As we settle into the first week of 2003 and the rhythms of a new year, having salved any injuries sustained in ushering out the old and welcoming in the new, our thoughts turn to what the 12 months ahead may hold. For weeks tensions around the world have been building in anticipation of reports from international inspection teams and an election this month in a small, isolated state that sticks out like a sore thumb among its neighbours.
Of course were referring to the International Olympic Committees inspection of Vancouver and Whistlers proposed Olympic sites in March and the runoff election to determine a sixth councillor in Whistler on Jan. 11.
Having come through a holiday period sacred to so many religions and having received the greatest of all possible gifts more than a metre of snow on Dec. 25 Whistlerites can now turn their attentions to the seemingly inevitable battle that lies immediately ahead: to vote or to go skiing.
Remember Whistlers runoff election? It was necessitated by the unlikely tie between Dave Kirk and Marianne Wade for the sixth and final seat on council in the Nov. 16 municipal election. Each received 1,057 votes. While it might seem logical that a runoff election would only involve the two candidates who tied, those arent the rules governing our elections. All 13 of the defeated candidates were allowed to participate in the runoff election. Incredibly, 11 have chosen to do so.
For those who have forgotten the Nov. 16 results, after Kirk and Wade came Stephanie Sloan with 898, Ted Milner with 755, Tyler Mosher got 724, Mitch Rhodes received 713, Ralph Forsyth garnered and even 700, Chris Quinlan got 668, Bob Calladine 553, Shelley Phelan 467, Rick Andre 162, Amar Varma 161, and Shane Bennett 141. Sloan and Calladine are the two who arent contesting the runoff election. The top vote getter among councillors was Ken Melamed with 1,867. If it snows on Jan. 11 we can only hope voter turnout equals Bennetts vote total from Nov. 16.
Voting likely will be more strategic than it was in November, when voters simply had to chose their favourites. So the question most people are asking at least, most people who care about this runoff election is what can or should the sixth councillor bring to the new council?
According to the mayors inaugural address last month, " we have never been closer than we are now to such significant and firm opportunities that will make a positive impact on the problems we have been grappling with." Those problems include affordability, resident housing and sustainability. The key "opportunities" Whistler has to deal with those problems are: financial tools, the land bank for resident housing and the comprehensive sustainability plan.
Whistler has been hearing about these opportunities for the past year, but most people have yet to figure out exactly what they mean. All three opportunities need to be explored in greater detail, which is something voters might consider when marking their ballots on Jan. 11.
What else should we seek in a sixth councillor? We could analyze the various skills and talents of the council members already elected, and then evaluate what each of the candidates would bring to this mix. But were not building a corporate board of directors, were choosing the people who represent us. Fundamental to representing the people of Whistler is an understanding of the people of Whistler of all ages and all income levels and some of the pressures and constraints facing them.
A councillor also needs to understand how and why Whistler works. That includes things like Whistlers relationship with Intrawest, the current operators of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, and the vital role that independent businesses have always played in shaping this town.
Specific pressures and constraints facing the people and businesses of Whistler will evolve and change over time, perhaps as the "opportunities" are realized. The constant challenge that will always face councillors is understanding the people of Whistler. It is the people who make Whistler a special place.