Vote for your vision


The polls tell us that by Tuesday of next week, when Stuart McLean and his Vinyl Café roll into town for the first of two shows, Canadians will have elected a majority Conservative government, and Stephen Harper will be the next prime minister.

Perhaps fittingly, the election to determine the leader of Canada and the course the country follows for the next few years takes place the same week we celebrate Robbie Burns Day, the Chinese New Year and, at least in Whistler, Australia Day.

Whistler isn’t the first place that comes to mind when people think of Canada or Canadian politics, even though for some foreign workers who come here for a season Whistler may be all they see of our country. For most Canadians, Canada means wheat fields waving in the prairie wind or the spectacular colours of autumn sprouting from the bedrock of the Canadian Shield or Maritime fishing villages or the Rocky Mountains or the ice plains of the north. Whistler is a little too small, too new and too individual to have worked its way into the broad national psyche.

That’s not to say that Canadians haven’t heard of Whistler, but the perception many people have of our little town is something close to what Globe and Mail cartoonist Anthony Jenkins drew last year when CUPE workers first demanded a cost of living allowance: a place where the garbage collectors need special compensation to be able to afford the fancy coffees everyone here supposedly drinks.

So where does Whistler fit in this national contest to help define Canada in 2006? We have beavers and chainsaws and snowmobiles and plaid shirts like other Canadians. We live in a relatively clean, healthy environment. We’re overtaxed by government and under-serviced by same, and we love to complain about it. And Whistler is a handful of votes – tending toward Liberal – in the most populous riding in the country.

Politically, some might see Whistler’s stature growing in the next four years because of the Olympics. But in fact the town’s greatest presence in Ottawa may well have been three decades ago, when Pierre Trudeau was a frequent visitor to Whistler. Trudeau, according to Whistler’s first mayor, the late Pat Carleton, was supportive and very interested in the plans to build a village centre and turn Whistler into an international resort.

But for direct access to the corridors of power the best example came one Easter in the early ’70s. The community was having an Easter parade, which consisted of about 12 vehicles meandering along a short section of Highway 99 and winding up in the dirt parking lot at Creekside. Someone had the idea of inviting Trudeau to lead the parade, so Paul Burrows walked up to the condo where the prime minister was staying, knocked on the door and extended the invitation. He accepted.

Whistler is a different place, Ottawa is a different place and most of us are older and more impatient in 2006. Accountability seems to have become the primary theme of this election, as many Canadians take to heart the "order and good government" part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Others are worried about the dismantling of long-held Canadian institutions and values.

So as we finally, mercifully, enter the final week of this drawn out campaign the threats and the assurances are coming thick and fast. Columnist Margaret Wente wrote of Conservative leader Stephen Harper this week: "Beneath that newly genial demeanour beats the heart of a deep-blue conservative, whose dream it is to shrink the central government, dramatically reduce its role in public life, privatize as much as he can get away with, and hack away at the incomprehensible system of income transfers that sucks money from the haves to the have-nots."

Harper this week tried to assure Canadians that the Liberal dominated Senate, judiciary and civil service would provide obvious "checks on the power of a Conservative government."

Bono is nowhere to be seen this election. Don Cherry is endorsing Gilles Duceppe. ("He wears snappy suits. Nice hair. I'm right behind Gilles and everything you're trying to accomplish.")

The one, almost eternal, hope for British Columbians, including Whistlerites, looking for guidance is that because the election is expected to be close our votes may be critical in determining the next government of Canada. So on Monday, vote for the candidate and party that best represents your vision of Canada.

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