Maxed Out 

It takes two to tango

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It all seemed like such a good idea at the time. Indeed, it's been a bonanza for our municipal leaders. They've been graced with awards, feted at high-level gatherings, asked to speak to important people and even consulted about how they did it.

It, of course, is Whistler 2020, our blueprint for the future.

Born out of genuine concern about the dire consequences of growth without plan and visions of the dystopia Whistler would become absent a clear vision for the future - think Mississauga with mountains - it was a grand, big-tent exercise... at least in the early days.

We all gathered to envision what we did want: a compact, liveable, eco-green, mountain resort, and what we didn't want. Everything else. We talked about housing and transportation, health care and aging in place, protecting our wetlands and forests and bear buddies, building better buildings and houses, most all the other things that go into the municipal stew. Informing all the things we wanted was the ever-elusive goal of sustainability as preached at the altar of the Natural Step.

Now that I think about it though, one thing we never seemed to explore was what kind of government we wanted. It seemed to be an operative assumption we'd simply have the government we had... only more of it.

Looking back, I'm touched by our naiveté, our brass and, surprisingly, how much it all bears a striking resemblance to department store Santa Clauses.

The marriage of seasonal Santas and department stores was a stunning stroke of public relations and marketing. Initially a simple publicity stunt - having Santa pose on the chimney of a mid-19th century Philadelphia department store to thrill passers-by - it took almost 60 years for store owners to become sufficiently savvy and cynical to truly understand the depth of the bond.

The formula was genius. No parent could resist the unrelenting pleas to take their bursting-with-holiday-anticipation children downtown to see Santa. Once transported to the highly-decorated suburb of the North Pole, not by accident sited in or near the toy department, wide-eyed kiddies would nearly wet themselves waiting for their turn to sit on the jolly old man's lap. The questions were rote: have you been a good boy or girl? What would you like Santa to bring you for Christmas? Ho, Ho, Ho.

Both sides of the sword cut. Parents "discovered" their progeny's innermost desires, often adding to the list previously and repeatedly drilled into their heads. This wish was institutionalized by making the pitch directly to Santa himself and Santa, of course, promising to deliver. And, they were in the toy section. QED. How could ma and pa disappoint? It didn't matter that they knew they'd been trapped; they came back year after year, eagerly anticipating the day their children would come home from school, teary-eyed but newly awakened to the cruelty of the world because some older kid had explained Santa didn't really exist.

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