I really don't want to write this column.
After 12 years of darkness during the reign of St. Reagan and Bush the Dunce - as distinguished from his son, Bush the Dupe - and 14 years in Canada, I toyed with the idea of returning to my home and native land south of the border. The air in the U.S. was electric with high expectations in the wake of Bill Clinton's presidential victory, my successfully severed Suit Years were behind me, and it seemed the benign climate of the southwest was a better place to store the few things too dear to garage sale in anticipation of moving to Whistler.
Rattling across America's heartland in a tiny U-Haul truck, there was a palpable divide on AM radio. Youth, liberals, aging hippies were giddy with anticipation, having finally replaced the old, grey, conservative men with someone who, at least on his MTV appearance, looked like he stepped out of the Blues Brothers movie. Conservatives, a relatively new force on talk radio, were going ballistic, spinning doomsday scenarios and replaying feigned outrage over the new commander-in-chief's sexual peccadilloes. How cool was that.
And then, having barely warmed the Oval's seat, Slick Willie shot his wad - figuratively - and frittered away his political capital taking on the issue of gays in the military. It was all downhill from there.
I had a similar sense of hopeful anticipation almost six years ago when Ken surprised a number of people and thwarted Ted's attempt to wrest back the mayor's chair. I was a big supporter of Ken from the moment I saw him raise stink after stink as a councillor. Always better prepared than the others at the table, always ready to raise unwelcome and uncomfortable arguments, never willing to retreat when his gut told him to charge, Kenny embodied the brave phrase, "Speaking truth to power."
Besides, it was just damn entertaining watching him drive Ted Nebbeling, Max Kirkpatrick, Thelma Johnstone and the rest of the business-as-usual power brokers nuts.
So often was Ken the lone vote, I thought it would have been an ironic campaign slogan for him: Kenny's the One. Want to drain another wetland? 6-1. Want to cut a sweet deal with a developer? 6-1. Want to ignore the best interests of the community in favour of the best interests of the resort? 6-1. Though frequently alone, he was almost always right and I imagined his term(s) as mayor would play out in similar style.
That was then, this is now.
Over the past two terms, I've not infrequently disagreed with the decisions made by mayor and council. Such is the nature of human relations; reasonable people can agree to disagree. Nothing personal, just a different point of view, set of goals, expectations and hopes for the future. Recognizing I don't have to compromise very often to do what I do, I understood there were times someone holding one vote among seven might have to bend in directions they prefer not to bend to get things done. Fair enough.
But those distasteful accommodations generally seemed to be driven by a genuine belief what was being done was both honest and in the best interests of the community.
Sadly, I'm having trouble believing that's the case with this most recent, tortured explanation of what has or has not been going on down in Cheakamus with Alpine Paving. Listening to Ken and Bill's disingenuous explanation of the legerdemain required to transmogrify a legally questionable contribution toward Alpine's baghouse upgrade into a legal cost is simply sad.
It resurrects another uncomfortable Bill Clinton moment. Called before a grand jury and asked to opine on the truthfulness of his statement to top aides, "... there is nothing going on between us." Meaning himself and Monica Lewinsky, Clinton explained, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If... 'is' means is and never has been, that is... is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement.... Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true."
I believe Ken and Bill Barratt received legal counsel that it was okay to call the monies anticipated in the Relocation Agreement a legal cost. I believe they have received very bad legal counsel all through this sad affair. But I don't believe, under any but the most hair-splitting, side-stepping, questionably ethical legal doublespeak is that the truth.
"Are you accusing us of lying?" asked the mayor of Tim Koshul. Tim never answered. I will.
It may be a lie backed up by the municipality's lawyers. It may be a lie you believe is in the best financial interests of the community. But yes. I call bullshit. And it absolutely pains me to do so because I have the utmost respect for you, Ken.
The worst part is, I suspect it pains you too. I know it would have pained councillor Ken and I suspect he would have been going apeshit over this.
An even greater pain is the disheartening feeling I'm left with that we've devolved to a point where it is entirely possible an honest man can no longer hold high public office. Are the political and economic realities of the day such that there is no principle that can't be compromised? Are our problems so great, our pique so high, our positions so entrenched we can no longer work together and level with each other to build a better world... or at least a small corner of one? Is there no right left worth fighting for?
Maybe I've been doing this too long. Maybe I'm the anachronism. Maybe Orwell was right about power corrupting and maybe there's no one strong enough to resist its siren song.
I'd like to still believe we can, if not completely ignore our self-interest, at least occasionally place it second to the common interest. I'd like to think we're all capable of a little sacrifice to make this town a better place to live and work. I want to believe we can rise to the challenge of becoming the sustainable resort envisioned in Whistler 2020 without corrupting it into a battering ram to run roughshod over those who question its application. But I fear I'm losing the faith.
Ironically, it was other words Bill Clinton spoke I'd like to inform whatever happens next in this sad saga. "Big things are expected of us... and nothing big ever came of being small."
It's time to stop being small.