Maxed Out 

What business are we in?

By G.D. Maxwell

So, if any of you bothered reading about the World Economic Forum last week, you might be asking yourself a couple of questions. Maybe you’re asking yourself, "What’s the big deal? So what if council ran all these secret meetings with the WEF?"

Well, the easy answer is they simply shouldn’t have been operating behind closed doors. The deal being discussed didn’t fall under the exceptions recognized by the Local Government Act – land, labour, legal – for closed sessions. More fundamentally though, council collectively broke its promise, a promise every single one of them made during the course of the last election, to run a more open, participative government.

Ted Milner summed it up as well as any of them when he said, "Unless we’re into one of our three L’s – land, labour or legal – anybody who wants to come to one of our meetings or workshops should be welcomed."

The excuse given for keeping things under wraps – because the WEF didn’t want to embarrass the Swiss and asked us to – plumbs the depths of banality. It reminds me of my rationale for what was a patently stupid act, my one and only botched attempt at shoplifting when I was 11 years old. "Butch stole a comic book and said I should too." It was a pathetic excuse then, it’s still a pathetic excuse. Just because somebody asks you to do something you know you shouldn’t do doesn’t make it okay. Duh.

But that’s a failing of the individuals involved and we will have an opportunity to let them know what we think about it in a couple of months when elections roll around.

The more fundamental question remains the one I asked last week: What business are we in?

Is Whistler a hardcore ski town pursuing conferences to buttress the resort infrastructure necessary to be a destination ski resort? Or are we outgrowing the ski resort model and embarking on a strategy to chase after conferences as a principal business?

Do we want to cater to passionate skiers and boarders who come to Whistler for the ride of their lives? Or do we want to cultivate the fabulously wealthy, powerful, and influential movers and shakers of the world, be they dilettantes, poseurs and generally ignorant of what happens to the human psyche when you head down the fall-line on a perfect powder day?

The questions are not academic because of this reality: The World Economic Forum will take a breathtaking bite out of the ski business for two weeks every time it meets here. Meeting late in January, early in February, WEF members and guests will soak up maybe 5,000 to 6,000 commercial hotel beds. That represents a significant percentage of the total inventory. Those beds will not be available to destination skiers who want to come to Whistler.

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