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Opinion: Looking for leadership in all the wrong places

We are “in the process of assessing the need,” says an unidentified spokesperson from the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW). Assessing the need.
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We are “in the process of assessing the need,” says an unidentified spokesperson from the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW). Assessing the need.

If history is any indication, assessing the need is shorthand for hoping the situation goes away before we have to make a decision.

The need being assessed is whether the municipality—Whistler’s second largest employer—should impose a vaccine mandate for its 518 employees. Oh, you didn’t know the RMOW doesn’t have a vaccine mandate for its employees? Not to worry. They’re assessing the need.

I don’t know if this assessment is progressing faster or slower than, say, the assessment they’ve been conducting for the past three years to determine whether Whistler should allow a cannabis store. But at least we all still have our preferred sources for that pandemic relief. 

Or maybe it’s like assessing the need for Big Moves on the climate front, many of which simply kick the can down the road to 2030, by which point we’ll all be constructing zero-emission buildings. Funny though, we can build zero-emission buildings in 2021. It’s quite easy, especially since we live in a province where over 95 per cent of electricity is generated from renewable resources. But hey, we have to assess the need for the next eight years while monster houses are built, hooked up to natural gas they’ll spend the rest of their useful lives burning to keep their dark, empty space warm until their offshore owner comes to visit once a year for a week or two.

It makes me wonder how effective our elected leaders can hope to be when they try to persuade our provincial minister of health and our public health officer (PHO) to order Vail to impose a vaccine mandate for access to Whistler and Blackcomb. Usually, when you’re advocating for action, you want to press your point from the moral high ground. In this case, the mayor is arguing from shaky ground. 

All right, I get it. Very few RMOW employees, I’m told, aren’t vaccinated. I’m not sure how this is known since the same unidentified spokesperson also said the muni hasn’t surveyed employees on their vaccine status. Magical thinking? Perhaps.

And I also get it—instituting a mandate would be mostly symbolic. But symbolism is a very large part of what leadership is about. And leadership isn’t something we’ve seen a lot of. 

Until Tuesday evening’s episode of Council.

After impassioned pleas from members of the public concerned about Vail Resorts stubborn refusal to impose a vaccine mandate for access to Whistler Blackcomb (WB), a presentation was made by Dr. John Harding, medical health officer for the Sea to Sky. In that presentation he described the various rationale behind the Minister of Health and PHO have not taken the step of ordering a vaccine mandate, notwithstanding the fact many ski resorts in the province have voluntarily done so.

It is not unusual for council to thank someone for their remarks and lob a few softball questions before moving on to other business. Not so Tuesday.

They asked the tough questions. They asked them likely knowing they weren’t going to get the answers they hoped for. They weren’t disappointed. Dr. Harding hewed to the company line. Of greater importance though will be to see what he takes away from the experience.

In dancing out the data and drawing the conclusion there was no substantial risk of virus transmission during gondola rides—virtually the only way to get up either Whistler or Blackcomb—it was pointed out to him the impossibility of assigning causal relationships to that activity as opposed to all the other transactions infected people may have had during the day. Did the infections cited and blamed on transmissions in restaurants have a hook back to earlier gondola rides? Didn’t the fact we were all going up singly or in our bubbles last season render his data irrelevant in light of Vail Resort’s plan to pack gondolas this season? Good questions. 

Most telling was the logic disconnect between a primary reason the PHO instituted vaccine mandates to begin with and their current stand on not extending them to ski hill access. While safety was a motivating force behind mandates, a key reason was to encourage reluctant people to get vaccinated by closing off non-essential, desirable activities to them. Given that rationale, why would they hesitate to include access to ski resorts? Skiers, even occasional skiers, are generally quite passionate about the sport. And with other resorts imposing mandates, WB is one of the few places left for them to come. Sounded pretty motivating to the councillors asking the question. 

But the most telling question was this: What’s the harm in ordering a mandate? It’s not going to harm the 80 per cent-plus of B.C. skiers who are vaccinated. Nor the international visitors. The continuing reluctance leaves me to wonder where the power behind the decision lies.

A skier himself, it’s interesting to speculate what Tuesday’s grilling and exposure to members of the public who are concerned about the PHO’s stand on this might have on Dr. Harding. And what, in turn, the message might be back to the decision makers.

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, health minister Adrian Dix and PHO Dr. Bonnie Henry are falling back on reluctance strategies. In his response to the mayor’s phone call last week, Minister Dix said, “... I think it’s also important for the employer (WB) in that case to respond to the wishes of the community... we’re hopeful they’ll do so. I know other ski hills across B.C. have done that.” Hopeful? Shades of be kind, be safe, do nothing.

In response to Minister Dix’s comments last week that he was hopeful WB would respond to the wishes of the community—well documented in letters, petitions and pleas—WB emailed, “The health and safety of the resort’s guests and employees remains its top priority.” Once again I find myself thinking Dante’s nine circles of Hell are a few short of what’s needed. 

To avoid the inevitable emails, I want to make it clear I’m not advocating for a vaccine mandate on the mountains because I’m worried about being infected. I’m not. I will have had three doses of Gates-Fauci mind-control drugs by opening day and practically wear a mask at home. 

I want to see a mandate because I don’t want to see this town shut down again. I don’t want to see more businesses pushed into bankruptcy. I’m disgusted at stories of people who can’t get treatment after having surgical dates cancelled and cancelled again because stubborn people overwhelm hospitals. 

Vail Resorts has made it clear they won’t take the step necessary to put real meaning to their self-proclaimed top priority until they’re forced to do so. 

We wait. Hopeful.