Whistler hosts Resort Collaborative at UBCM 

14 communities gather to share successes and partnership

If there is lobbying power in numbers, Whistler is keeping other B.C. resorts close to its fold to protect its special resort grant money.

This week, as the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention kicks off in Vancouver, Whistler hosted the 14 key resort communities in B.C. who get provincial grant money for tourism projects. They are called the Resort Collaborative and Whistler, which helped develop the group in 2002, is its de facto leader.

"This was less about actual strategies and tactics," said Mayor Ken Melamed of Monday's reception in Vancouver, "more just to celebrate the partnership, the successes, to reassure councils that we have this strong bond created between us."

About 50 elected officials were on hand from places like Golden and Kimberley and, the collaborative's newest member, Sun Peaks.

Against the backdrop of the celebration, however, is the ongoing negotiations with the province to secure a five-year deal on the RMI grant money. This year Whistler, which gets the most money of all the Resort Collaborative, received $7.5 million.

Among the projects funded out of that RMI money in 2011 are: upgrades to the Whistler Conference Centre, the development of Bayly Park at Cheakamus Crossing and the almost $3 million contribution to the Festivals, Events and Animation program, which brought the summer's wildly successful free concert series to Whistler Olympic Plaza.

"At the core of it is finding ways to invest in growing tourism in resort communities across British Columbia with the interest of raising the bar and raising the brand of the whole province," said the mayor.

"We're supporting (the province's) initiative of growing tourism, of growing jobs. Obviously the more successful tourism is in our community, the more jobs that can be created."

While he is confident that Whistler will get that five-year deal going forward, crucial he said for the municipality's planning and budgeting, there are outside factors.

The province, for example, needs to pay out an estimated $3 billion as a result of the recent HST referendum. It will have to find the money somewhere.

"I'm really very confident that the province is committed to this program," said the mayor. "That said, we live in a world of ever-changing realities and we fully understand the pressures on the provincial government.

"One of the things that we're not asking the province for is more money. We're so grateful for the amount that they've been giving us. We want to maintain the current levels of funding."

The mayor is one of four Whistler council members on hand for the weeklong UBCM convention. Also attending are Councillors Ted Milner, Chris Quinlan and Tom Thomson.

On Tuesday morning Melamed had already attended a session on Smart Meters and was heading into an afternoon session on open and transparent government and looking at the best practices in the province.

"This is what's so great about UBCM. We can come together and get refreshed on what other people are doing," he said.

"Everyone is making greater and greater efforts to improve accountability and transparency and yet at the same time we have to have these closed meetings."

Hopefully, he added, he can bring back some good ideas to Whistler.

The mayor will also be using his time at the UBCM to understand the implications of the proposed Municipal Auditor General's office.

This week Ida Chong, minister of community, sport and cultural development, wrote an op/ed piece about the new office.

"We are working toward that commitment - listening to the views of the UBCM Executive, local governments, the business community and the general public," she wrote.

"While the details are still being developed, we know that the Municipal Auditor General will conduct a limited number of value-for-money performance audits every year. The purpose of performance audits is to help local governments in their stewardship of community assets, to identify best practices, and to provide another measure of transparency and accountability for taxpayers."

The convention ends on Friday with an address from Premier Christy Clark.





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