Council finally deals with the WEF

The growing list of regulars taking notes in the back row at council chambers is not a reflection on the movies being shown at Rainbow Theatre or the fact that The Boot no longer holds the Ballet on Mondays. There’s an election coming in November, and there are lots of people looking to fill the seats on council.

The Olympic bid and the World Economic Forum are a couple of the hot topics around town right now, but any yes-or-no decisions on these two events will have been made long before voters go to the polls in November.

So why are people lining up to run for council? There are a few reasons:

1. It’s expected several incumbents won’t run again;

2. It’s time for some new blood, and the municipality is heading in some new directions regardless of who is on council;

3. There’s anger over some of this council’s decisions, non-decisions and mistakes, real or perceived.

Monday night’s debate on the World Economic Forum illustrated point number 3. The WEF meeting is an emotional issue for some people, including some council members who were sniping at one another and testy all through Monday’s meeting.

But the way the debate unfolded, with several councillors bemoaning the lack of public consultation, bordered on the absurd. Councillor Kristi Wells said the issue had highlighted the fact for her that "we do not communicate very well." Councillor Ken Melamed said he thought council had missed an opportunity to engage the community in the debate. And Councillor Nick Davies went so far as to vow to oppose the forum if it went to a vote Monday, but to vote in favour if the vote was delayed until a future council meeting. "I’m not happy with the way this has unfolded," Davies said. (By delaying the vote) we’re giving the public time for input."

But all council members were part of the agreement to keep silent on the matter, for nearly nine months.

The request for silence came from WEF organizers, who had not informed Davos, Switzerland, where the forum has been held for 30 years, that they were looking elsewhere. In honouring that request, council has now given Whistler citizens to April 2 to become informed and comment on the WEF holding its annual meeting in Whistler in January 2004.

There hasn’t been total silence, of course. At the end of January a Whistler delegation, including this writer, attended the WEF annual meeting for 2002 in New York. Stories about the trip and the WEF coming to Whistler appeared in this paper and one other, and were heard on CBC radio. But public response hasn’t been huge. Either most people are comfortable with the forum coming to Whistler or most people aren’t aware of it.

But back to municipal hall. For a council and administration that has been committed to process on so many other issues, and has encouraged public input in developing various strategies and documents, there was a distinct lack of process on how to deal with the WEF issue. And maybe there still is, aside from putting off a decision for four weeks and asking staff to make more information about the WEF available to the public.

Those in the back row and others who turned out for Monday’s council meeting should be encouraged by the level of debate that finally took place regarding the World Economic Forum. After nine months there was a lot of emotion pent up, and there were some strong arguments on both sides of the issue.

In my mind, the case for hosting the WEF is stronger than the case for turning it down. But it took an open, public debate to make that clear.

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