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Maxed Out: Weighing in on Whistler’s election incumbents

'It was a thankless task. So thanks.'
Whistler's current mayor and council.

At the risk of annoying those of you who wish I’d stick to writing cute dog and cat stories or the further adventures of J.J., let’s stick to local politics for at least this week and next. 

This week, let’s ponder the incumbents. Four of Whistler’s six municipal councillors are running again; one of one mayors as well. 

I won’t spend long on Happy Jack. Last time around he faced no opposition. This time around he’s facing almost no opposition and no good reason to turf him out of the big chair.

I almost ran against Jack four years ago. On principle. I can’t remember which principle but it probably had something to do with there being no opposition. But then I decided I didn’t want to work that hard in case I beat him. 

Glad I made that decision. When covid hit, Jack got the kind of challenge no mayor wants to have. He managed it way better than I would have. Way better than most of us would have. 

On balance, Jack’s made more good decisions than not-so-good ones. If I was running against him, I’d say vote for me. Since I’m not, vote for him. Then we’ll talk about term limits.

Over the years, I’ve come to better understand the dynamics of what it means to be a local councillor. Shortly after the election, councillors attend a Local Politics 101 retreat. I used to think of it as a brainwashing session, because people who seemed passionate about some issues seemed to come out a bit subdued. 

Among other things, discussed at the retreat are the powers and limitations under which municipal councillors labour. Another is the importance of playing well with others. No one wins points by pounding the table to advance their arguments. It’s a socialization process that, at its best, makes councils run smoothly and get things accomplished. At its worst, it neuters good ideas. This past council, it was more the former.

Taking the incumbents alphabetically, I’d vote for Arthur De Jong. Arthur is a thoughtful guy who has a history of working successfully inside companies who weren’t as enthusiastic as he was about environmental issues. He led Whistler Blackcomb to embracing actions designed to lessen the impact of what is clearly an impactful business model. Vail practically lifted their Epic Promise program from the work he did.

That said, I’m hoping Arthur finds a more forceful voice in his second term. While acknowledging his successful history working behind the scenes, Whistler council needs to put the ‘Big’ in their Big Moves and the ‘Balance’ in their Balance Model when it comes to the environment, and he’s the guy who can move those solutions forward. 

I would enthusiastically return Jen Ford. When she first ran in 2011—she’s now finishing her second term—I didn’t support Jen. But I apologized for that when I watched her turn into a dynamic councillor who always seemed to vote the way I would have voted on issues, and who said things I would have said. 

She has become a powerhouse. She recently became president—one-year term—of the Union of BC Municipalities, the group that advocates with the provincial government on behalf of all municipalities. She’s wrapping up her second year as board chair for the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, yet another governmental body that has some say in how things are run from Lillooet to Squamish. When it comes to representing Whistler’s interests outside the confines of Tiny Town, she’s hitting above her weight.

She’s a tireless worker, both as a councillor and resident, with the important groups in town who deal with social services, housing and health-care. There isn’t a hot-button issue she isn’t in the middle of. I’m not sure where she gets the energy, but I haven’t met anyone who I believe can take her place.

I’ve never been a big fan of Ralph Forsyth. But I believe he’s earned another term on council and support his return. He’s matured dramatically from the hot-headed councillor he was when he served on Whistler’s most fractured council from 2008 to 2011 that set the bar for voter anger when none of the incumbents were returned to office.

I’ve watched him ask important questions, make needed points and work well with the other councillors. His participation on leading portfolios of finance and audit have given him vital insight into important functions of municipal government and governance. Reports from community groups whose boards he’s joined have been positive. 

Cathy Jewett was elected to the previous council in a 2017 byelection when Andrée Janyk died. Her roots in the community go back to the time Whistler was a hippy-dippy ski town. She’s been a force of nature almost since Day 1.

She’s another tireless worker on council, and was long before she ever got into politics. From parent advisory councils to WORCA, AWARE, VANOC, the Whistler Community Foundation and other things not known by their initials, Cathy has been involved enough to earn a spot as Whistler’s Citizen of the Year in 2016. I feel confident her photo will one day join those who have earned the Freedom of the Municipality. 

And while they’re not running for another term on council, I feel it’s necessary to acknowledge the contributions John Grills and Duane Jackson have made to the community. If they were running, I’d have no hesitation in supporting them. Both have made lasting contributions to where this town is headed.

If you haven’t been a political wonk these last four years, it’s impossible to comprehend how hard this term has been for everyone sitting around the table or, more likely, glued to their Zoom screens for what seemed like interminable meetings. Covid was a beast to deal with—both personally and politically. There was no Managing Pandemics for Dummies. Everything had to be made up on the fly. Decisions had to be made with limited understanding. Science and politics had to be balanced. It was a thankless task.

So thanks.

To my mind, that leaves two open chairs and 11 people who’d like to be sitting in one when the music stops. I’ll write about that next week.

But the decision is up to you. Some people don’t believe Pique or I should be endorsing candidates. I do it because it’s what I’ve done now for more than 25 years. My opinion; take it or leave it. I don’t represent Pique, just myself. 

I hope Pique makes endorsements, and I’ve urged every editor to do so. I believe it’s the duty of papers to take a position on local politics. No group collectively follows politics and questions politicians and political hopefuls in more detail than the reporters and editor of local newspapers. No one writes more about what happens at municipal hall. No one hears more from people who live here about those things. 

If not papers, who? Social media? Puh-leeze.