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Council strongly defends post-Olympic celebration

$96,000 coming out of hotel tax, not taxpayers’ pockets

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An impassioned council threw its support behind the post-Olympic party this week, stating firmly that the controversial July 1-4 celebration will happen.

During the public meeting on Tuesday night, four of the five council members present spoke in favour of the $96,000 party planned for the Canada Day long weekend and said they want to clarify the facts.

"It is a business opportunity and building our tourism economy is one of the main reasons we chose to host the Games," said Tom Thomson, who is serving as acting mayor while Ken Melamed is on vacation.

"It will continue to leverage our status as a host mountain resort. The celebration is intended to boost occupancy and also to create awareness and interest in our summer."

Over the last two years, the average nightly occupancy in Whistler for the month of July has been 56 per cent, said Thomson. The post-Olympic celebration is one way to boost those numbers and bring more business to the community.

Thomson clarified the party is being paid for out of the two per cent hotel tax, not local taxpayers' pockets.

"This is the tax visitors pay on top of the cost of their overnight accommodation," he said.

Following Thomson's lead, Councillor Chris Quinlan called the two per cent hotel tax one of the greatest legacies of the Games and stressed that money is dedicated to driving tourism in the resort municipality.

And a heated Councillor Ralph Forsyth added: "It is not like we can use the tax to pay to heat the pool or cut the grass.

"In fact, if we do things to reduce taxes, the province will take the hotel tax away from us," he said. "It has to be used precisely for this type of thing."

The post-Olympic party has been on the municipality's books since September 2009, when Whistler's Winter Games budget was released.

Originally, the municipality planned to spend $150,000 on the "We did it" party, although council voted to drop that amount to $96,000 last month. At the time, Councillor Grant Lamont and Thomson voted against the event, saying the money should be spent on something else.

"I don't know what people were thinking, but did they not think they were going to acknowledge the contributions our athletes made to the Olympic experience?" said Forsyth.

"We are having the party. The nay-sayers are not going to win. I think the silent majority is going to show up for Canada Day and it would be great if the opinion leaders would step up and show some leadership and say 'We support this' as well."

Councillor Eckhard Zeidler was the only councillor around the table at MY Millennium Place on Tuesday night to speak critically of the municipality's Olympic celebration plans.

"Having supported this whole heartedly, I am flipping on this," said the two-term councillor.

"I have seen and heard violent opposition to this thing, and it has been ongoing and relentless. It has come to define everything that is incompetent about the Resort Municipality of Whistler for some. I don't agree with that, but I am sitting here because I was put here by people."

Zeidler said he is not so sure a silent majority that supports the party exists.

"Sometimes the majority maybe shouldn't remain so silent, and maybe they should come out and say something," said Zeidler. "On this one, I am willing to let this celebration go and the community can have its way."

The party is scheduled to take place between July 1 and 4 and will include a special Canada Day parade with Olympic medalists, street entertainment and art, an Olympic athlete meet-and-great, video highlights of the Winter Games, a pancake breakfast and concerts.

Zeidler's words were not enough to sway the other councillors, however.

"Democracy is a wonderful tool," said Thomson. "I accept the will of the majority and the majority of this council has spoke and they said they were in support of the expenditure of the hotel tax money.

"It has been pointed out on three occasions here tonight very strenuously that the revenue that is being expended is for the benefit of Whistler. We have to consider Whistler as a whole, not as an individual. It requires all the cogs in the wheel to make the wheel turn smoothly, and this happens to be one of them."

Councillor Ted Milner, who was silent for most of the Olympic party discussion on Tuesday, added at the end that he doesn't understand where the anguish of the community is coming from.

"Canada Day is coming and I think we should have a party," said Milner. "We should invite our local athletes and we should have a good time. I think we should be cautious on the budget... but the ringing of heads, I don't get it,"

Councillor Grant Lamont was absent from the meeting.

 

 

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