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Olympic bid has evolved, it was time to vote

At the closing ceremonies of each Olympic Games he presided over, Juan Antonio Samaranche, the former president of the International Olympic Committee, used to say the just-concluded Games were the best Olympics ever held.

At the closing ceremonies of each Olympic Games he presided over, Juan Antonio Samaranche, the former president of the International Olympic Committee, used to say the just-concluded Games were the best Olympics ever held. It was a no-lose sort of statement; it meant each city that hosted the Games could lay claim to putting on the best Olympics of all time. It also suggested the Olympic Games are constantly evolving and getting better every time.

That evolution is still far from complete, as is the evolution of Whistler’s involvement in the Vancouver bid for the 2010 Games. But Monday’s meeting, where six out of seven council members officially endorsed the bid in front of nearly 400 Whistler residents, showed how far the bid has come over the last four years and offered enough assurances and benefits that it would be foolish to have said no.

To be certain, there is more work to be done. And while there are some guarantees of legacies for Whistler, there are also considerable risks. There always are when you dare to break new ground.

However, the work done over the last couple of years by the 2010 Bid Corporation, council, municipal staff and local committee members to shape the bid so that it fits within Whistler’s plans and goals must be commended. Terry Wright of the bid corporation mentioned several times Monday how the bid corporation had to revise not only its plans but its way of thinking in order to win the support of Whistler. The plan isn’t perfect yet and it hasn’t satisfied everyone – the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment announced at the meeting it couldn’t support the bid because it doesn’t include an environmental legacy; details about new financial tools for Whistler still sound vague. As we said, there is still more work to be done.

What the Olympics aren’t going to be, if IOC members decide to award the 2010 Games to Vancouver and Whistler next July, is the answer to all Whistler’s problems. As Councillor Ken Melamed, who cast the sole dissenting vote against the Games, said Monday Whistler faces issues bigger than the Olympics, namely affordability and sustainability. Taking steps to insure people of all ages and all incomes can continue to live and work and play in Whistler is paramount. But there is no one means to achieve that end. It requires the efforts and dedication of the entire community on a variety of fronts. Most council members, and yours truly, see the Olympic bid as one way to work towards that goal.

It was suggested by several people Monday that the decision to endorse the Olympic bid should have been put to a referendum, rather than left to council to decide. There is no perfect way to make decisions. Proponents of a referendum say council is acting arrogantly in not letting the people vote on the Olympic bid. Opponents point out that the Olympic bid was an issue before the last municipal election and that the municipality, the bid corporation, the chamber of commerce and others have worked hard to keep people informed about the bid and answer concerns.

It can also be argued that it is too late for a referendum. The bid, with the endorsement of Whistler council or not, was going ahead. But this decision was more a matter of timing than arrogance. Council held off on a formal endorsement until this week because it was seeking assurances from the provincial government, some of which apparently came through only last weekend. To have held a referendum six months or a year ago, before negotiations had been completed, would have meant voting on an incomplete package.

Finally, there are those who wonder, with all the other problems Whistler has, do we really need the hassle and frustration of hosting part of the Games? What’s in it for us? Perhaps the legacies for Whistler, some of which are still open to interpretation, are not enough. But the bid is about much more than Whistler. Terry Wright talked about using Olympic facilities to showcase B.C. forestry products to the world. Canadian companies may also be able to demonstrate fuel cell technology in buses or computer software at the Games.

And it is not all about business. Chief Gibby Jacobs of the Squamish Nation was the first person to a microphone during the public comment session of Monday’s meeting. Jacobs said the Squamish Nation has been involved in the Olympic bid from the beginning and sees it as a "huge opportunity to make changes and go forward." Saying the Olympic bid will give the Squamish Nation an opportunity to set standards for indigenous people around the world, Jacobs concluded: "We hope your community will take into consideration the benefits that will accrue (through hosting the Olympics) to other communities."

May the Olympics and the Olympic bid continue to evolve.

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