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“I don’t know too many people who moved to Whistler to get rich,” says Harley. “Most of us moved here to live a lifestyle that was significantly different from what we left behind in Ontario or Quebec — or even downtown Vancouver. And we were prepared to make certain sacrifices to be here. That’s why I think most of us understand how important it is to honour — and protect — our quality of life at Whistler.” A pause. “For without it, we’re nothing…”
Harley is afraid that Whistler might be approaching its own tipping point. He’s still not sure which way it’s going to tip. But he has his doubts. “It’s not too late,” he says. “But we aren’t going to solve our problems by sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring the challenges facing us. More than ever, Whistler needs a strong, unified vision for the future.” And not just a well-worded document that gets ignored by the engineering department, he says, but a conceptual road map that everyone embraces; with precise goals and objectives that ties very clearly back to remembering and protecting what makes this place unique and special.
We need to figure out how we’re going to get past the Olympic development panic — and the inevitable downswing that will occur when the IOC leaves town, he says. “And how do we avoid being run over by the province which looks at Whistler as a cash cow that will only bring in more taxes if they can just make it bigger?” This despite the RMOW’s efforts to maintain a development cap. How can we recapture the missed opportunity of taking advantage of the train line that runs right to our door? This compared to simply expanding the highway in the hope that the increased capacity will somehow match the limits to growth here in Whistler. Intertwined with these challenges are some great opportunities too, adds Harley. “But without a clear vision, we won’t even see them.”
And lest you think that Whistler is too big to fail now, think again. Tourism is no different than any other industry. Poorly managed it too can fall flat on its face. “I worked in New England for a couple of years back in the late1980s,” he recalls. “And I was struck by these beautiful old resorts that were built at the turn of the last century — and were now mostly empty. Obviously there’d once been a market for these grand old places. But for whatever reason, they hadn’t evolved with the times…”