Is there a role for Whistler in this other world?

I can’t tell you for a fact that if the World Economic Forum came to Whistler it would be a good thing or a bad thing. The main stumbling block, in my mind, is how Whistler would physically accommodate all the delegates, protesters and security measures, and still allow everyone else in the valley to carry on with their business. Some of the people who have studied the situation say it could be done. Whistler-Blackcomb isn’t so sure.

But I can relate some of what I have learned about the forum. For starters, it’s an evolving organization. A few years ago the theme for the forum’s annual meeting was the financial crisis; the next year it was The New Economy.

This year, after major demonstrations at world gatherings, increasing concerns about globalization and the Sept. 11 attacks, the theme was Leadership in Fragile Times. Social issues – poverty, hunger, health, security – were central to this year’s forum. And as discussions have moved from "wiring the world" to providing clean drinking water for the world, the range of viewpoints being heard at the forum has broadened.

That seems likely to continue, as the number of NGOs and "social entrepreneurs" has increased at each meeting in recent years and Davos’ plans to host the forum next year include establishing a foundation that will invite anti-globalization protesters in.

But the World Economic Forum, at heart, truly is about the world’s elite. They don’t do themselves any public relations favours by holding private, $1 million dinner concerts with Elton John; on the other hand they deserve high marks for bringing Israeli and Palestinian singers together on one stage.

And these are people who can make a difference if, as seemed to be the case, they take an interest. Rock star Peter Gabriel told the New York Times he was attending the World Economic Forum because, "I have learned that in order to change the world you must be part of it from the inside. It is the people at this conference who change things, and you have to learn how they work, and get to know them."

Another rock star, Bono, said he was at the forum because he had "failed so miserably to get on TV and talk about the issues. They don’t want me on Oprah talking about debt relief for poor countries."

For pure inspiration there were the four politicians from Northern Ireland most responsible for the Belfast Peace Accord, David Trimble, Mark Durkan, Gerry Adams and David Ervine – three of them having been jailed during their careers, all pledging to keep the accord alive in the face of rising dissatisfaction amongst their constituencies.

And there was U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy standing up to tell all who could hear him that U.S. foreign aid was used for policy reasons rather than humanitarian reasons and that two-thirds of all U.S. aid money goes to just two countries in the Middle East. People have to bring pressure on governments to give more aid, he said.

The senator could stand up and make such a statement, and be applauded, is in some respects because the World Economic Forum is a private affair. Participants like the privacy, some say, because they are free to criticize one another without having to look good for voters or shareholders.

So should Whistler be a party to this bundle of contradictions, controversy and creativity that is the World Economic Forum? Does the resort community have a role to play in trying to nudge these world leaders towards sustainability, or towards anything else? Do we dare to be great?

Maybe we should discuss it.

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