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Candidates meeting offers view into council hopefuls' platforms

Forum held in 'speed-dating' format ahead of Oct. 28 byelection

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Whistlerites got their first chance to meet with all seven byelection candidates this week as they campaign to join a council with a year left in its term.

Hosted by Pique Newsmagazine, the Whistler Question, and the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association, the all-candidates meeting was held at Whistler Secondary School on Monday, Oct. 16.

Candidates were given the chance to address the crowd before sitting down with community members in a "speed-dating" format — the speaker order was selected at random.

First up to the podium was long-time Whistler Blackcomb (WB) patroller and current mountain safety supervisor Cathy Jewett, who started off her address by detailing her 40-year history of volunteer work in the community.

"I'm telling you what I've done because I think it's your best indicator of what I will do," said the Community Foundation of Whistler chair. "I will work tirelessly to use my experience, skills, time and energy towards finding solutions to important community concerns."

Next up was former schoolteacher Dawn Titus, who spoke about arriving in Whistler as a young mother in 1983 before launching herself into the local sports scene as a director and volunteer for numerous children's races.

Recently retired after a 30-year teaching career in the corridor, she closed by describing the moment that inspired her to run for office: when she discovered council is considering a $4-million synthetic turf soccer field.

"I couldn't understand how we could have money to spend on something like that when we have so many other big issues in town," she said.

Alon Rimon, a FedEx courier, took a decidedly combative tone in his opening remarks, criticizing the municipality for its supposed inaction on housing, its frivolous spending habits, and existing Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) regulations.

The Israeli immigrant even spent a good portion of his allotted five minutes reading aloud a pair of derogatory Facebook comments directed at him in a recent online thread about housing that he called "so un-Canadian."

As time ran out, Rimon hurriedly mentioned his vision for affordable housing: "Embow," a plan to build affordable, high-density housing on six hectares of land between Emerald and Rainbow.

Office manager Kalee Eder elected not to give an opening statement.

"I'd rather be speaking with you," she said to the audience.

Forty-seven-year local and retired ferry captain Janice Lloyd spoke next about her energy and ambition, which helped her move quickly up the ranks at BC Ferries. She highlighted the key pillars of her platform: loyalty, respect and balance, and touted her fierce devotion to Whistler's locals, both young and old.

"I am loyal to locals, they are the backbone of our community, be they long tenured or recent additions," said Lloyd, a board member of Whistler's seniors group, the Mature Action Community.

Senior WB executive assistant Kate Roddick touched on a number of key issues facing the community, from housing to wildfire, to traffic congestion and childcare services.

She touted her previous experience managing growth at her family's agricultural business in Ladner as the Vancouver suburb dealt with the pressure of encroaching urbanization.

"It's not dissimilar to what we're experiencing here in Whistler," she said. "We need to find that right balance between sustainable tourism growth and a liveable community."

Last up was Steve Andrews, 34, who highlighted the fresh perspective he feels he would bring to the council table as a perennial renter with insights into the struggles of Whistler's young working class.

"There needs to be some real action for this short-term rental market," he said.

A content marketer, Andrews described how he believes the internet could serve as an effective tool to engage with the public and improve government transparency.

The reaction

Following the opening statements, candidates rotated through tables of up to eight to answer questions from community members and outline their platforms.

Gauging public reaction following the discussions, the general sentiment among the half-dozen or so residents Pique spoke with was that the bulk of the council hopefuls failed to fully grasp the key issues and the workings of municipal government.

"It's great to see a couple of really worthy candidates come up to the plate. The other ones, I admire people for (running), but if you're going to put yourself in that role, do your homework," said local artist Cheryl Massey.

Whistler Youth Soccer Club president PJ O'Heany (who stressed he was not speaking on behalf of the club) expressed a similar sentiment.

"(Some of the candidates) are trying to trumpet that they are for certain issues without understanding the historical context, what the municipality has already done, and what they're trying to do," he said.

Discussion topics on Monday were all over the board, although conversation tended to stray back to a handful of pressing concerns: housing, growth and Vail Resorts' ambitious $345-million reinvestment plan, Renaissance.

Pique reached out to every candidate the day after the meeting to get their stance on these three core issues.

Housing

Opinions varied among the candidates, although they all agreed some form of action needs to be taken if Whistler hopes to make a dent in its housing shortage.

Eder said she supports a draft recommendation to prohibit those who have previously sold a Whistler home from joining the WHA waitlist.

"If you were smart and savvy enough to have a free-market place in Whistler, I think you're smart and savvy enough to figure out what to do afterwards," she said.

Both Lloyd and Titus pointed to in-fill housing — allowing homeowners that meet the criteria to build a secondary residence on their property — as a possible solution.

Roddick is in favour of building on the momentum the RMOW has started with its existing housing initiatives. If elected, she hopes to work with larger employers to build dorm-style accommodation for workers, and expressed a desire to explore the B.C. NDP's recently unveiled plan to build modular units for the homeless to see if anything similar can be applied to Whistler.

Jewett took a similar stance, reiterating that employers need to take some onus for funding staff housing.

"It could still be a project developed by WHA. They would potentially be able to sell units in the building to businesses that need housing for their employees," she said, pointing to a similar 100-bed employee rental building in Cheakamus that is managed by WHA.

Andrews touted communal living as a way to maximize Whistler's limited space while creating sustainable micro-communities. He also stressed the need for "immediate short-term solutions," proposing the RMOW erect temporary modular housing to accommodate seasonal workers this winter.

Rimon put forward his "Embow" plan as the cure for Whistler's housing ills in a statement he dictated to Pique. (Rimon declined to be interviewed for fear of having his comments taken out of context, instead requesting that the following statement be run in its entirety.)

"I want to thank WORCA for giving me the opportunity to showcase my future vision for Whistler housing. Embow is an expansion of Rainbow neighbourhood that might one day reach Emerald, will allow locals to live in the more desirable north-of-the-village area, away from the village crowds, and won't be affected by Vail's future expansion. It will be an all-WHA community, housing low-income (and) high-income (earners), newcomers, established locals, whites, Latinos, natives and all other nationalities, all in one community. I will push this vision whether I get elected or not, as I believe me and all of Whistler [who are all my friends] would be happy to call Embow home," he said.

Renaissance

Vail Resorts has yet to provide a concrete timeline for Renaissance, its proposal to radically transform the ski resort's offerings, so any decision that would come to council is likely still a long ways off.

And yet it remains top of mind for locals who fear the 407,000 additional visitor days and the 200 to 300 bed units it's expected to bring to a resort already busting at the seams.

"I do not support the Renaissance project in its current form," said Titus, who questioned how WB would attract the additional workers and staff housing required to support such a massive development.

By and large, the candidates didn't shut the door on Renaissance, instead urging caution on its timeline and development.

"I think we need to be very careful and dial it back, and assess this very carefully because we're going to be stuck with it," implored Lloyd.

Roddick said she would not support Renaissance if it came before council at this stage. But her close ties to senior resort executives has seemed to raise alarm bells for many, with at least one community member at the meeting asking how Roddick would deal with the potential conflict of interest if elected while serving as an assistant to WB's top brass.

Conflicts are nothing new to government, and Whistler has previously had a number of WB staff serve at municipal hall. Councillors are required to recuse themselves from votes that could result in direct financial benefit — which is unlikely in Roddick's position. However, she would be privy to certain insider information through her role at WB, and also on council, if elected.

Similarly, mountain planning and environmental resource manager Arthur de Jong dropped out of the race ahead of the 2014 election after WB had advised him of the possibility for conflict.

Vail Resorts, however, has signed off on Roddick's candidacy.

In her follow-up interview, Roddick underlined that her first priority rests with the community and that she would "step aside" if Renaissance comes before officials while she is on council.

Growth

Closely intertwined with the previous two issues addressed, the final question for the council hopefuls centred on what everyone in Whistler seems to be talking about these days: growth.

Similar to Renaissance, the candidates were mostly aligned in their desire to see a sustainable, responsible approach towards tourism growth.

"I don't think we need to encourage more tourism, I think that's going to grow on its own," Lloyd said.

After consulting with local tourism industry experts, Jewett relayed the idea of moving some of Whistler's major events to midweek as a way to minimize the pressure of weekend visitation.

Titus stressed the need for a "step-back moment," so officials could determine the right balance between tourism and sustainability.

Eder worried about the deterioration of the "Whistler lifestyle" as the resort grows busier, and suggested a "quality-over-quantity" approach to events.

"If we give the locals a bit more breathing room, it'll be a better foundation," she said.

Roddick wants to look to what other tourism hotspots, such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Iceland, are doing to curb tourism to see if there are "any elements that would fit" in Whistler.

Dealing with traffic congestion is a priority for Andrews, who sees a need to entice more drivers onto public transit.

"We need to improve transit to the point where people are using it all the time, whether that's free or certain routes are free," he said.

For more byelection coverage, head to piquenewsmagazine.com. Additional information on the candidates and their platforms can be found at www.votinginwhistler.com.

Advance voting takes place Oct. 21 at Municipal Hall. Voting runs from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. General Voting Day will open on Saturday, Oct. 28 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., at the Whistler Conference Centre.

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