For the last year Whistler has spent a lot of time dealing with some major issues and opportunities like the World Economic Forum, the G8 foreign ministers meeting and the Olympic bid while some of the things that directly impact everyday life in Whistler like the cost of living here and where people are going to live here have vied for attention.
Thats not to say housing and affordability have been ignored for the last year, and its not to suggest that the Olympic bid and some of the other one-time events didnt require immediate, full and careful consideration. But after the first month of a municipal election year it seems to get more difficult to do much in the way of long-term commitments. Deadlines tend to get extended and decisions on some issues are put off as voters and candidates manoeuvre for position in the months leading up to the November election.
For Whistler, this time around the manoeuvring has been extended an extra couple of months due to a tie for the sixth and final council seat in the November election. After nearly a full 12 months of people watching what they say and challenging what other people say, it should finally come to an end this weekend with the election of a sixth councillor in Saturdays runoff election.
And on Monday the new council can get down to work on the things that affect everyday life in Whistler. The hard work on the Olympic bid has been done and the bid book has been delivered to the IOC in Lausanne. The World Economic Forum, which is meeting later this month in Davos, is a memory. Its time to turn our meaning councils and the publics attention to housing, affordability and the next phase of the comprehensive sustainability plan.
An affordability strategy was included in last years municipal budget but was one of those commitments that didnt happen. The release last week of this years property assessments, which have gone up about 30 per cent on average, should spark renewed interest in affordability. Municipal staff and residents have been meeting with provincial politicians and financial authorities over the last several months to try and bring some measure of fairness to the school tax burden Whistler property owners and by extension, renters are faced with. And apparently the province is listening.
What may be more difficult to sell to the province is Whistlers request for new "financial tools." Premier Gordon Campbell agreed in October, just before Whistler council endorsed the Olympic bid, that Whistler needs those tools but he still had to convince his cabinet. The premiers powers of persuasiveness may be evaluated next month, when the legislature resumes and a new provincial budget is introduced.
Whistler has proposed three options for financial tools: receiving a percentage of the provincial sales tax, receiving a greater percentage of the hotel tax or a new resort sales tax specific to Whistler. The first two would seem to involve the province giving up revenue to Whistler, at a time when the province is scrambling for more money and many people see Whistler as already benefiting from the Olympic bid. The third option will face opposition from some Whistler businesses and those who fear the resort is already pricing itself out of too many markets.
The fall election period seems to also have rekindled interest in affordable housing. Not that efforts to secure affordable housing had ever been put on hold, but the immediate need (as opposed to the "someday need" the Callaghan/Cheakamus land bank represents) appears to have been recognized. Past chamber of commerce chair John Nadeaus parable about the golden goose, in this months chamber newsletter, highlights the affordable housing issue and how it has become an issue for virtually everyone in Whistler. A council-appointed task force on housing and new initiatives from the Whistler Housing Authority are also encouraging signs.
Finally, the next phase of the comprehensive sustainability plan should get underway soon. Again, the election period provided an opportunity for people to vent their frustrations or concerns with phase one of the plan. The next phase should respond to those concerns. It will also be an opportunity for public input on all of these issues and for the public to have another say in shaping Whistlers future.