Time to revisit indentured labour? 

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With the seasonal excess of Christmas and New Year's celebrations behind us, it is time to get down to the serious business of being a frivolous resort municipality. We've revelled in our much-prayed-for salvation of a passable Christmas with just enough snow and more than enough sunshine to put smiles on our visitors' faces and memories in their family albums. We're still digging our way out of the becoming-predictable, massive early January dump of Wet Coast cement that opened most of the runs still looking vaguely botanical.

So it's time now to entertain our Serious Adult Problems (SAP), a none too easy task in a town that never grows up.

Tackling SAPs is not something we undertake lightly. I've personally spent many decades avoiding them to the extent possible, as have many of you. That's why we live here instead of wallowing in the oh-so adult environs of, say, Toronto.

But there is a triumvirate of unholy forces threatening, I dare say, the very elusive essence of what we, and by we I mean Whistler, are all about. Since I'm unsure what exactly it is we're all about I'll just hum the "Hokey Pokey" and keep you guessing for another couple of sentences.

Now, you may think my being unsure of what we're all about might disqualify me from attempting to solve the triad of SAPs threatening whatever that is. Let me assure you, such is not the case. If the only things I could write about were things of which I am either sure or knowledgeable, this page of Pique would have been filled with more real estate ads 15 years ago.

Having already confused you, let me start at the beginning. The three SAPs threatening our very existence are, in no particular order: too many jobs and not enough workers, unliveable wages, and insufficient housing. As astute as you are, I am certain you can see how diabolically intertwined these problems are, reminiscent in fact of the four hungry, soon to be pools of butter tigers chasing each other around the tree in the politically corrected, recast children's book, Little Brave Sambo.

Allow me to demonstrate. Why do we have too many jobs and not enough workers? At the heart of the matter, Whistler is overbuilt. But there's nothing we can do about that except, with the grace of hindsight, try to not let it happen again. Aside from being overbuilt, there are too many jobs and not enough workers because (a) the jobs there are don't pay enough to comfortably live here and (b) even if they did, there isn't enough housing stock to make life comfortable, both of which conspire to keep enough potential workers from choosing to live here.

So, if that's the case and the whole law of supply and demand the free marketeers always beat us over the head with is true, why don't employers just pay more to attract the needed workers? What a silly, silly question. If they paid more there would be less for them, or, in the case of publicly owned skiing enterprises, less for their officers and shareholders, both of whom are apparently way more important than mere employees, silly.

Besides, if the employers paid more, that fatter paycheque might — yes, just might — attract more workers. And if that happened there might not be too many jobs and not enough workers, but the whole insufficient housing thing would be an even bigger problem because all those new workers would demand unreasonable things, like places to live. And then we'd have to build more and then we'd have to stop kidding ourselves about the bed cap... whatever that is.

But, as the job creators often say, that's only part of the problem. The way they tell the story, there aren't enough workers because, partly, the workers they already have are, well, kinda lazy. They don't want to work too hard. They don't want to work too many hours. They definitely don't want to work on powder days, or days when there's something else cool to do, or days when they're hung over.

While this may seem like a typically classist thing to say, there is empirical evidence on their side. Over and over again, the Whistler 2020 resident surveys turn up pesky statistics about how somewhere around 25 per cent of households have income below the cost of living here. One would think the easy solution would be to raise their pay, increase their hours worked or both. But the survey also finds a significant percentage of these impoverished workerbees aren't willing to work more hours to raise themselves out of their miserable lot.

Now, from the point of view of the job creators, you can see the dilemma. If they start to pay workers more, they'll want to work even less! If they work less, businesses will need even more workers to make up for the overpaid employees working fewer hours, thus exacerbating their problem. And this doesn't even begin to take into account the workers labouring at several jobs. If they start to get paid the much talked about living wage, they'll want to work less too, dropping their second, third or fourth job. This will, in turn, place unbearable strains on the job creators who will have even more jobs to fill with more new people requiring more new housing.

So, having proven paying a liveable wage won't solve the SAPs threatening our very existence, there can only be one rational solution. And so, in the spirit of civic duty, and with an apology to Dr. Jonathon Swift, I offer a Modest Proposal for Preventing the Ultimate Ruination of the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

After much thought and consultation with learned civic leaders, it is clear the only way forward, the only solution to our pressing SAPs is a new form of indentured servitude. While on the surface, slavery may sound like a backwards step in our social evolution, there is, in fact, much to be said in its favour. Freed from the burden of actually paying workers, employers would nonetheless be burdened with housing, clothing and feeding them, seeing to their well-being, offering some small amount of personal time to pursue leisure activities, and caring for their children, at least for the first year of life, after which, in the true spirit of Dr. Swift's work, they would be fed to the moneyed classes.

Workers, in their childlike wonder, would be delivered from the unwanted burdens of adulthood, free to sing and work together and enjoy lives devoid of responsibility and concerns about unpleasant things such as saving for retirement... whatever that is.

On the other hand, maybe a living wage is a better alternative. But I'm not holding my breath.

Neither should you.


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