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Sustainability plan adopted

Council praises document, shares some concerns about future

Roughly five years of planning, consultation, criticism, and hard work has finally paid off as the bulk of the community’s Comprehensive Sustainability Plan was delivered to council Monday night.

"It’s a milestone in Whistler’s history," said Mayor Hugh O’Reilly, of the municipality’s newest and highest-level policy document.

The CSP, now called Whistler 2020, is a community-wide plan that highlights more than 100 action steps within 16 strategies ranging from the economy, energy, arts and recreation. In this plan, Whistler is breaking new ground; nothing like this has been done before.

Volume 1 of the CSP, which is essentially the overarching vision for the plan, was adopted in December. At Monday’s council meeting the heart of the plan, Volume II, was officially adopted.

"We’re reaching a milestone tonight but the work has just begun," said RMOW Sustainability Co-ordinator Shannon Gordon. Though there were kudos all around for the plan, which has already received awards and national praise, there were still some concerns from members of council.

Councillor Caroline Lamont said the CSP was one of the reasons she ran for council and though Monday was a milestone event, she still had some tough questions about the future.

Among other things she was concerned about finding the money to pay for the lengthy list of recommendations in the plan, pointing to just one example, the three new municipal staff positions contemplated in the CSP.

Deputy Administrator Bill Barratt explained that there are many more actions listed than what can be achieved and it will be up to staff and council to decide what the priorities are and what actions are tackled first.

And without a doubt, those actions will change year by year as the community changes its priorities.

"This is an additional set of filters… into an already very sophisticated budgeting system," explained O’Reilly.

Lamont also asked who would champion the document and keep it as a living, and ever-changing piece of work, rather than just a rubber-stamped policy gathering dust on a municipal shelf.

The champions, explained Gordon, are within the organization and the partner organizations in the community, and they are the 140 community members who helped shape the plan.

"Already it is guiding community decision-making," said Gordon.

The goal, added Councillor Kristi Wells, is to get it to the place where the community is the champion, not just the council of the day or a municipal department.

"That’s going to take years and it’s going to take consistency," she said.

Councillor Nick Davies said he believes Whistler is at a juncture in the community where there is a potential danger that the plan could become a game with no end. He explained that the municipality could become so engaged in planning ad infinitum that they may not actually do enough work on the ground.

In Davies’s view, in the last couple of years they have focused on the social and environmental legs of the sustainability stool "to the detriment of the economic leg of the stool." Now they’re hearing strong feedback from the community that the economy is suffering.

The municipality needs to find a better balance and kick-start the economy within the focus of the CSP he said.

The actions in the plan are still recommendations at this point and will be presented for adoption during the fall budgeting process. There are other actions in the plan that will require leadership and approval from other community organizations such as Tourism Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb.

Though there are still some concerns about the role of the CSP in the future, the plan has been getting international acclaim in recent months. In addition to being short-listed for a United Nations International Award for Livable Communities, the plan has also caught the eye of the federal government. In a recent speech to Canada’s National Transportation Summit, the Honorable John Godfrey, minister of state (infrastructure and communities) offered glowing praise for Whistler’s plan.

The federal government is proposing a requirement that communities have a similar plan in place in order to receive their share of the federal gas tax transfer.

"And we want those communities to be as good as Whistler with its 2020 plan which is probably the best integrated sustainability plan in the country."