The message is….

And so the 14 th municipal election in Whistler’s history comes to an end, sort of.

Congratulations to all candidates are in order. It takes guts and conviction to stand up and say who you are and why you should represent the people.

And then the matter is left in voters’ hands as they disappear into booths and anonymously decide who will lead the town for the next three years. The results reflect the choices of the people who care enough about Whistler to get out and vote. You have to respect that.

But of course in Whistler, our own private Florida, the election isn’t over yet. The ghost in the polling machine that counted a ballot on Saturday, and said Dave Kirk and Marianne Wade both had 1,057 votes, rejected that ballot during a recount on Monday. It’s now up to a court to decide: was there a tie for the sixth council seat and do we have to go to a runoff in January involving all the non-elected candidates; or did one of the two win outright by one vote.

Some might say that until the final council seat is determined it’s difficult to interpret what the voters wanted. There were two new councillors elected Saturday – a vote for change – and three incumbent councilors and Mayor Hugh O’Reilly were returned – an endorsement of the status quo. One ballot may decide whether the next council will be made up of four incumbent councillors and two new ones or three new councillors and three incumbents.

There is clearly support for the direction taken and decisions made in the last three years, but there is also clearly some concern with the status quo. Understanding those concerns is one of the challenges facing the new council.

It has been suggested, prior to the election and after, that many of those concerns can be alleviated through better communication; that people aren’t aware of some of the policies and initiatives council has taken in the last three years. There is some validity in this argument, and perhaps we in the media have to do a better job of explaining council decisions. The rules in Whistler are complex and things never seem to be as strait forward as expected.

But council and the municipality also have to recognize when they are sending confusing messages. A case in point was Monday’s public hearing on a bylaw that would designate the Callaghan and Cheakamus areas for future development.

The proposed bylaw was the subject of an open house in October, which no one attended. It was then introduced at the Nov. 4 council meeting, the last meeting prior to Saturday’s election. A public hearing was scheduled for Nov. 18 – two days after the election and the last meeting of the current council, prior to the new council being sworn in on Dec. 2.

So at Monday’s public hearing we had the bizarre situation of a newly elected, but not yet sworn in, councillor (Caroline Lamont) speaking as a member of the public to the old council – two and possibly three of whom will not be members of council on Dec. 16 when the bylaw comes back for third reading. But Lamont will be part of that council and will have a vote at third reading.

Designating the Callaghan and Cheakamus for future development is an issue that has huge implications for Whistler’s future, at least in the minds of those people who packed council chambers Monday and spoke for nearly 90 minutes on the subject. There are pros and cons to designating these areas for future development. There are details to be worked out and there are specifics in the proposed bylaw that some people questioned.

But mostly there was concern that council had put the cart before the horse in bringing this bylaw forward at this time. In the midst of developing a comprehensive sustainability plan, and in the midst of an election, the municipality appeared to be laying the groundwork for a significant, if not fundamental, change in the direction of the community.

The assurances of staff that the sites were only being "bookmarked" and that public input through the comprehensive sustainability plan would determine use of the lands didn’t seem to register with most people. Is this a breakdown in communication or do people just remain genuinely concerned?

This is one of the first questions the new council will have to address.


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