Letters to the Editor for the week of December 22nd 

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED BY NICOLE FITZGERALD - Books for Babies
  • Photo submitted by Nicole Fitzgerald
  • Books for Babies

More needs to be done to house workers

I arrived in Whistler a month ago.

I quit my well paid job in Australia on a whim (after getting my IEC visa), booked a plane ticket and decided to do a season. It was a toss up between Chamonix in France and Whistler, but from the reviews of many of my Australian friends who had previously done a season (and my limited knowledge of the French language), I made my decision.

So I left my very comfortable bed, and very cozy house, my family and friends, kissed my mum goodbye at the international departures, posted a standard departures gate photo on Instagram with all of the hashtags, and boarded a plane.

Then, I landed in heaven.

This is a truly, truly beautiful place. My constant Snapchat stories, Instagram posts and Facebook bombardments don't do the place the justice it deserves. My friends back home tell me how magical all of the images I transmit halfway around the world look, but I tell them they have to experience it for themselves to grasp it in its entirety.

I've made friends quickly. It isn't hard, there is almost nothing to be upset about over here. You can ski before work (if you get a late shift), you can get cheap beer and food during my new favourite time of the day — après. Everyone seems to just get along, and people that try to upset this harmonious balance are quickly shunned, and either straighten up and fall in line, or move on (probably to Banff).

I also thoroughly enjoy the banter between skiers and boarders. PRO TIP: When speaking to snowboarders, speak slowly, and try not to use too many big words, it only confuses them!

The only issue that I have come up against is the one so many people have been battling (myself included): housing.

Yep, I know. I didn't do myself any favours. I got here around Nov 15, and only had a hostel booked for two weeks. But, to be fair, I had no idea what sort of a battle I was getting myself into. I didn't realize that half of the youth from my own country had the same idea as I did.

I responded to an ad from a young lady who was looking to rally some people together to book an Airbnb, and we got a place for an extra three weeks. What a luxury it's been! Having said that, Airbnb is part of the reason we are in this situation. Homeowners can now make three to four times normal rent by leasing their house out a week or two at a time, and charge even more for Christmas periods and weekends.

Then there are the holiday homes left empty by wealthy owners who may only use their chalet for a few weeks a year.

Vancouver has just passed legislation, which will fine these people (a one-per-cent tax on a home left empty for more than six months).

This is great in theory, but what is $10,000 (the tax on a $1-million home) to someone earning $5 million to $10 million per year? Especially when the system relies on people to self report.

And, to play devil's advocate, is it really fair to fine these people just because they don't have a social conscience, or don't want to rent out their luxury vacation home to a group of young people looking to party and experience a Whistler season?

Every advertisement for a room or house on Craigslist or Facebook is met with dozens and dozens of respondents. You're lucky if you even get a reply, which usually comes a couple of days later, if it does at all, depending on if you replied within five minutes of the ad being posted, or you were three to four hours later. But everyone seems to be saying the same thing: "Just try to get through to the end of January, there'll be a heap of people going home by then."

The apparent reasons are many, and include (but are not limited to) injury, being unable to afford rent, homesickness, university starting, sacked from work due to one too many après sessions that got out of hand (which I'm fast learning is a Whistler tradition, along with poutine — like, I get it, poutine tastes great, but how is this a national dish?), relationship breakups or any other reason that gets them on a plane, away from this winter wonderland.

One of the things I am seriously struggling to comprehend though is the lack of transport to neighbouring towns like Squamish and Pemberton. For Squamish, there is one bus each way per day, operated by Greyhound. Not ideal for people that want to work on the mountain, but can't find housing.

Pemberton is slightly better, with eight buses each way per day. Four of them are operated by BC Transit ($4.50) and the other four by Greyhound ($5 to $6). This can make the daily commute anywhere between $9 and $12. For an eight-hour shift, this can be a whole hour's work, just for transport. And if you do catch these buses, at the end of your workday, the last two buses are at either 6:05 p.m., or 10:30 p.m.

That certainly doesn't help the many people that work in hospitality, often finishing between 11 p.m. and 2 to 3 a.m.

With the mountain so heavily reliant on holidayers like myself to operate, I can't understand why this hasn't been rectified? Surely one bus per hour to each of these towns at an affordable rate would ease the congestion up here, and would mean people wouldn't have to necessarily sleep on their mate's couch for one to two months, or lie in a job interview about having housing?

I think regular buses to Squamish and Pemberton would be a great, short-term solution, and would also bring more of the locals from those towns up as well, so they could enjoy an après session after a day on the hill, and not have to worry about navigating the snow-covered roads after partaking in a ski shot at the Longhorn.

Whistler, whether the local council wants to admit it or not, is in a housing crisis.

You don't have to search far to find evidence of this. Mobile homes in the parking lot, people sleeping in the back of their cars in -20 C temperatures. People sleeping on a mate's couch, trawling through Craigslist hourly, constantly hitting the refresh button, hoping for some sort of Christmas miracle.

Homelessness is rampant. It isn't the sort of homeless scenes you see in Vancouver, this isn't so much developed by poverty or mental illness. This is spawned by the youth of Australia and the world wanting to experience your fantastic Neverland-like town, to forget about life back home, to send it, to shred, to chase fresh pow, to have an adventure and a beer with some of the best, happiest people you will ever meet in your life.

This is it, this will be everything we all reflect back on in years to come, when we are back home, working our boring jobs, to be able to pause, and smile, and remember these amazing days.

Whilst I may have managed to find housing, there are hundreds out there that still haven't, and they need help.

To quote a popular ski clothing company's slogan; "You're not alive since the day you were born. You're alive since the last time you truly felt something."

I certainly feel something every time I look up at those mountains, or when I'm riding some fresh pow down Whistler, looking over at Blackcomb on a bluebird day.

Mayor and council — please, help us keep this feeling going.

Dylan Howell
Whistler

Any train would be welcome

I agree with Mr. Keith Auchinachie (Pique, "Letters to the Editor," Dec. 8), any train is better than none. The lack of passenger trains in B.C. is appalling. In the early '60s, I studied bridge building in Finland for three months as part of my post-secondary studies in France. They already had trains going over the Arctic Circle.

According to Wikipedia, there are currently about 260 passenger round trips driven daily in Finland, excluding the Helsinki commuter rail. Nightly passenger trains only operate on the busiest lines between Helsinki or Turku via Oulu to Lapland (a minimum distance of 650 kilometres). This leaves most of the tracks free for nightly freight traffic

The population is 5.4 million. Lapland is reindeer country — its summers are very short; most trees are smaller than an average person.

The Hokkaido region of Japan has very snowy winters, and they do run trains even in the coldest winters.

To be fair to B.C., the American states of Washington and Oregon also have an appalling rail network, save for the Greater Seattle-Tacoma area and Greater Portland.

"High speed" is relative of course. I took the Amtrak train last month, from Bellingham to Vancouver, and the speed in Canada was incredibly slow. In the Western U.S., 100 km/hr is considered very fast for trains. As a comparison, old-fashioned trains (with bulky non-aerodynamic locomotives similar to these used by Amtrak) started to run at 200 km/hour between Bordeaux and Paris in 1967.

Unfortunately, in order to have regular trains to Whistler and beyond, the line must have two tracks, not just a single on as now.

The main reason why European and Japanese trains are fast is because they are powered by electricity. There are also diesel-powered passengers trains — mostly short trains — and they can reach 150 km/hr. Their aerodynamic profile goes a long way to increase the speed for the given level of energy used.

I focused in my hasty research on the French Cote d'Azur, as it is part of a mountainous region (the end of the Alps) that is somewhat similar to the terrain one finds along the Sea to Sky Highway, though they don't have as much snow as Whistler.

Trains run inland in some areas, close to the water in others. They aren't very fast for the time being, except for about eight km out of 250, but then there are numerous stops. There are both viaducts and tunnels, built many years ago, when everything was cheaper. Nowadays it would be quite expensive.

J-L Brussac
Coquitlam

Far from green

If Whistler businesses want to keep their doors open and heat their patios to attract paying customers, that's fine.

Let's face it, when given the choice, most of us would choose to sit around a propane fireplace for our après.

The hypocrisy is the green card most of these businesses, as well as the municipality, play. Let's call a spade a spade and just admit there is very little that is sustainable in the way this resort is run.

Just like Las Vegas blatantly and proudly wastes water in the desert to impress tourists, we do the same with propane.

We are becoming the model town for the Liberals' LNG scheme promoting the unnecessary burning of fossil fuel for the whole world to see.

Now that's marketing!

Mike Roger
Whistler/Birken

Taxing short-term rental not the answer

(Editor's note: This letter was sent to Pique and is addressed to Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden)

I am writing to oppose the proposal from the Hotel Association of Whistler (HAW) to impose provincial sales tax on legitimate operators of small short-term rentals as a method of discouraging illegal short-term rentals.

Firstly, the proposal would be ineffective. If operators are flaunting the law by illegally offering short-term rentals then it is extremely unlikely that they are obtaining business licences and paying sales or income taxes. Increasing taxes simply increases the incentive to remain underground. It will not incentivize the return of property to long-term rental. If HAW members think otherwise then they are naïve.

Secondly, Whistler has a large number of properties zoned for short-term rentals. The proposal would penalize legitimate operators of these properties. Hotels currently have a huge competitive edge over the legitimate small operator B&B's or properly zoned short-term rentals. They have massive advantages of scale, not least in purchasing and marketing. Small operators pay into Tourism Whistler, typically buy locally (unlike many hotels, who source centrally) and pay higher rates to cleaners, trades, etc. These small operators also typically have to charge lower nightly rates because of their lack of marketing reach. The exemption from hotel tax on their revenues is a small offset to the larger competitive disadvantages they face.

Thirdly, bylaw enforcement is much more straightforward than tax-law enforcement. Linking a property listing to a zoning bylaw is relatively simple; linking a property listing to an income tax or provincial tax filing is much more difficult. Further, enforcement is no longer under local control, but is in the hands of provincial and federal tax authorities, which have no direct interest in Whistler's housing problems.

If the issue is illegal operators then let's confront it as such. Require listings of short-term rentals to include business-licence numbers. They should already have business licences, if they are legitimate. Use fines as a deterrent, not a slap on the wrist or a small cost of doing business. If you can be fined $10,000 for bear attractants then you can be fined $10,000 for a breach of zoning bylaws, and you can be reported to provincial authorities and the CRA for failure to obtain a small business licence.

I am a retiree, who owns a one-bedroom unit in a complex zoned for short-term rental (The Aspens). I have a business license, I file GST returns, I declare all my rental income on my income tax return, I pay in to Tourism Whistler and I contribute to the Whistler economy. I do not see why I should be penalized for the illegal operation of Airbnbs, especially when more effective alternatives exist. Please do not support the HAW's proposal.

Rick Bryant
Vancouver

WASP says thanks

Whistler Adaptive Sports Program (WASP) would like to thank the many generous individuals and merchants who donated items to our silent auction at Cornucopia.

They include Coast Mountain Photo, Sara Triggs of Culmina; Squamish Valley Golf; The Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club; Scandinave Spa; TAG; Britannia Mine Museum; Vida Spas; Helly Hansen Whistler; Ruby Tuesday Accessories; Saxx Underwear; FYidoctors, partners of Whistler Eye Clinic; Mally Designs Ltd.; Camp Lifestyle + Coffee Co.; Making Lane; Peak Performance Whistler; Village Sports Ltd. (Mountain Riders); Quicksilver Canada; Purebread; Troll's Restaurant; Longhorn Saloon; Firerock; Buffalo Bills; GLC; Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory; Whistler Chocolate,;Mt. Boucherie Winery; Tommy Africa's Nightclub; The Salted Vine Kitchen & Wine Bar Squamish; Creekbread; Wildwood Restaurant & Bar; Elements Urban Tapas Parlour; Okanagan Crush Pad Winery; Haywire + Narrative Wines; Poplar Grove Winery & Monster Vineyards; Foxtrot Vineyards Ltd.; Peacock & Martin; Backyard Vineyards Corp.; Farfalla; Surefoot; Profile Ski & Snowboard Services; Fanatyk Co. Ski & Bike; Crystal Lodge; Fairmont Chateau Whistler; Cici Art Factory; Tantalus Art Gallery; Kathleen Tennock Ceramic Studio; Fathom Stone; Pique Newsmagazine; the Reid Family; Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre; Nonna Pia's Balsamic Reductions; the Rimrock Café; Toptable Group; Creekside Market; C.C. Jentsch Cellars; Deep Roots Winery; Whistler Jet Boating; Play Estate Winery; Vanessa Stark ART; Devine Vineyards; Blasted Church; McWatters Meritage; Kaiken Wine; Dirty Laundry; Unsworth Wine; Barage Cellars; Villa Maria; Inside Out Boutique; Vancouver Whitecaps FC; Border Town Wine; Nicklaus North Golf Course; Whistler Half Marathon; Garfinkel's; Pan Pacific Whistler; Kismet Estate Winery; The Adventure Ranch; Harpers Trail Wine; Lunessance; Innovative Fitness; Capilano Suspension Bridge; Loka Yoga; Lole; Momentum Ski Camps; West Coast Float; Whistler Golf Club; Sea to Sky Gondola; The Meadows at Pemberton; Watermark; Goodlife Fitness; Whistler Bungee; Sweet Skills Mountain Bike Coaching; Milkshaxs; Escape Route; Summit Sports; Ryders Eyewear; Roots Canada; Domani Fashion; Tribe of Lambs; McCoo's Whistler; Rogers Chocolate; MJG Brewhouse; Black's Pub, Tapleys; Mile One Eating House; Beacon Pub & Eatery; Whistler Brewing Company; Crepe Montagne; Peaked Pies; Elevation Hair Studio; Armchair Books; Summit Lodge & Spa, Nita Lake Lodge, Whistler Contemporary Gallery, The Artful Podger, Vancouver Canucks, Earls Whistler, Hy’s Steakhouse & Cocktail Bar, Le Meadows Pantry, Creekside Market, Bearfoot Bistro, Pasta Lupino, Donovan Tildesley, and 101.5 Whistler FM, Dr. Briar Sexton General & Neuro-ophthalmology, Nita Lake Lodge Spa, Local Optics, Norwex, Highwood Distillers, Goodridge & Williams Craft Distillers, Wodka Wines, Hayne Brewing, Perspective Brewing, Van Western, Steamworks, Steel & Oak, Coast Mountain Brewing, Phillips, Hearthstone, Howe Sound Brewing , Parawell, Parkside, Red Truck and Townsite Brewing.

As a registered charity, we rely on the donations of individuals and businesses to run our programs for those who have physical or mental disabilities. Your generosity keeps our programs going.

David Bell
Board member, Whistler Adaptive Sports Program

One book at a time

One thousand dollars in new books and 40-plus boxes of secondhand books were delivered to the Lil'wat Nation just in time for Christmas as part of the Books for Babies program. 

Every year, Sea to Sky moms and libraries come together to donate secondhand picture books for children of the Lil'wat Nation. The Whistler Writers Festival also matches up to $500 in kind donations to buy new books. 

This year we had the wonderful problem of having so many book boxes that arrangements needed to be made for a truck to pick them all up. A wonderful problem to have.

I'm constantly amazed (and shouldn't be) at the amazing outpouring of support and generosity from our community. The gift of reading is such a precious thing to give and receive. 

A huge thank you to Sea to Sky moms, Stella Harvey, the Whistler Writers Festival, Armchair Books, Pemberton and Whistler libraries, Jalaro Designs, the Loft Salon, the Crystal Lodge Art Gallery, Megan Lalonde from the Question, and Lois Joseph who had to haul all those books.

Wishing everyone the most joyous of holidays.

Nicole Fitzgerald
Whistler

Waldorf thanks

Thank you to everyone who came out to celebrate the season with us at the 2016 Whistler Waldorf School Christmas Fair.

We had a record number of fair guests, and the day was full of fun and smiling children who visited the cookie fairy, gnome village, the candle dipping room and participated in lots and lots of holiday crafting!

Thank you to all of the volunteers who make this beloved event happen and a very special thanks to our generous sponsors: Nesters Market, Olives, Sabre Rentals, Aphrodite's Pies in Vancouver, Whoola Toys, The Green Moustache and Mt. Currie Coffee.

To everyone who makes the Children's Christmas Fair an annual tradition, we'll see you next year!

Jen Dodds
Community Development Manager
Whistler Waldorf School

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