Choosing partners

Nearly a decade ago, statements emanating from municipal hall started referring to “our partners,” although there was precious little to explain the basis of “our partnerships.” Still, most of us swallowed the idea of these partnerships without much thought.

At first the partnership seemed to include the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Whistler-Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler, the big three. There was some assumed logic to this partnership: the municipality is the local government authority, approving land use, collecting taxes and setting public policy through bylaws. Tourism Whistler is responsible for marketing Whistler resort to the world and, with the authority to collect membership fees from most property owners, effectively another level of government. Whistler-Blackcomb is responsible for planning and operating the two reasons most people come to Whistler and is also the town’s largest employer.

These aren’t monolithic corporations — the board of Tourism Whistler, for instance, is made up of representatives from various sectors of the community, although Whistler-Blackcomb holds four of the 12 voting board seats and the RMOW two — but they share a common goal with most other members of Whistler: to see the resort and the community succeed.

One of the clearest examples of this was the financial guarantee of the $3 million loan for snowmaking that was needed in the mid-90s, when Whistler was trying to host early season World Cup races. Although the early-season races proved to be a mistake — three years in a row the races were cancelled due to inclement weather — there was strong community support for the concept when it was launched. And the three partners stepped in to guarantee the loan and make it happen.

To further facilitate success on the resort side of the equation the One Whistler group was created, a partnership that includes representatives from the RMOW, Tourism Whistler, Whistler-Blackcomb and different business sectors. One of One Whistler’s primary tasks is to take care of issues that fall into the gaps between different agencies’ responsibilities, to create a seamless Whistler experience for visitors.

Over the years the use of the word “partners” has been extended to a number of other bodies and agencies that have a stake in Whistler: the provincial government and its various ministries and Crown corporations, the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations, VANOC and the Canadian Olympic Committee, to name a few. All have an interest in seeing Whistler succeed, but all have their own interests, as well. That’s a point that seems to be overlooked when the all-purpose explanation “we have to support our partners” is trotted out.

Few of us accomplish anything on our own — we need partners, or at least allies, to get things done. But we also need to know our partners and the nature of our partnerships. As a lawyer incorporating a business once advised, “a marriage may last, but all partnerships come to an end.”

Some of Whistler’s partnerships will come to an end or be restructured with the conclusion of the 2010 Olympics. VANOC, which permeates so much right now, will cease to exist in two years.

And new partnerships, such as with the Legacies Society, will develop.

Partnerships also evolve over time, as the partners change or as the objectives of the partnership change.

A better understanding of Whistler’s partners and partnerships is one of the themes worth exploring in November’s municipal election. There may, for instance, be excellent reasons the majority of council recently supported B.C. Transit — one of Whistler’s partners — in the Crown corporation’s decision to build its new bus facility on B.C. Hydro land, but there wasn’t much in the way of a plausible explanation. And many people came away feeling B.C. Transit is less than a perfect partner.

Did Whistler’s partnership with Whistler-Blackcomb change when Intrawest was acquired by Fortress? Should, or could, Whistler’s partnership with Whistler-Blackcomb change again with the community acquiring a financial stake in the company?

Is a partnership with an educational institution to establish a culinary/tourism school in Whistler part of the future? What about partnerships in the arts?

With capital reserves depleted and the forecast for hotel tax revenue more likely to move down than up in the next couple of years, partnerships are going to be more important than ever. But we need a better understanding of our partners and what our partnerships mean.


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