Editorial 

If it’s Whistler it’s news

“It’s a resort town full of millionaires…” the CBC television reporter began her story Tuesday on CUPE’s campaign for a cost-of-living allowance for Whistler’s 29 bylaw officers and sewage treatment plant workers.

Of course it is. No doubt through hours of research and untold amounts of shoe leather the CBC uncovered the story this week. Just look at the evidence: the average house price is $1.2 million. Not only that, the CBC reporter announced that affordability is going to become more of an issue as “…hundreds of construction workers start work on the venues for the 2010 Olympics.”

Who’d have guessed?

I guess I feel like, well… like Boo Boo. You know, Yogi Bear’s pal. Yogi Bear is smarter than a millionaire — which I guess everyone who lives here must be — but I still don’t understand how Yogi — or the CBC, or CUPE — is going to pry open that picnic basket that is a cost-of-living allowance.

CUPE representatives say it costs 30 per cent more to live in Whistler than the Lower Mainland, although how they arrived at that number is not clear. A $4,000 annual cost-of-living allowance for its employees is CUPE’s proposed solution. The municipality, rightly, counters that it has been and continues to work toward affordable housing for all Whistler employees, or at least all Whistler employees who want to live in Whistler. Housing is generally accepted as the largest single factor in Whistler being an expensive place to live. The municipality is also working on an affordability strategy.

Being the only non-millionaires in Whistler, CUPE workers are getting a lot of attention lately. Their cost-of-living demand was front-page news in the Globe and Mail on Monday. Tuesday, Globe and Mail cartoonist Anthony Jenkins drew the picture that most Canadians have somewhere in the back of their mind that is Whistler. Under a banner that said “Coffee break, Whistler, B.C.” two sanitation workers sat next to their garbage truck. The first complained that his coffee wasn’t a “double soy mocha frappuccino crème grande with sprinkles.” The second worker explained that it was a double-double because their cost-of-living bonus was only proposed.

In a single panel the cartoon captured the whole story: it’s not that the rest of the country is interested in whether 29 CUPE employees get a cost-of-living allowance, it’s news because it’s Whistler.

Perhaps it’s a lack of imagination, an unwillingness to recognize that there could be real issues in a place like Whistler, or maybe it’s a matter of dropping into town and finding stories to fit preconceived ideas, but one way or another Whistler has moved into Elvis territory — the gawdy, spectacular, bizarre failure that is a staple of media coverage. There’s the old lady who leaves her fortune to her 25 cats; aliens who kidnapped somebody’s child; the King dying on his throne from a drug overdose; and Whistler, where you are either a frivolous millionaire or one of 10 people sharing a converted sauna as a bedroom.

The story and the stereotype is going to be embellished in the years to come as the world discovers that the kids at Myrtle Philip school have sushi days rather than hot dog days; that most of the Whistler bears have names, thanks to Michael Allen’s work; dog obituaries are more common than human obituaries in the local papers; shops offer financing for bikes that cost more than many cars; and Loonie races are the best dinner deal in the world.

Actually, these stories fit with other “news” making headlines across Canada recently: Paul Martin being called Mr. Dithers; the attorney general suggesting women should be allowed to play for the Stanley Cup; Jean Chretien showing his balls to the Gomery inquiry; and Paris Hilton’s electronic black book with Canadian numbers in it.

CUPE 2010 workers are getting national media attention for their demands because they are in Whistler. Whistler’s long, at times painful efforts to address the situation CUPE is raising don’t fit the story many in the media want to tell. It won’t be the last time.

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