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Draft CSP shows promise; few details about RMOW’s own financial sustainability



With the big decision day still a few weeks away one of the most important policy documents — one that will have an impact on every citizen in this fair land — was released last week.

No, we’re not talking about the Liberals’ health care plans or the Conservatives’ proposal to do away with the gun registry. Rather, it’s the latest draft of Whistler’s long awaited Comprehensive Sustainability Plan. You remember, Whistler. It’s Our Future.

And in fact, the CSP has grown substantially, in scope and depth, from last November when people were invited to share their opinions on the five future scenarios for Whistler. At that time the exercise appeared to be largely one of land use planning: Did we want future resident housing? And if so, where should it be located and what were we willing to pay to get it?

The answers have been sifted through the Natural Step screen, weighed against the values and vision first outlined in the Whistler 2002 document, and distilled into five priorities: Enriching Community Life, Enhancing the Resort Experience, Protecting the Environment, Ensuring Economic Viability and Partnering for Success.

Below the priorities in the CSP framework, a number of “directions” define what success and sustainability will look like in the future Whistler. But the bulk of the work in the draft CSP has gone into developing the strategies and actions that will guide Whistler to its “blended” or preferred future.

According to the draft CSP, that future includes things like infill housing, a new community in the Cheakamus South area, 75 per cent of Whistler’s workforce living in Whistler, and a variety of initiatives to ensure locally owned and operated businesses survive.

There are 16 strategies — or strategy foundations as they are referred to, because they are not complete strategies — outlined in the draft CSP. Some, like the transportation strategy foundation, build on earlier municipal strategies. Others, like the learning strategy foundation, have less history to draw from.

The strategy foundations were developed through workshops involving Whistler residents with expertise in each area, plus at least one external expert. More complete strategies are still to be developed. Who will lead and participate in developing these strategies is still to be determined.

There is a lot of good work in the draft CSP. Refreshingly, it attempts to look at Whistler in a global context, subject to external pressures, rather than as a little utopia existing in a bubble. And as Mike Vance, general manager of community initiatives and the main architect of the CSP has said, it is a plan that extends well beyond municipal hall. It is not just a guide for municipal planners and politicians to refer to when making decisions.

The draft CSP, naturally, does not provide answers to all questions about Whistler’s future. It is a plan, not an encylopedia. That being said, we would like to see more detail on the financial aspect of sustainability.

The economic strategy foundation in the draft CSP is “charged with creating a strong and adaptable tourism economy to help Whistler achieve its vision and priorities.” To that end, this strategy recognizes some of the global and local economic trends and some of the factors that constrain business in Whistler.

But the municipality’s own finance strategy foundation is bereft of any detail. A note says simply that the strategy “will be developed as the CSP strategies are finalized and the related actions are prioritized according to short, medium and long-term timeframes.”

Perhaps that is appropriate, but we can’t help thinking back to previous warnings about the need for more municipal revenues. There was an expectation of financial tools. They haven’t been seen.

There have also been warnings from municipal hall about reserve funds being slowly depleted and “…aging infrastructure, dwindling development cost charges, changing market conditions and the increased cost of ‘staying on top’.”

These situations are not critical at the moment, but neither have they been adequately addressed.

There is much to like in the draft CSP, but there is a lot of important work still to be done, particularly in the area of financial sustainability.