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Opinion: Dear Whistler candidates—please do your homework

For the love of municipal policy
clown editorial election
It's beginning to feel a lot like election season.

With the nomination period for Whistler’s upcoming municipal election open now until Sept. 9, Whistler voters can expect a small parade of campaign announcements and news stories in the coming weeks.

Here are some of my bold predictions:

Like 2018, we will end up with about 20 council candidates. Unlike that year, we will see at least two candidates for mayor.

We will learn from said candidates that the housing situation in Whistler is not great, and that affordability is also an issue.

Transportation, too, will be a point of focus, and did you hear? We need more doctors and child-care spaces.

While we will hear much about how bad certain things are, we will hear much less about how to fix them—or how to do so realistically, anyway.

I don’t know these things for sure, of course (call it an informed guess gleaned from a decade of election coverage); I do hope to be proven wrong by at least a half dozen or more of our brave neighbours who put their names forward to run.

But after seeing some of the early returns from our new council hopefuls, I felt obliged to issue this urgent appeal to reason.

Please, candidates, for the love of municipal policy: do your homework.

Running for local office is a commendable thing. You are putting yourself out there for the good of your community (hopefully), and opening yourself up to professional criticism and even deeply personal jabs.

But signing your name to the nomination papers and collecting two supporting signatures is simply not enough.

Whistlerites will not be well served by representatives who have not even bothered to familiarize themselves with our Official Community Plan, or the work already underway on things like housing and greenhouse gas emissions.

If you don’t regularly attend or watch council meetings; have never pored over the Local Government Act; and are unfamiliar with Robert’s Rules—you’ve got some work to do.

This is not an original appeal, by any stretch. Pique’s archives are dotted with similar missives from columnists and letter writers during elections past.

And yet, it needs to be reiterated. Again and again, ad nauseam.

This is not to say that new ideas are unwelcome; that untested voices should just stay quiet.

Outside-the-box thinking should not be discouraged, but embraced and nourished—within reason.

But Whistlerites deserve representation that puts in the work. New, outside-the-box ideas are great, but they don’t do us any good if they neglect to account for the decades of hard work put in by councils and staff members of the past.

It also behooves you to know what, exactly, municipal councils are responsible for, and where their authority ends. They can’t just build housing on any old piece of land (as has been enthusiastically suggested by more than one Whistler council hopeful of the past). 

They cannot (and in most cases should not) attempt to supersede other levels of government authority, or take on extra responsibilities we just do not have the budget for.

They can’t wave a magic wand and solve all of Whistler’s problems, and many an armchair lawmaker has found themselves on the other side of the table, post election night, realizing like a slap across the face that their simplified solutions simply won’t cut it; that municipal councils are actually about compromise and teamwork, not a grandstanding ego trip.

Said another way: it is very easy to be another critical, negative jerk behind a keyboard. It takes something else entirely to check your ego at the door, put your head down and be a positive force of change for our community.

In an interview with Pique this week, incumbent Councillor Cathy Jewett, running for re-election this fall, urged for a respectful dialogue as the campaign gets underway.

In the spirit of issuing pre-campaign appeals, I concur with that sentiment.

Going negative may get you the attention you crave, but it won’t engender respect (from me, at least, and in fact quite the opposite)—or sympathy, lest you find the roles reversed this fall, you on the other side trying your best, everyone else telling you how terrible you are.

Judging from some of the deeply personal online comments I’ve seen about our own small-town elected officials, you’ll be lucky if they stop at terrible.