Whistler delegation going to New York to evaluate World Economic Forum 

Swiss organization considering Whistler as host for future annual meeting

The World Economic Forum is eyeing Whistler again, and Whistler is sizing up the World Economic Forum.

Next week a Whistler delegation, including Mayor Hugh O’Reilly and Tourism Whistler President Suzanne Denbak, is going to New York to take in this year’s annual meeting of the independent organization.

"They’ve been here, they like us, we like them," O’Reilly said, quickly adding: "They have concerns and we have concerns. It’s like who’s asking who to dance. No decisions have been made."

The forum has held its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland since it was incorporated in 1971, but this year is holding the meeting in New York. On Wednesday this week the forum announced it would return to Davos for its 2003 annual meeting. The forum is considering Whistler for its 2004 meeting.

The World Economic Forum was founded by Swiss Klaus Schwab. Based in Geneva, the organization is "committed to improving the state of the world." It is funded by 1,000 of the world’s foremost corporations, including 34 Canadian companies. According to the organization’s mission statement: "… the forum acts in the spirit of entrepreneurship in the global public interest to further economic growth and social progress. The forum serves its members and society by creating partnerships between and among business, political, intellectual and other leaders of society to define, discuss and advance key issues on the global agenda."

Representatives of the World Economic Forum were in town last year to evaluate Whistler as a potential host. Apparently Whistler met their technical requirements.

O’Reilly said Whistler, along with representatives of the provincial government, has been invited to the New York meeting because it is interested in hosting the forum.

"Can we work our way towards offering ourselves as hosts?" O’Reilly asked. "Everybody recognizes there’s a downside. We’re going to see (what it’s all about)."

The downside is the massive security needed when hosting a conference that this year will include 250 political leaders, such as German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, King Abdullah II Ibn Hussein of Jordan, Prime Minister Chretien, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and former U.S. President Bill Clinton. As well, 1,000 top business executives from companies such as Monsanto, Sony, Microsoft, Nestlé and Coca Cola will be in attendance.

The World Economic Forum has broadened its list of invitees in recent years to include non-governmental organizations, and this year religious leaders have also been invited. Among the people attending the New York meeting will be the president of the World Muslim Congress Abdullah Omar Nasseef, Israel Meir Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, the Archbishop of Canterbury His Grace George L. Carey, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of South Africa.

There have also been protests at meetings in recent years. More than 1,000 anti-globalization and anti-free trade activists defied a ban on protests at the 2000 meeting in Davos. There was some vandalism to cars and buildings.

The protests and security costs have become an issue for the town of Davos, which like Whistler is a relatively isolated mountain community with one main access road. Davos does not want to give up the World Economic Forum entirely, but it’s believed the town would prefer to host the annual meeting every second or third year.

On Wednesday this week the World Economic Forum announced that after intensive negotiations with Swiss authorities it would return to Davos for its 2003 meeting.

"The World Economic Forum welcomes with great satisfaction today's decision of the Swiss Federal Council, which creates the necessary prerequisites to maintain Davos as a location for the Forum's Annual Meeting," according to a press release on the forum’s Web site.

The released concluded with the statement that: "After evaluating the meeting in New York, the World Economic Forum will consult with its members concerning the long-term policy on the location of its Annual Meetings."

When World Economic Forum representatives were in town last year they were looking at Whistler to host the annual meeting in 2002 or 2003. Whistler’s main concern was providing security for the meeting and the town, and the lead time needed to do that properly.

O’Reilly said last fall there is some feeling that anti-globalization protests may decline in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Some people believe there will be less of that now, and the protest will be more moderate. People will want to protest, but given Sept. 11, there’s not going to be the appetite to protest in a violent way. We’re still interested, and keeping our options open," the mayor said last November.

The theme for this year’s World Economic Forum is Leadership in Fragile Times: A Vision for a Shared Future. Six core themes related to the annual meeting theme are: Advancing Security and Addressing Vulnerability; Restoring Sustained Growth; Reducing Poverty and Improving Equity; Sharing Values and Respecting Differences; Re-evaluating Leadership and Governance; Redefining Business Challenges.

The annual meeting takes place Jan. 31-Feb. 4.

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