Wilhelm-Morden will not seek re-election in October 

'It has been an absolute privilege,' mayor says

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF THE RESORT MUNICIPALITY OF WHISTLER. - SAYING GOODBYE Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden—the longest serving elected official in the resort's history—will not seek re-election this October.
  • Photo courtesy of the Resort Municipality of Whistler.
  • SAYING GOODBYE Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden—the longest serving elected official in the resort's history—will not seek re-election this October.

After 17 combined years behind the council table, Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden has decided not to seek re-election in October.

"It has been an absolute privilege to serve the community for the last seven years as the mayor. We've accomplished quite a number of amazing things over the course of that time," Wilhelm-Morden said in a Friday afternoon phone call.

"The top 10 that I ran on in 2011 have been met, for the most part—of course there's always more work to do, but it's time for me to step aside and to spend some more time with my family and with my friends, and devote more time to my law practice as well."

In a wide-ranging and at times emotional interview, Wilhelm-Morden talked personal successes, unseen setbacks, favourite moments and the future of Whistler.

"I think we have to continue to recognize that partnerships are key to our success, so really cementing the partnership with the government in Victoria ... we've got a very strong relationship with Tourism Whistler and with the Chamber of Commerce; the Vail Resorts people are the new kids in town, and we really need to work with them to keep that partnership strong," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"I think it's one of the things that really sets Whistler apart from our competitors, is this very healthy partnership that we've had in the past, so I hope the importance of that is recognized by the new council."

Another area of focus Wilhelm-Morden hopes to see continue is a commitment to the resident community—a priority she takes great pride in.

"Something that I've worked hard on my entire political career is supporting and strengthening the resident community—that's been my first principle," the mayor said, fighting back tears ("we should be doing this by email," she joked).

"I have confidence that a new council will recognize the importance of that, because without the strong resident community we would be just another resort."

Over the past seven years in her role as mayor, Wilhelm-Morden has accomplished or made progress on most all of the things she campaigned on—including no tax increases for three consecutive years, action on illegal spaces, reducing the mayor's salary, developing a robust cultural plan, diversifying the economy through education and other initiatives, fixing transit and restoring trust in municipal hall.

"Back in those days, people were embarrassed to say they worked at municipal hall. Employees were going off on stress leave, (and) there was a very dysfunctional relationship between the municipal hall and the community," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"I think that for the most part community members think that their council is working in their best interests, and that they have confidence that we are making the right decisions."

But you can't please everyone, and Whistlerites have never been shy about voicing their displeasure with the direction of mayor and council.

"I'm a trial lawyer, so I've got a thick skin, but I have to say that social media has been a challenge. We all know about social media trolls, and some of the comments can be really hurtful. Like, really hurtful," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"It's tough to be a politician in a small town, but on the other hand, it's also incredibly rewarding."

Much of the online anger directed her way in recent years likely stems from frustration over the housing issue, Wilhelm-Morden said—one of the areas she admits more should have been done sooner.

"We talked about it at the beginning of 2015 ... do we need to pay attention to it? Are we OK with it? And with the advice of some of our partners we thought we were in a good place with housing," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"But then the economic boom just swept us up, and between the population growth and the demand for employees from the economic boom, we were caught flat-footed on housing.

"I know it's been a source of frustration for residents and for employees and for employers, and I'm sorry that we weren't on top of that file the way we ought to have been."

That being said, the work of the Mayor's Task Force on Resident Housing, with its seven recommendations targeting 1,000 new beds in five years, is another point of pride for Wilhelm-Morden.

"I think there is going to be a bit of a legacy with that," she said. "It's a challenge when we live in a narrow valley with limited land space, when we've got limits to growth set out in our Official Community Plan, but when we are such a desirable place to be and to live, we've got this push/pull effect. We've had it from the beginning and we'll continue to have it, but I think we're approaching a good place with the Mayor's Task Force."

Another area of resident frustration recently was the reintroduction of paid parking—with some pointing out the mayor originally campaigned against it—but times change, and politics is about compromise.

"I campaigned on pay parking in Day Lot 1 only, with Day Lots 2 to 5 being free, but I had to compromise with the other members of council who were elected at that time, so we had pay parking in Day Lots 1, 2 and 3," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"I think where we are right now with pay parking, having been extended to Day Lots 4 and 5, I think we've made, again, some good compromises, with not having pay parking in shoulder seasons, with the carpool pass, and with the lower rates and monthly passes and so on.

"And most particularly, with using pay parking revenues to augment transit, and not getting dumped into general revenue, so I think that's been worked out well."

At 17 combined years on council, Wilhelm-Morden is the longest-serving elected official in Whistler's short history—and with so many years under her belt, it takes her a moment to single out the things she's most proud of.

"I am really proud of the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA). That was prescient, and over the years we took a lot of heat about establishing resident-restricted neighbourhoods and having the WHA as almost a 'socialist model' for providing housing, as opposed to just throwing things wide open and saying 'developers come on in, build it,' so that really stands out. And the Audain Art Museum, of course—it has changed the face of Whistler in so many ways," she said.

"I'm sure if I looked back in my diaries I would see many, many other things that have occurred. This has just been such a special town to live in. I've grown up with this town."

Whistler will elect a new mayor and council on Saturday, Oct. 20.

The nomination period opens Tuesday, Sept. 4 and closes Friday, Sept. 14.

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