Letters to the Editor for the week of December 6 

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Volunteer SAR versus Fee for Service

Last week's article regarding private sector insurance/rescue as an alternative to volunteer Search and Rescue (SAR) left me wondering whose axe was being ground (Pique, Nov.29, "Is it time to adopt an insurance-based model for backcountry travel?").

It is difficult to understand how the Spearhead Huts Committee could tolerate its lead spokesperson making such presumptive and mean-spirited statements at a time when all others in the backcountry community are pulling together to meet the challenges faced by increasing recreation usage patterns.

Not one of the assertions made by Jayson Faulkner is true. Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) continues to enjoy tremendous community support as it has for the past 45 years. The team draws its collective strength through its 31 members who, in their professional lives, come from a diverse and talented field of skills. Seven members are mountain guides, five are professional ski patrol, two are practicing medical doctors, a couple of avalanche forecasters, dog handlers and a whole host of ardent outdoor enthusiasts. Mr. Faulkner's claim that a professional paid rescue service would somehow improve service is not supported by fact.

WSAR provides 24-hour, seven-day-a-week coverage, as do all other SAR teams in the province. All of these teams work under designated authority from the Crown (usually RCMP), and as such, have unlimited access to the entirety of provincial resources.

B.C. SAR teams provide this extraordinary level of service to all residents and visitors alike, and we do it for free.

The nature of SAR work is that the calls are completely random and often come in sets. When these waves of sometimes-tragic events occur, it is normal for some members to feel overcome and the challenge of dealing with the "burnout" that Mr. Faulkner refers to is one that we continue to address, and do so effectively. The notion that somehow this will eventually make the service delivery model unsustainable is nonsense.

More likely the cause of an unsustainable volunteer (free) SAR service would be borne from two conditions. The first being a significant loss in public support for community driven SAR teams, a trend that Mr. Faulkner apparently wishes to incubate and foster. And/or the failure of commercial entities to accept their fair share of responsibility for public safety when the venues they are creating lead to a substantial increase in backcountry recreation use and subsequent SAR service.

WSAR Society exists to provide aid to those persons or organizations whose capacity to help themselves in times of emergency has been surpassed. However, in order to meet this mandate, it is required that each person/organization maintains a level of preparedness adequate to cope with foreseeable events.

In the case of the Spearhead Huts, WSAR would recommend that the provision of a suitably trained and certified hut custodian be in attendance on a full-time basis to account for guests as they move through the hut system, attend to lesser medical issues and be available for notifications, avalanche advisories and timely weather-condition updates when evacuations are deemed necessary. The embrace of these simple responsibilities will reduce risk to both hut users and to WSAR members when they are required to perform their mandate.

Mr. Faulkner claims a need to penalize "unprepared hikers" and "persons making frivolous calls" in the belief that somehow a private, insurance-driven, paid-rescue service would mitigate this.

If only it was that simple. Countries around the world have been struggling with this issue for decades. Europe's experience with private medical/rescue service has not demonstrated any decrease in SAR call volume. It has only succeeded in creating a two-tiered level of service delivery.

Mr. Faulkner claims to have had significant interactions with policymakers regarding his concept of fee-for-service rescue as an alternative to the current no-charge system. As a result of his advocacy for a user-pay system, the province is quite likely reviewing its long-standing policy of cost recovery from commercial operators who, incorrectly, utilize taxpayer-funded services including helicopter evacuations as a subsidy to their operation.

Perhaps those discussions have already commenced. Is it possible that this sudden denunciation of SAR is actually a ploy and an attempt to spread the cost of those specific evacuation charges his organization might incur across a much broader and unsuspecting user group?

Mr. Faulkner's comments demonstrate a tremendous disservice to the men and women across the province that selflessly commit large portions of their life to ensuring prompt and sufficient rescue services to B.C.'s mountain communities. His contempt and expressed ingratitude need to be addressed by those he purports to represent.

Brad Sills
President Whistler Search and Rescue Society

Is now the time to change voting system

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time..."

-Winston Churchill

I have voted in every election (when eligible) for the past 30 years and have lived under both proportional representation (PR) and First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) systems.

Neither is perfect, and each has advantages and disadvantages, but changing a system will have real-life consequences.

Despite what some may claim, B.C. (and Canada) enjoys a better standard of life (and freedom) than 99 per cent of the world's population. I am not saying that we should not strive for improvement, but we should be very careful before we adopt a new system of democracy/voting.

That being said, the current referendum on electoral reform is not an example of democracy at work.

The turnout (including spoiled votes) in this election is likely to be significantly less than 40 per cent. (Editor's note: As of Dec. 5, 1,315,000 voting packages had been returned, representing about 40-per-cent voter turnout.) Assuming that half of those chose one of the alternate systems, our entire electoral system could be changed by as little as eight per cent of the total electorate (21 per cent vote for change, and of those just over one-third chose one of the systems).

Furthermore, two of the three alternate options have not been adequately described. Who chooses who is your representative? What are the riding boundaries? David Eby and Co. will decide what is best for us after the election.

The status quo is by no means perfect, but until there is clarity of choice and a significant majority of the population vote for change, we should keep First-Past-the-Post.

Ciaran Keogh

Love tennis

The Whistler Tennis Association held a very successful American Thanksgiving Round Robin/Social with more than 20 tennis players and guests attending.

Everyone had a good time both on and off the court.

Special thanks to Sewak's Your Independent Grocer for donating the veggie and fruit trays for our après. 

Judy Keith
Whistler Tennis Association Board Member

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