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The big year ahead

There’s an ancient Chinese saying, “may you live in interesting times.”

It’s not all that clear what the “interesting” part alludes to, but the common understanding is that interesting means “dangerous” or “chaotic” rather than “fun” or “entertaining.” It’s basically a classy way to tell someone to eat shit and die.

As 2007 rolls over to 2008, there’s no question that we’re already living in interesting times, that only promise to get more interesting in the coming months.

From a global perspective, the current occupant of the White House only has about 12 months left to attack Iran before he hands the reigns over to a hopefully saner and more peaceful president.

We can also expect the U.S. economy to rebound after the 2008 elections, as most of the financial woes south of the border have more to do with bad fiscal policy than circumstances. Some estimate that Bush II will have tripled the U.S. debt to $12 trillion from $4 trillion in just eight years.

By way of comparison, Canada has paid down around $100 billion in national debt in the past 10 years and is forecasting smaller but dependable surpluses for the foreseeable future.

That’s not to say that Canada is going to be stable through 2008. As a nation we’re constantly on the cusp of another federal election with the Conservatives in a minority position, and three other national parties to contend with on every single vote. Although nobody wants to force another election so soon after the last two federal elections in 2005 and 2006, there are serious disagreements brewing over issues like Canada’s response to climate change, the NATO mission in Afghanistan, and the budget. If any one of the parties has a chance of winning a majority in a national election, we’ll be going to the polls.

Locally, 2008 also promises to be a big year. Our new library opens in January. This is also the last full year of construction on the Sea to Sky Highway, as well as the end of construction for most 2010 Olympic and Paralympic venues. All of Whistler’s venues are already complete, and will host their first test events in the coming months. As a sports reporter, it’s an exciting time — the first ski jumping competition is right after New Year’s, World Cup races are returning to Whistler after a decade, and there’s an outside chance I may actually be able to ride in a bobsled during a media tour.

Then there’s the Peak to Peak Gondola project, which we can expect to ride for the first time in December 2008. It will add another attraction to the resort for visitors, even though I remain skeptical anybody would make vacation plans around riding a gondola.

And although it seems like only yesterday that we last voted, 2008 is also an election year for B.C. municipalities. The three years are up on Nov. 15.

It’s going to be an interesting campaign, to say the least.

I have nothing but respect for the current council, which has achieved a lot during an extremely challenging time. Getting the province to finally deliver Whistler’s promised legacies, including a larger share of the hotel tax, was a huge coup. Our boundaries are also growing to include areas to the north and south of the village that were under threat of development.

Council has also done everything possible to fast track the athletes’ village development, ensuring that it will be finished on time. They have also done everything they can to make sure the development is as green as possible, without making the environment into an obstacle. That’s not easy to do.

But it’s not all tax windfalls and boundary expansions. Since 2005, it’s been one difficult and controversial decision after another.

Nobody is going to forget that council raised property taxes by six per cent or brought in new fees for condo owners, even if they also took action to mitigate the size of the increase.

Nobody is going to forget that the municipality is giving up to a million dollars in property tax breaks to Whistler-Blackcomb to build the Peak to Peak Gondola.

Nobody is going to forget the decision to remove one housing unit from the Lakecrest development and give it to the fire chief position, at a time when more than 700 people are on the Whistler Housing Authority waitlist.

There’s the escalating library budget, the unnecessary renovations to the Nesters compacter site, the vote against rezoning a space for London Drugs, the decision to launch a clothing line that competes with local businesses, the failure of events like the KISS concert, the lack of new rental housing on the horizon, slow progress on Rainbow, growing municipal staffing and operating costs, pay increases, and more.

I don’t know how or when everything got this complicated, but our elected officials have my sympathy. By the time the year is over I imagine that most of us will wish the times were a little less interesting.

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