Dear Santa: just send cash

For a little lesson in media studies it’s instructive to look at the two biggest news stories to come out of Whistler since winter returned nearly two weeks ago and Jacques Rogge left. The first was the Bearfoot Bistro losing 60 bottles of wine; the second was Councillor Nick Davies proclaiming that the municipal monitoring report is a wake up call and we should stop believing our own press.

Bad news is good, especially when, in some people’s minds, it brings the high and pompous down a notch or two. The appetite for these news stories was voracious for the same reason that junk food is so popular: it’s cheap, easy to digest and temporarily satisfies a craving.

The monitoring report is undoubtedly useful but as with any statistical report it provides a snapshot of what has happened. A lot of people have been awake to the realities of business and a flat economy for the last few years and have been working to reverse the trend. As Tourism Whistler President Barrett Fisher said, the fact that business has been down for three years is "old news."

Mayor Hugh O’Reilly said Whistler needs three things to address its business woes: "marketing, marketing, marketing." Perhaps the Bearfoot Bistro’s Andre St. Jacques could be conscripted to help out.

Whether fuelled by the numbers in the monitoring report or not, it seems there are numerous solutions being floated right now for all the ills that have befallen Whistler. An airport near the Callaghan-Brandywine area is one idea. Whistler-Blackcomb says there is no question an airport would bring more visitors to Whistler. Who would pay to build the airport has not yet been addressed.

Of course this hasn’t sat well with Pemberton, which has an airport that has swallowed up more than $7 million of taxpayers’ money over the last 25 years but still has no regularly scheduled commercial airline service. Pemberton needs more money to make the airport work for commercial flights, but it doesn’t have any.

Councillor Kristi Wells says figures in the monitoring report show the need for improved municipal infrastructure, but the municipality doesn’t have the funds to fully address the issue. This, she says, shows how important it is that the municipality be given more financial tools.

Two presidents ago Tourism Whistler began calling for more marketing money, suggesting to the municipality that it should receive 100 per cent of the hotel tax collected in Whistler, rather than just a portion of it. That call hasn’t been repeated for a while, at least not publicly, but it’s a safe assumption more money would make things better.

And then there’s CUPE advertising, and the Canadian Auto Workers suggesting in conversations, that their members need a special cost-of-living-in-Whistler allowance. "As our resort community has prospered, the cost of living has skyrocketed," a CUPE ad states. This, too, could be lumped under the "old news" category.

Perhaps it’s a symptom of the February blahs, but it seems as though everyone’s problems could be solved if they just had more money. And yet the document that has, in some cases, led to the call for more money shows that tourism has been down for the last three years and therefore there isn’t any more money coming into Whistler. In fact there’s less.

There’s no doubt that the municipality is going to have to find a new formula to sustain Whistler’s infrastructure, particularly if buildout ever does become a reality. That formula may include more P3 agreements like the new deal to expand and maintain the sewer treatment plant. It might include new financial tools, but what those tools – or taxes – would mean to the value message Tourism Whistler has been promoting would have to be examined closely. It might also include cutting municipal expenses.

It wouldn’t appear there is municipal money set aside to build an airport, although we have yet to see this year’s budget. There is no mention of money for an airport in the Olympic cornucopia of funds. The corporate world might be interested in contributing to an airport but not without strong support from several levels of government.

As for CUPE’s demands for a Whistler living allowance for the 29 people it represents, wouldn’t the municipality’s ongoing efforts toward resident housing and an affordability strategy – circuitous as they may be at times – make living in Whistler more affordable for more working people?

And if marketing is the answer to most of our problems it’s worth keeping in mind that the province has doubled the budget for Tourism B.C. this year. As well, Tourism Whistler – more attuned to the figures than most of us – has been tracking, sharpening and re-focusing its marketing efforts continually over the last couple of years.

This doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods and the information in the monitoring report is obsolete. But waiting for more money to suddenly appear from somewhere to solve our problems is not a course of action either.

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