Opinion » Editorial


Vancouver plebiscite key to Whistler's future


On this day seven years from now, Feb. 7, 2010, the men’s Olympic super G will be taking place on the Dave Murray Downhill – if the Vancouver-Whistler bid for the 2010 Games is successful. The men’s 20 km individual biathlon, women’s 15 km individual biathlon and the K-90 ski jumping finals will also be held at the Olympic Nordic Centre in the Callaghan Valley on Feb. 7, Day 3 of the 2010 Games.

July 2 is the day the IOC will award the 2010 Games, but the results of Vancouver’s plebiscite on Feb. 22 could effectively determine whether the Games come to Vancouver and Whistler or go to Salzburg or Pyeongchang. With the plebiscite coming days after a provincial budget that is unlikely to generate feelings of joy and merriment, Vancouver voters could be in a No mood.

I think that would be a shame. It’s unlikely Vancouver and Whistler will ever have a better opportunity to win the Games than this year. And I think the potential benefits – to the whole province – of hosting the Olympics are not well understood. But I’ll get into that next week.

The question for the moment is: where would a no vote, either on Feb. 22 or July 2, leave Whistler and its plans? If Whistler’s goal is still along the lines of that identified in the Whistler 2002 document, to be the premier four-season mountain resort community, with the word "sustainable" worked into that equation, would things change with no Olympics on the horizon?

If the Games do not come to Vancouver and Whistler we’ll see how big a priority upgrading the Sea to Sky Highway really is on the provincial agenda. If the province decides no Games, no major improvement effort, Whistler’s accessibility could start to become an issue for visitors, particularly if the plans are scaled back and highway upgrades and road closures drag on for years and years.

No Olympics means no money for the arena planned for Lot 1 in Village North, a primary venue for the Paralympics. Whistler may be left with a prime piece of real estate it can’t afford to develop.

The 300-acre land bank in the Callaghan Valley will still belong to Whistler even if there are no Olympics, but where the money would come from to build the infrastructure for that land is unclear. $63.2 million US is in the budget for infrastructure and an athletes village in the Callaghan, if the Games go ahead.

What happens to First Nations’ plans in the Callaghan if there are no Games is likewise unclear. A land bank has also been promised the Lil’wat and Squamish nations and there has been talk of a hotel and golf course in the Callaghan. The pre-fab houses that are planned as part of the athletes village and would be moved to First Nations lands after the Games won’t materialize.

Twelve months ago the municipality had an open house to show off the legacies Whistler would receive, regardless of whether the 2010 bid was successful or not – the land bank in the Callaghan, new financial tools, expanded municipal boundaries.

Today we know the premier supports the idea of financial tools for Whistler; some cabinet ministers don’t.

Little has been said about the proposed municipal boundary expansion, and with First Nations’ interests in the Callaghan it doesn’t sound likely anymore.

What Whistler wants to do with the Callaghan land bank is an open question, whether the Olympic bid is successful or not. We were told during last fall’s municipal election campaign that the land bank provides "options upon options upon options" for affordable housing. A statement in the Vancouver bid book says: "After extensive stakeholder consultation, the concept that has emerged for the Whistler Olympic village is based around the creation of community lands for resident housing."

Maybe there will still be options upon options upon options if there are no Games or infrastructure funding, and maybe there was extensive stakeholder consultation, but my understanding is that Whistlerites will be asked what they think about the Callaghan becoming a resident community during the next phase of the comprehensive sustainability plan, whenever that gets going.

The comprehensive sustainability plan is the forum for Whistler to determine what direction it’s heading and how to address issues like affordability. But the means to address those issues could be substantially usurped by Vancouver voters on Feb. 22.

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