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Wilhelm-Morden vows to act on council’s fiscal responsibility as mayor

Richard Diamond wants the “community-first” vote

Pique Sept.15, 2011

Whistler's ballot sheet for mayor and council in the upcoming election just got a little more crowded.

This week saw local lawyer and columnist Nancy Wilhelm-Morden declare for the mayor's position and designer and drafter Richard Diamond throw his hat into the ring for council.

"Whistler's at an interesting crossroads and I believe that I do have the skills to help," said Wilhelm-Morden at a press conference to announce her candidacy officially this week.

Wilhelm-Morden has emphasized experience as part of her campaign. She has served four terms on Whistler council, first in 1984, then again on councils starting in 1988, 1996 and 2005.

While she said that the current council has had "ups and downs" in its three-year term, Wilhelm-Morden said she disagrees with some actions lawmakers have taken when it comes to "fiscal responsibility."

"Twenty-two per cent tax increases, for starters," she said when asked to elaborate. "The budgeting process needs improvement. There needs to be fiscal accountability. There's no reporting back on the performance of the $77 million budget after it's passed. That's just the beginning."

Since her last term on council, Wilhelm-Morden has written a column for the Question newspaper that has been critical of decisions taken at the municipal level.

One in particular has been the ongoing issue of an asphalt plant located close to the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood, which served as the Athletes' Village during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Some months ago, four members of council voted at an in-camera meeting to issue a cease-and-desist order against the plant, which is operated by Alpine Paving (1978) Ltd, and which both the resort municipality and its lawyers maintain above loud objections has a right to operate there. A judge is expected to rule on its ability to operate sometime in November.

Asked whether she would have issued the order were she on the current council, she said, "Absolutely. I would have done that a year and a half before council did it."

If Wilhelm-Morden were elected mayor, she would be tasked with acting as spokesperson for a community in which she has repeatedly represented clients who have brought lawsuits against some major organizations operating here.

In 2009 she represented clients who brought a lawsuit against Intrawest and Doppelmayr over an Excalibur Gondola accident that trapped their children inside one of its cabins. In 2010 she represented a client who sued the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association for negligence when she was injured during a Toonie Ride.

And later in 2010, she represented a client who brought a lawsuit against the resort municipality after falling into a ditch in the Day Lots in 2008.

Wilhelm-Morden admits that community members have raised concerns about her representing clients who have brought lawsuits against major employers and organizations, but said in many injury cases, when a client brings a lawsuit, it's usually because they have sustained serious injuries.

"I represent people who bring on lawsuits for compensation from the injuries they've sustained as the result of the wrongful act of someone else. If elected as mayor, I will fight as hard for my community as I have for my clients."

Running for council has been on Diamond's mind for some time.

"I've been talking about it for a number of years now with friends, about what we think needs to be different in town," he said.

Diamond, who also did planning work in Pemberton and is familiar with both the Local Government Act and Community Charter, said his goal is to represent "the other side of the coin" in municipal debates.

"There's this other side of the coin that's usually not discussed or put on the table, although there are a lot of people here that are affected by things," he said. "There's a feeling that special interest groups are looked after and not always the community as a whole."

One example, he said, is employee housing. "Every developer has put a lot of emphasis on employee housing, but we haven't considered others in the community that could benefit from their contributions in the way of amenity," he said. "One example is that we hear a lot about the need for another hockey rink. Maybe that's one of the things we should be getting from developers rather than more (Whistler Housing Authority) housing."

As another example, he suggested that Function Junction has been left out of spending decisions in favour of investing in the village. In that sense, Diamond said one group of small businesses are being served while another is not. And nobody, he said, is looking out for second homeowners.

Decisions, he said, have to be made in the context of what Whistler has become.

"We're not a little resort town anymore," he said. "We're more like a city. Things have changed a lot, and so have the needs of the community.

Like other candidates, Diamond is also concerned about the growing municipal budget, and said that will be a priority of his as well.

"Fiscally, what we need to do is make some differentiations between what we want, what we need and what's good for the community as a whole rather than special interests," he said. "And it's hard. I've worked in local government and I'm familiar with the Acts that govern what council can do and can't do. It's harder than people think.

"I'm not saying we need to get rid of people. We can't do that until we sit down at a table and see what our obligations are under various acts. That's when we make decisions - trim the fat, find efficiencies, reduce red tape and get out of the way of business (so it's) not required dealing with the municipality for absolutely everything. We need to make things easier for people, and not harder. And reduce the size of government."