Opinion » Alta States

Alta States

Standing up for the community



She embarked on her political journey over two decades ago as a one-issue candidate. In retrospect, her issue seems a minor one. But it was just enough of an anti-community move to get Nancy Wilhelm-Morden all riled up. “It seems kind of trivial now,” admits the grand dame of Whistler politics. “But the reason I ran for office in 1984 was because I was so cross with the municipality’s decision to start charging skiers for access to the Lost Lake cross-country trails that I decided to do something about it.”

Nancy won the election. But she lost the argument. “It certainly wouldn’t be the last time I’d find myself on the losing side of a council vote,” she says with a laugh. “But that never stopped me from voting according to my conscience.”

Maybe that’s because Nancy was quick to realize just how big a role municipal politicians could play in people’s day-to-day lives. “Once you start sitting on council,” she says, “you soon appreciate how much of a direct impact your decisions have on the community.”

Another laugh. For one of the things she wasn’t prepared for was the instant accountability that came with the job. “If somebody doesn’t like the position you’ve taken, you hear about it the next day,” she says. “I never realized how many people were engaged in the political process in Whistler. And that just gave me more reason for standing up for what I believe.”

Indeed. Whistler squatter, mother of two daughters, successful lawyer and multi-term councillor, Wilhelm-Morden has built something of a reputation over the last 23 years for refusing to take the easy path and folding before the powers-that-be. “I see my job as standing up for the needs of the Whistler community — not for Fortress, nor Intrawest nor the IOC nor any other outsider,” she says. “Whatever their agenda may be, I’m fine with it. But my responsibility lies with the people who call Whistler home…”

Just recently, she again challenged her peers by being one of only two councillors to vote against the decision to help out Fortress and their Peak-to-Peak tram project with across-the-board tax concessions. And she still gets incensed when the subject comes up. “This was our first official interaction with Fortress,” she says, shaking her head in frustration. “We had an opportunity to set a standard — to show the new Whistler-Blackcomb owners where we stood as a community. But we didn’t do that.”

She sighs. “It just doesn’t make sense to me to give a tax break to a deep-pocketed corporation that really doesn’t need our contributions to make the project happen. It was clear that Fortress simply wanted us to add to their bottom-line. And that’s just not good enough for me.” In discussions with council members, she expressed her fear that “this decision would start things off on the wrong foot.” As far as she’s concerned, that’s exactly how it turned out. “This whole business about Fortress being our ‘partners’ — that’s bunk. They’re not,” she says emphatically. “And the sooner Whistlerites get their heads around this fact, the better it will be for the community…”