The anecdotal evidence - letters to the editor, protests, conversations in the village - strongly suggests the Whistler electorate is in the mood for wholesale change when they go to the polls on Nov. 19. The long, drawn out saga of the asphalt plant; the long, drawn out saga of pay parking; substantial property tax increases four years in a row and increases in municipal wages seem to have left many pining for the opportunity to "vote the bums out."
But who will be the new bums?
Despite the apparent dissatisfaction with the people running the town, as of the end of July there is more smoke than fire when it comes to declared candidates offering to help lead the Resort Municipality of Whistler. Granted, it is the middle of a long, cold summer, a time when most people are more interested in beaches and mountain biking than budgets and municipal business. But usually there are a few ready to declare their willingness to lead the charge for change at this time of year.
In actual fact, there will already have been a lot of change by the time November rolls around. To start with, it's expected a new chief administrative officer will be announced before Labour Day. The importance of this position cannot be underestimated. Under the model of government the RMOW follows the CAO is the primary conduit between the elected members of council and municipal staff. All department heads report to the CAO, who is also primarily responsible for the hierarchy or structure within municipal hall.
What sort of mandate the new CAO will be given by the present council and what measures of performance are built into the new CAO's contract will be important. But they will be determined long before November.
There may also be a significant change in the voting dynamics come November. Second-homeowners will, for the first time, be able to vote by mail in Whistler's municipal election. Second-homeowners have always had the right to vote in Whistler, provided they were Canadian citizens, at least 18 years of age, residents of B.C. for at least six months and owned their Whistler property for at least 30 days prior to the vote.
And Whistler has reached out to qualified second-homeowners for years, funding a polling station in West Vancouver so that those Lower Mainland residents who qualified to vote in the Whistler election could do so - if they bothered to get to the West Vancouver polling station on the same day they were voting in their home city or municipality.
The second-homeowner vote is potentially huge; only occasionally has it made a difference in past elections. This year may be different.
An online survey of second-homeowners by Whistler real estate agents last year received a far greater response than expected. And one of the strongest messages from the survey was that second-homeowners are engaged and want to be involved in Whistler affairs.
A cynic might suggest that four successive years of substantial tax increases will do that.
The number of second-homeowners who qualify to vote in Whistler is unknown. People that own more than one property are only allowed one vote and only one vote is apportioned to properties that are owned by multiple people. Still, the number of votes coming through the mail from qualified second-homeowners is potentially huge when you consider that less than 3,000 votes were cast for the five mayoral candidates in the 2008 municipal election. Ken Melamed won with 1,527 votes. The top vote-getter among councillors was Tom Thomson with 1,682.
The other dynamic that is likely to have an influence on council this time around is the Cheakamus Crossing vote. More than 400 eligible voters live in the former Olympic athletes' village. Many of them were Whistler residents in 2008 and in previous municipal elections. But now, as property owners, they have more incentive to get out and vote.
And then there is that matter of the asphalt plant. With luck, the courts will have ruled on the legality of the asphalt plant and the municipality's cease and desist order long before Nov. 19. But for some Cheakamus Crossing residents - and some who reside elsewhere in Whistler - the handling of the asphalt plant issue will be one of the prime motivators to get out and vote.
The seeming randomness of council's compass on the asphalt issue and the moral and health reasons for wanting to move the asphalt plant are not to be dismissed. Still, one hopes that a potential voting bloc like Cheakamus Crossing can - like Tapley's Farm in years past - look beyond a single, albeit important, issue when it comes time to cast their ballots on Nov. 19.
Whistler is not well served by candidates or voters who focus only on one issue.