What do we want? "Workers!" When do we want them? "Now! Where will we house them?
"Uh... uh... Two out of three ain't bad!"
Businesses, many businesses—but by no means all—are not feelin' the love.
Haven't felt it in months. The love that comes from having a full roster of staff. The love that comes from people, owners included, not having to work so many hours in a week they don't have time for anything else. Like skiing. Or biking. Or vacations. Or dreaming about opening another business.
The local chamber of commerce wants to help. Wants relief. Wants, as they put it, "... two simple solutions... to ease the pain." (Italics mine.) One is to let Temporary Foreign Workers stay longer. The other is "... reviewing the program and application approvals by employment rates."
The second, tying TFWs to employment rates is a more opaque way of saying allow more foreign workers into markets with lower unemployment and more unfilled jobs... like Whistler.
The Never-Ending Party offers a third solution: rightsizing the resort. Whistler is too big. Too many businesses, too many tourists, too much marketing, not enough housing.
More workers, be they foreign or not, are not the solution. They would, in fact, just make the problem(s) bigger and more intractable. We've grown ourselves into this mess. Growing our way out of it isn't going to solve it; it's just going to make it a bigger mess. And a bigger mess is going to make the inevitable economic downturn that much more gruesome, not to mention killing the golden goose—the resort experience. Which will, also inevitably, lead businesses to cry for more help, more marketing, more tourists and commence the cycle all over again.
Growing our way out of this mess is as comical as watching a dog with a bobbed tail chasing its tail. The goal will always remain elusive but the dream will abide.
That we can't grow our way out of this problem is axiomatic. It's also contrary to every tenet of modern, mutant capitalism: more is better, bigger is best, grow baby grow.
Unless Whistler has completely given up on its self-defined limits to growth, which is to say the bed unit cap, we are, as a town and as a resort, going to eventually have to figure out what that means and how we're going to manage it. Left to the desires of the CofC and local businesses, Vail included, we would grow forever and kick that can down the road toward the mirage of sustainability. But nothing grows forever. Anything that tries either gets too big to support itself or it kills its host.
Growth is killing us.
It's killing the serenity, it's killing the esprit, it's killing the quality of our air and water, it's killing the visitor experience—other than those who think it's fun to stand in long lines to indulge in a sideshow attraction—and it's killing resident satisfaction.
So the Never-Ending Party believes it's time to fight back and start killing growth before it kills us.
How do we do that? Not without pain. Perhaps it's easier to start with how we don't do it. We don't, as one restaurateur suggested, create, "... instant temporary housing."
Instant temporary housing, assuming such a thing actually exists, is best exemplified by man camps. There are several problems with instant, temporary housing. It ain't instant... and it is rarely temporary. Within the Whistler context, it would also have to fight virulent nimbyism and the entrenched Whistler aesthetic that makes us over-build even our employee-restricted housing and burden it with bleeding-edge, greener-than-green technology.
But whether it's instant and temporary or more protracted and permanent, we will build more housing. We are building more housing. Gradually, incrementally, well-planned and within our limits to growth. So if any business owner thinks there's going to be a magical solution to this season's staffing problems, perhaps we should talk about some special beans I have for sale.
One thing we can do to begin the process of rightsizing is redraw the boundaries of the resort lands and reduce our supply of hot beds, turning some of those condo projects that are neither fish nor foul, which is to say neither commercial nor residential, into purely residential dwellings, not available for short-term, tourist accommodation. Owners who use them for their own enjoyment won't be affected, except that their taxes would go down, they'd be able to stop tithing to Tourism Whistler and, more likely than not, their resale value would increase.
Those who don't use their condos personally will have to find long-term tenants. Most of those would notice several changes as a result of this. Their income would probably go up—short-term rental revenue available to owners after management companies scrape off their 40-per-cent-plus of the gross rarely even covers carrying costs—taxes would go down and they too would be able to stop funding Tourism Whistler's marketing efforts and overhead.
And who would they be renting those conveniently located condos to? That was a rhetorical question.
As was obvious from last week's Pique story about the lack of workerbees and the CofC's desire for more and longer TFWs, they no more know where those workers would live than they do the Canadian workers that don't come here because of the cost of living and lack of housing at any price. If we can't source Canadian workers because of housing, it seems the only TFWs we could attract are those who either don't know about our housing situation or are willing to be sardined into small spaces shared by many instant BFFs, a recipe for exploitation.
Clearly, this is a Hail Mary pass on the part of the chamber.
The inescapable reality is this: there won't be enough workers this season. So yeah, service levels will decline. Hours of operation will be fewer than desired. Some businesses will likely close their doors rather than continue to chase their non-existent tail. And, eventually, word will seep out that maybe all is not rosy in Whistler and fewer people will come, especially with fewer hot beds.
Whether it happens now or several years from now, it's going to happen. The worst thing we can do is set our hair on fire and ruin any chance we ever have of being a right-sized, sustainable resort community that doesn't chase growth until it kills us.
The Never-Ending Party suggests you listen with a critical ear to any candidate who starts blindly calling for more and more housing... especially instant housing. They're trying to kill you.