Public sector conferences converge on Whistler 

Whistler 2020 program, Olympics helping draw thousands of delegates to five conferences

In what promises to provide a major economic boost to Whistler during the spring shoulder season, coming on the heels of a very difficult winter, five public/private sector conferences are taking place in the next month.

Although there are many reasons why the conference organizers chose Whistler, the Olympics and the Whistler 2020 program have helped to tip the scales, according to the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the Whistler Centre for Sustainability.

First off is the 2009 B.C. Land Summit Conference, which takes place May 20-22 at the Telus Whistler Conference Centre. The conference will bring over 800 delegates to Whistler, with workshops on land planning, landscape architecture, land conservation, agriculture, real estate and land valuation and urban design. The keynote speaker is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who recently appeared in Whistler as a guest of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment.

While the B.C. Land Summit Conference is organized by private organizations, notably the Real Estate Foundation of B.C., the provincial government is a partner and various ministries are presenting workshops. As well, Whistler will be presenting its official community plan, while offering tours of the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood and the run-of-river power project on Fitzsimmons Creek.

The Recycling Council of B.C. is hosting its ECOnomics: The Green Economy Summit in Whistler from May 27 to 29. Like the Land Summit conference, the event is hosted by a mix of private and public agencies.

Keynote speakers include Dr. Jeffrey Morris of Sound Resource Management, David Suzuki Foundation CEO Peter Robinson, and UBC Ecological Economist Tom Green.

As well, the Whistler Centre for Sustainability will make a presentation on how Whistler is becoming a sustainable community.

During the Recycling Council's conference Whistler is also hosting the B.C. Recreation and Parks Association conference from May 27 to 29. The theme of the conference is "Strength in Community" and the workshops encompass everything from playground safety to community gardens. The event features trips to Olympic venues, including the speed skating oval in Richmond.

Most of the participants in the conference will be representatives of local governments, although there is a trade show that will feature private companies.

Next up, from June 1 to June 3, Whistler will host the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators, with top municipal administrators from across Canada taking part. The theme of the conference is "Embracing Sustainability: Rising to the challenge through leadership."

Last - but not the least by a wide margin - Whistler will play host to the annual Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference, which will bring more than 2,000 delegates to town from June 5 to 7. The largest conference ever hosted in Whistler, the FCM conference represents the largest annual gathering of municipal officials from across Canada. The theme of the conference is "Partnering for Success," and Whistler 2020 will be prominently featured.

Cheeying Ho, the executive director for the Whistler Centre for Sustainability said the Whistler 2020 program was an integral part in drawing most of the conferences to Whistler, and will be a focus at every conference through tours, workshops and presentations.

"I can't say the Whistler Centre for Sustainability is responsible because we're fairly new, we just got staffed in January. But we're now managing the whole Whistler 2020 plan and process and I can definitely say the Whistler 2020 process was a factor in having these conferences that focus around local government and administration," Ho said.

"People around Canada and around the world are hearing more about Whistler's sustainability practices and the Whistler 2020 plan. We've won a couple of dozen awards... and they want to see it first-hand."

The exception was the FCM conference, which Whistler bid for eight years ago. However, she said the centre will play a large role in the conference itself.

In a release from the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Mayor Ken Melamed also gave credit to Whistler 2020 and the Games.

"It is no coincidence that organizations are gathering here to discuss best planning and reasonable business practices; our community's vision and strategies for moving towards a sustainable future are being recognized across the country. With the increased attention brought by being the Host Mountain Resort of the 2010 Winter Games, Whistler has only strengthened its reputation as a leader in sustainability and an ideal place to hold conferences."

Municipal staff will be among the presenters, as will groups like the Whistler Housing Authority, which is the only affordable housing organization of its kind in Canada.

It's unknown what the total financial benefit for Whistler will be, but the five conferences will generate millions in revenues for hotels, restaurants, retailers, Tourism Whistler, tour operators and others.

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