Opinion » Editorial


Sea-Doo decision suggests principles, values in CSP open to interpretation



"To strategically progress toward sustainability, Whistlerites need a shared understanding of sustainability, and a compass to frame and guide decision-making and planning."

That’s what Volume 1 of Whistler’s Comprehensive Sustainability Plan is about. Whistler 2020: Moving Toward a Sustainable Future describes Whistler’s vision, defines sustainability, looks at our values and sustainability principles and lays out priorities and directions. This is the filter, we’ve been told, through which everything will have to pass if it is to happen in or become part of Whistler.

There is a lot of good work and intent in Volume 1 of the CSP, but last week’s split decision by council to allow Bombardier to launch its new line of Sea-Doos on Green Lake shows how subjective and malleable the CSP filter can be.

In a 3-1 vote, with three councillors absent, council decided to relax its bylaw which prohibits personal watercrafts on Green Lake and allow Bombardier to launch its 2006 product line on the lake over six days next September.

Jet-skis or motorized personal watercrafts, of which Sea-Doo is one brand, have become highly contentious, primarily because of the noise they create but also because of the pollution generated by their two-stroke engines in the mindless pursuit of fun. Nothing wrong with the mindless pursuit of fun – it’s not part of Whistler’s CSP; it is part of our DNA – but it’s the impact these machines have on everyone else that makes people so passionately opposed to them.

But the issue here is not the machines themselves, or how much quieter and environmentally friendly they may have become. The issue should be how this decision was arrived at; how four of our civic leaders weighed the request against Volume 1 of the CSP and the Natural Step framework that is included in the CSP and came to opposite conclusions.

Part of the value of the CSP is supposed to be that it provides this framework for decision making, so that instead of half the town mounting a campaign for something and the other half mounting a campaign against it – a new development project, a conference coming to town – an agreed-upon criteria for evaluating the issue is in place.

And part of the criteria is looking at the three legs of the sustainability stool: financial, environmental and social. The Sea-Doo launch will help the financial sustainability of Whistler, bringing 1,000 delegates to the resort for six days in late September. Given the business of the last two years and the uncertain climate for tourism in general, the economic impact of a corporate launch like this cannot be easily dismissed.

It’s how environmentally and socially sustainable the launch of the new Sea-Doo line, and all that it represents, will be that is at issue when the sustainability question comes up.

Another section of Volume 1 of the CSP discusses recognizing and managing tradeoffs and gives an example: "…sufficient and affordable housing for residents is fundamental to a healthy and socially sustainable community. However, building more housing to accommodate residents often requires the development of natural areas. Such tradeoffs are sometimes necessary in the short-term in order to achieve sustainability in the future."

Having 1,000 delegates in town is certainly good for the economy for those six days, and it may help with economic sustainability in the future, if those delegates return or influence others to come to Whistler. But the tradeoffs are many. There is the pollution and the annoyance the machines will cause. There is also the matter of credibility.

Whistler introduced a noise bylaw specifically to prohibit jet skis on Green Lake. That bylaw is being relaxed to accommodate the Sea-Doo launch. There is also tacit recognition by Whistler that these machines are, currently at least, environmental and social pariahs. Whistler has insisted that there be no photos of the Sea-Doos on Green Lake used in marketing the product. In other words, we don’t want people to associate Sea-Doos with Whistler, but we want Bombardier’s money.

Under the Priorities and Directions sections of Volume 1 of the CSP there are other principles the Sea-Doo decision could be weighed against: Enriching Community Life, Enhancing the Resort Experience, Protecting the Environment, and Ensuring Economic Viability. But the matter comes back to the quotation at the top of this page: "…Whistlerites need a shared understanding of sustainability, and a compass to frame and guide decision-making and planning." The Sea-Doo decision – which in a relatively minor issue given the magnitude of things to come in the next few years – suggests that we are still some ways from a shared understanding of sustainability. Moreover, as a compass to frame and guide decision-making and planning the CSP is still leaves a lot of room to individual interpretation.