Language is power

"There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."

Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of Defense

As the famous saying by novelist Angela Carter goes, "language is power."

The truth of the statement has become abundantly clear in recent days as the debate over the operation of the asphalt plant near the Olympic legacy neighbourhood of Cheakamus Crossing hit the headlines again.

At issue this time is the apparent discrepancy in the description of funds that were to be allocated to Alpine Paving in a Relocation Agreement.

Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed described the funds last May as "legal costs" whereas the agreement, obtained by a resident through a Freedom of Information request, describes the funds as anything but.

"Whistler must," states the agreement, "pay Alpine one half of the capital costs (not exceeding $350,000 as Whistler's contribution) of the Baghouse and asphalt plant components...."

So which is it, residents are asking themselves - legal costs or capital costs?

Well, it appears to depend on who is being asked.

The municipality's position is that the money does represent legal costs since the agreement is in essence a settlement agreement, which would have kept the RMOW from being sued by Alpine Paving.

Alpine could have been in a position to sue if it was forced to move by the municipality. It has, after all, been operating there for many, many years with a nod from lawmakers, though it does not comply with zoning.

This "settlement" argument is also at the crux of explaining why the payment would not violate the Community Charter, according to the RMOW.

This is another "power of language" Gordian Knot issue for residents.

On the face of it the Relocation Agreement appears to violate the Charter, which states under Section 25 that municipalities "must not provide a grant, benefit, advantage or other form of assistance to a business."

But according to news coverage the RMOW's legal advisor, Don Lidstone, has said if the costs are associated with a legal settlement they are not considered a benefit to the business.

Confused yet?

It is also clear from reading the Relocation Agreement that any taxes that flow from it are the responsibility of the parties involved.

"It is further understood that Alpine undertakes and agrees to pay the Receiver General of Canada or any other applicable regulatory authority any charges, payments, repayments or penalties of any kind, including without limitation those relating to tax..." it states.

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