Olympic bid will take shape next year

While much of the world is focused on anthrax and events in Afghanistan, two items dominated discussion at Monday’s meeting of Whistler council: the Olympic bid and the gates guarding Spruce Grove/White Gold and Blueberry Hill/Beaver Lane.

The Olympic bid, which unlike the gates is significant to Whistler’s future, came up when council received a letter from several members of the community asking for a referendum on the bid. (The letter is on page 5 in this week’s Pique).

It’s been nearly three years since Vancouver-Whistler was chosen by the Canadian Olympic Association to develop Canada’s bid for the 2010 Games. A public meeting was held in Whistler last year to discuss the bid generally. But it’s only 13 months to the next municipal election and 15 months until the bid has to be submitted to the IOC and some very fundamental questions about what the bid will look like still haven’t been answered.

And although phone surveys have found support for the bid, many people still want a say or a vote on the most basic question: Do we want the Olympics in Whistler? The response Monday was interesting.

Mayor Hugh O’Reilly said he’d talked to some of the people whose names are on the letter and found some are in favour of the bid and some are concerned about it. He took exception to the suggestion that the people involved in the Olympic bid are not elected representatives, pointing out that Whistler council members are elected and are "fully engaged" in the bid process.

But the main purpose of the letter was to request a referendum on the Olympic bid. There appeared to be little support for one among councillors.

A more relevant question, O’Reilly suggested, was what was the bid going to deliver? There are approximately 40 committees working on various aspects of the bid and they should finally be able to bring some definition to the bid in the next few months.

"It might be on the ballot next November (when the 2002 municipal elections are held)," O’Reilly said, "but what the bid looks like, those discussions will be held before then… I feel the referendum won’t be needed by the time the bid is developed."

Whistler is working on the bid within the guiding principles it adopted following last year’s public meeting, O’Reilly pointed out. "I think we may be a little annoying to our partners (in the bid process), but I think we’ve done a tremendous job representing our community."

O’Reilly said the Olympic bid has pushed Squamish, Whistler and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District to examine what their communities will look like in 20 years and to plan for the future.

Counc. Kristi Wells said the community needs to focus on assessing the opportunity the Olympics represent. "We need a long-term view, for Whistler, for the province and the country."

Wells said Whistler is not that well known outside of the ski world and pointed out that the ski industry is at best holding steady, but may in fact be in decline. Given the present economic climate, the increasing competition from other resorts and other leisure opportunities, "We are in a precarious position. If it isn’t the Olympics it’s going to need to be something else," she said.

Wells admitted it hasn’t been easy to get information about what the bid will look like, which creates speculation. "I think the general feeling out there is ‘we haven’t had a say.’" But she said suggestions the bid was already a done deal are false.

"There’s a lot of chance this won’t go forward because technically it may be it can’t be done within our guiding principles," Wells concluded.

Counc. Nick Davies agreed with much of Wells’ comments, except her assessment that there’s a good chance the bid can’t be done within the guiding principles. "That’s not my feeling. I think there’s a lot of chance we can do it," Davies said.

"If someone asked me if I support the Olympic bid today I couldn’t answer. I don’t know what it means," Counc. Ken Melamed said. But he added a lot of big questions should be answered by next spring.

"It’s the hardest thing to win and the easiest thing to lose," O’Reilly concluded. He encouraged everyone to "stick with us, be patient, and by the third quarter of 2002 we’ll know what the bid looks like."

Oh, and the gates? They’ll be around for a while but phased out next year and replaced by traffic calming measures. Except at Blueberry Hill, where the gates will remain closed during peak periods of traffic.


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