut system. I’d completely run out of pies and wingnuts early in the evening.
But in the end, it didn’t really matter. Working on the assumption the incumbents were going to be re-elected—and finding it hard to believe if they weren’t, there wouldn’t possibly be more than one of them who wasn’t—I grew comfortable understanding it was okay to only find three wannabes I had a level of comfort with.
For me, weirdly, it was the 3M solution: Murl, Morden, Millikin.
Four years ago, Jeff Murl ran for council. He was relatively new in town. He had history in Whistler but hadn’t lived here that long. Still, he demonstrated enough level-headedness and promise to garner a respectable number of votes.
He also received a lot of praise and advice from well-connected people in town who told him to persevere, jump into the community with both feet and involve himself as much as he possibly could.
He did just that.
He joined committees, did volunteer work and applied for so many board positions for so many community groups the standing joke became, “Who other than Jeff applied?” He brought his skills and his critical way of thinking as an accountant and finance guy to the posts he managed to land and he impressed people with his willingness to do the work that needed to be done to move issues toward resolution. Pretty much the definition of what councillors do.
As a bonus, he hits the sweet spot demographically for anyone who believes we would benefit from getting younger blood on council. He understands the issues confronting the next generation of this town’s leaders and he’s ready to work hard to move Whistler toward whatever we end up becoming.
Unexpectedly, I’ve come to the conclusion Jesse Morden can do so as well. When Jesse announced she was running, her first interview was not a success. Rather than doubling down on it, she went to work convincing a lot of well-placed people in town to give her their time and the benefit of their wisdom on the most important issues of the day.
Her transformation has been dramatic. She can speak knowledgeably to the most important challenges to the town’s future, a future she and her young family will be living. More importantly, she has a track record of community engagement in a number of volunteer activities no one would think of as stepping stones to politics or as resume padding, but are very much bread-and-butter, community-building efforts. She’s the genuine article.
Finally, Rhonda Millikin has an impressive resume in government, a scientific background and a critical way of thinking deeply about complicated issues. Through her environmental consulting firm and membership on the RMOW’s Forests and Wildlands Advisory Committee, she has hands-on experience with the political process. Her contributions resulted in a Civic Service Award from the municipality.
She has been active on the board of AWARE and is committed to making progress on environmental issues.
That’s it. That’s my take on who, among those running, I’d be most comfortable seeing take a seat at the council table for the next four years. It’s just my opinion and sharing my opinions is what I get paid to do. Take it or leave it. Your choice. One way or another you have to make up your own mind.
Oh, and you have to put your choice to work. You have to vote.