Whistler needs to throw a good party when the world comes in February.
That was the message at Tuesday night's impassioned council meeting, where almost all council members insisted that Whistler's restaurants, bars and nightclubs stay open for an extra hour during the 2010 Winter Games.
"These are not ordinary times," said Councillor Tom Thomson. "This is not a time to roll up the rug. We are welcoming the world. I know it is going to take beyond the normal to get it done, but hopefully we'll be able to get it done."
Their unanimous vote to examine ways to extend drinking hours flew in the face of the RCMP's recommendation.
"It's a public safety issue for us," Sgt. Steve Wright explained before the meeting about the RCMP's request to keep hours the same as usual during the Olympics.
"We have limited resources during the Games and policing the Games will already be challenging because our members will be responding to calls for service at the venues as well as in the village... and we don't want to give up having a presence on the road or in the community."
Wright said the RCMP doesn't have the luxury of being able to bring in extra police officers for the Games to monitor Whistler Village late into the night, since the detachments in the Lower Mainland will also be working for the Olympics in Vancouver.
"The cupboard is bare," he said.
Currently, most bars, pubs, and lounges close at 1 a.m., and nightclubs shut down at 2 a.m. Restaurants have closing hours between midnight and 2 a.m. The Liquor License Advisory Committee, however, has recommended council pass a blanket one-hour extension of closing hours for all licensed establishments in Whistler Village for the period of the Games.
Frank Savage, planner for the municipality, also said council needs to remember that the early morning hours are an important time for Whistler Village to be prepared for the next day. Among other things, garbage and graffiti will be cleaned up and businesses will receive all their deliveries at that time.
Late night noise in the village during the Olympics could also reflect badly on Whistler, he said. Not only could rowdy partiers disturb sleeping visitors, but the partying could also attract negative media exposure.
For example, he said, CTV will have their broadcast centre in Mountain Square and begin daily national broadcasts as early as 3 a.m.
Concerns of municipal staff and the RCMP were not enough to persuade councillors to stick to Whistler's usual liquor laws during the Olympics.
"I will not support this," Councillor Chris Quinlan, who owns Quinny's Café and is president of the Restaurant Association of Whistler, said after listening to the municipal staff report.
"I believe we as a council have to take this direction and decide at this table if we are going to allow the fear of what could happen dictate how we are going to let the rest of the world experience our Games."
Quinlan said he was "gob smacked" that policing and other operational plans for the Olympics have been designed based on Whistler's normal closing hours.
Councillor Eckhard Zeidler echoed his comments.
"You are up against the wall, and I appreciate that," said Zeidler, addressing the two RCMP officers at the meeting.
"But this is a notoriously and unprecedented bad piece of planning. Who the heck is out there telling everybody there won't be any change of hours? That person should have their head examined. This is the Olympics."
Only Mayor Ken Melamed was hesitant to extend hours later than usual during the Games and he stressed that council needs to remember that the RCMP has been planning for the Games for many years.
"What concerns me is that a group of elected officials who are gathered to represent the interests of the community are going to provide direction against the recommendation of people who have looked at this," said the mayor.
He agreed, however, that more thought needs to be put into the liquor laws during the Olympics and council unanimously voted to have municipal staff look for another solution to extend the hours.
-With notes from Andrew Mitchell