Editorial 

‘Engaged’ the word of the 2005 campaign

As Eckhard Zeidler said at Saturday’s all candidates meeting, there is a lot of common ground among the candidates in Whistler’s municipal election – as there is among Whistler voters. The very fact that we all chose to live here is evidence of that.

And following on the theme that we generally agree more than we disagree, the candidates for council spoke Saturday of a number of ideas and made a number of points that would be hard for anyone to argue with. A sample – and only a sample – of those comments included: Nancy Wilhelm-Morden emphasizing that there will be no quick fixes for our current problems; Tim Wake suggested leadership was the most important issue this election; Marianne Wade talked about the need for transparency in government; Chris Quinlan noted that we have seen municipal staff achieve great things when given clear, concise direction; Gord McKeever talked about the last three years being a planning term and the next three years will be about action and execution; Sonya McCarthy decried how the municipality hasn’t updated its cash in lieu of employee housing policy in years; Bob Lorriman promised the public would be part of the process; Steve Jiu talked about making Whistler a centre for world class festivals and multi-cultural events; Michael d’Artois spoke of the spirit and vitality that is missing in Whistler.

Who could argue with any of these sentiments?

And yet there is a lot of frustration in Whistler and a lot of people feel this election is crucial to determining in what direction the town goes. This despite the fact that we have an award-winning document that is generally accepted by the candidates as an important, if not ground-breaking tool for guiding our future.

That frustration seemed to come to a head over the Paralympic arena, but it includes a number of things, such as the lack of affordable housing built in the last three years and the way decisions on the library and the arena were made. The library and the arena facilities themselves are less important than the way those decisions were made, or were about to be made.

If sustainability was the S-word in Whistler three years ago, "engaged" is the buzz word this election. The community was not engaged in the arena decision until people made enough noise that they had to be included in the process. The "trust us" response from some members of council fanned the flames.

That pent up frustration has led to more community engagement in this election, but what will happen after Nov. 19? Are people truly engaged and willing to stay involved in discussions about the town’s future, or are they just mad as hell right now?

The community needs to be engaged on a regular basis, not just every three years or whenever there’s a crisis of some kind. Again there would seem to be general agreement among the candidates on this idea. Indeed, who would stand up and suggest there be less public consultation?

But it needs to be meaningful, timely consultation in a process that people understand. Already the next Olympic project, the athletes village/legacy village, is raising some concerns. It’s not that there hasn’t been opportunities for public involvement, it’s that to date the whole project has failed to inspire public interest.

More than the sliding centre, the Nordic centre or even the arena, the athletes village could be the most significant physical legacy from the 2010 Games in Whistler. It may become home to 1,000 Whistler residents; it could house a centre for sustainability; it could be one of the most ecologically-friendly communities in the world.

Or it could be a bunch of temporary buildings; it could be a huge financial burden.

What it is is an opportunity to build much more than just another affordable housing project, but it has barely been on the radar in this election.

The local economy has been front and centre this election. A culinary school, a high-performance medical centre and an economic development officer are some of the specific ideas that have been floated. Perhaps there would be more ideas if there was a forum for public input.

One of the keys for the next council will be to harness the energy and passion that people are showing now for Whistler’s future. There is no shortage of issues where that energy can be applied.

Public engagement works both ways; there must be timely, meaningful opportunities for the public to be involved and members of the public must take advantage of those opportunities.

But it shouldn’t be difficult. After all, there is much that we have in common.

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