WEF decision delayed to April 22 

Business appears to be rallying to support forum

Tuesday’s much-anticipated council discussion on the World Economic Forum was anticlimactic despite the fact the meeting was moved to Millennium Place.

With council members assembled on the concert stage and about 40 members of the community seated in the plush seats of Wilhelmsen Hall, Mayor Hugh O’Reilly announced that council needed more time to consider all the public responses it has received.

A special council meeting will be held on Monday, April 22 at 7 p.m. to discuss the World Economic Forum and decide whether Whistler wants to host the annual meeting in January of 2004.

O’Reilly said Premier Gordon Campbell and officials with the World Economic Forum had been notified of Whistler’s delayed decision.

"We know this has been divisive, we thank people for their patience and we will continue to listen," O’Reilly said.

This was the second time council has delayed making a decision on hosting the WEF. At a March 4 meeting council members engaged in an animated debate that at times got personal, before adjourning the discussion to allow time for public input.

Tuesday’s decision during the regular council meeting apparently came about after some discussion in an afternoon workshop.

Council received 20 letters, 25 e-mails and a petition with nearly 1,000 names on it, all opposing Whistler hosting the forum, at Tuesday’s meeting.

One letter and three e-mails supporting the WEF coming to Whistler were also received at the meeting.

There were also three people who made presentations to council about the WEF on Tuesday, two in favour and one opposed.

Paul Taylor, told council he thought having the meeting in Whistler in January was "a very bad idea.

"Mobilizing public opinion in Whistler is tough," Taylor said. "I’m impressed that hundreds of names have been put forward against this in just two weeks."

Taylor, referring to riots at other world summits and clashes between police and protesters, said he felt his taxes and WRA fees would be better used to promote Whistler as the town that refused the World Economic Forum.

"This demonstrates a failure by council to realize what it is people here value about the place," Taylor said.

Noting it was an election year, Taylor said he would devote resources to campaigning against council members who supported the WEF meeting. But he concluded by saying he would reluctantly support the meeting if was held in May or June.

David Roberts, general manager of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, spoke in favour of the forum.

Roberts noted that Taylor didn’t mention security would be an issue if the meeting was held in May or June. He also said he hoped that at the April 22 meeting council could answer questions about the costs of hosting the forum.

"As co-chair of the property managers group, I recognize that the resort is divided," Roberts said. He suggested much of the fear opponents of the forum have expressed is based on speculation, risk and imagination.

"There will be a need for security and there will be protests," Roberts said. "But the reality is the resort can not afford to say no to the World Economic Forum.

"Has the business sector spent 20 years promoting Whistler only to turn down the biggest opportunity to come along?"

Roberts said there will be security for the G8 foreign ministers conference in June, and there will be security issues if Whistler wins the right to host the Olympics. But it’s speculation what the security will look like for both of those events.

"The World Economic Forum is proposed to be held in Whistler every two years," Roberts said. "It could deliver new business in peak months and in off-peak months, year after year. That’s not to demean our current visitors, but… it’s very difficult to generate new business."

Roberts concluded by saying the tourism market is very competitive around the world and that hosting the WEF was an opportunity for Whistler to build new relationships and generate new business. "I ask how you could potentially say no."

Tourism Whistler President Suzanne Denbak also made a presentation to council. Denbak said there had been a healthy debate within Whistler, and also among board members of Tourism Whistler.

"We’ve discussed the rewards, including exposure to the top 1,000 CEOs. We couldn’t buy that. It will give us credibility on the world stage," Denbak said.

She said the greatest unknown is security, but on the whole the Tourism Whistler board felt security could be managed.

"It’s not the World Trade Organization," Denbak said.

She also referred to a number of business owners and representatives in the audience and said they rely on conferences like the WEF coming to Whistler.


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