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Now is the time for a vote on the Olympics

By G.D. Maxwell The nearest commercial centre to Smilin’ Dog Man’r is 100 Mile House. A former stagecoach stop on the Cariboo gold trail, 100 Mile is a "tween" kind of town.

By G.D. Maxwell

The nearest commercial centre to Smilin’ Dog Man’r is 100 Mile House. A former stagecoach stop on the Cariboo gold trail, 100 Mile is a "tween" kind of town. It’s ’tween Kamloops and Williams Lake, both of which are much larger centres of commerce, and it’s ’tween a rock and a hard place.

The stage don’t stop at 100 Mile anymore. Neither does the Cariboo Prospector, its only non-automobile lifeline to the great mecca of Vancouver. Neither does the buck, as in provincial tax dollars. They pretty much bypass 100 Mile completely. And at an undecided date in the near future, neither will ambulances filled with hurtin’ people. At least not outside the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday to Friday.

For the sake of a couple million bucks – about what the provincial government’s spending on TV ads telling us what a great healthcare system we have, something they promised they’d never do once they got to power – the Interior Health Authority is cancelling on-call GP surgeons and anesthetists. Get whacked outside of banking hours and you’ll have to be shuttled to one of the big centres. Hope you don’t bleed to death on the way.

100 Mile doesn’t have much going for it. Its local economy – forestry – has taken a shitkicking from the punishing U.S. tariffs on softwood lumber, as well as all the earlier blows that line of work suffered before the bullies down south got really vindictive. Its forays into tourism, other than the area’s incredible network of trails luring cross-country skiers and snowmobilers, have suffered under the Campbell government’s unwillingness to invest in basic infrastructure like roads and the Prospector.

Despite these indignities, the place has heart. It also has a local weekly paper that spreads news, gossip and opinion. There aren’t any million dollar homes for sale in it but there are weaner pigs, hay mowers and plenty of beaters in a good week.

Every now and again, there’s also a pretty wicked political cartoon. Like the one from September 18 th . It was a simple drawing of a map of B.C. The entire map was crosshatched except for Victoria, Vancouver and Whistler. The caption read, "The BC Liberals come up with a way to ensure a balanced budget, pay for the Olympics and even provide for a modest tax break by 2004." The punchline was a large tack hammered into the heart of the province with a sign on it referring to all the crosshatched area. It said, "Closed Due to Budget Cuts."

While I may be the only person alive who refers to returning to Whistler as going back to the real world, I can understand the growing resentment aimed at our little mountain home. While most of Whistler’s fat cats are interlopers and carpetbaggers and most of its residents’ principal handle on economic wellbeing is an endless smorgasbord of low-paying jobs, Whistler’s image in the rest of the province is that of privilege. Don’t waste your breath telling them how hard we’ve worked for the privilege. Don’t bother mentioning the million bucks a day the mayor says flows from Whistler to Victoria. And whatever you do, don’t mention the Olympics.

Far from being a unifying force, Vancouver’s Olympic bid is yet another wedge cleaving the province’s haves and have-nots. With Gordo and the Bidcorp’s mouthpieces running around talking about spending hundreds of millions of bucks upgrading the Killer Highway and painting pictures of milk and honey flowing from the bottomless pool of Olympic wealth, most of the rest of the province only sees what they’ve been seeing for the better part of the past decade... the short end of the stick.

Fuelling their frustration over the Olympics is the feeling they have no say. Whether it’s tax cuts for the wealthy, corporate welfare, hospital closures, cuts to education or the Olympics, the overwhelming sentiment is one of powerlessness. Vote for the lesser of six evils whenever elections come around and that’s it, you’ve said your say.

Well, dammit, I feel that way too. And I feel even more like that since Bern, Switzerland dropped out of the 2010 Olympic shortlist. It seems Switzerland, land of chocolate and overpriced watches, has a very enlightened policy when it comes to spending tax dollars – politicians have to take their proposal to the voters and let ’em have a say.

When asked about funding the city’s Olympic bid, 78 per cent of Bern’s burghers said thanks, but no thanks.

In case you’re not familiar with it, that form of government is called democracy. Its driving principle is widespread participation. It presumes governments exist to serve the people who’ve elected them. All the people. Not just those with money and influence and certainly not just corporate interests.

Democracy’s a messy thing. Sometimes the governed just don’t see eye to eye with the government. So it was with the interests pushing the Swiss bid. They made the mistake of presuming their actions had widespread acceptance among the people they were asking to foot the bill. They found out different.

That’s not going to happen in B.C. Gordo’s already said as much earlier this week when he was stumping on Bay Street, seeking dough from corporate Canada to cover the rest of the bid’s costs. I don’t think his hesitation to put the question to the voters rests in a firm belief they’d support the bid so overwhelmingly the exercise would be meaningless. I think he’s scared the voters would skewer both him and the idea of pumping millions into an Olympic games when he’s cutting the guts out of what they’ve always assumed they were paying taxes for.

But that doesn’t mean Whistler can’t put the question to its voters. A year ago, in response to a letter to the editor signed by 25 Whistleratics, His Hughness said no to a referendum. He suggested it might be more appropriate to include such a question on this year’s election ballot. He hasn’t mentioned it since. But he was right. It would be appropriate.

So where is it?

I’m pretty ambivalent about the Olympics. But I’m passionate about democracy. One of Whistler’s guiding principles for supporting the bid is that the bid corp. and organizing committee must be ethical and transparent. Another is that all partners must engage in open and timely communication.

Well Hugh, dodging the question is unethical and communication flows both ways. Put the question to the voters. The incremental cost of putting the question on the ballot is zilch. Y’all can ignore the results if you want. But at least you’ll know where we stand and we’ll know where you stand.

Whistler council hasn’t voted on supporting the bid yet. Why not let the people who live and vote here decide instead?




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