When it comes to governments misleading their citizens few have been better at it than the administration of George W. Bush. Providing only some of the relevant information, dropping hints and making moralistic statements about values in the weeks leading up to the invasion of Iraq had many people convinced that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, that he was prepared to use them against the U.S.A. and that he couldn’t be countenanced a moment longer. Some even believed he was responsible for the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. It’s not that anyone in the Bush administration said Saddam planned the attacks, but it led some people to that conclusion, and that built support for the administration’s position.
It’s an update on the classic three bears model used for years by governments and consultants to lead people to the desired outcome. The three bears model presents three options: one that’s too big or expensive, one that’s too small or doesn’t do the job, and one in the middle that seems just right in comparison to the first two.
In a matter far less grave, and much closer to home, the people of Whistler have recently been subject to a piece of government information management. After a summer of public speculation about the Paralympic arena, when the only comments from councillors and municipal staff were "delicate negotiations, we can’t discuss it" or "trust us, we can’t afford it," a staff report on the arena was finally made public last week. And the unsurprising conclusion is, Whistler can’t afford it.
Some public support for this conclusion is already growing. The argument for this position is attractive and simple: a deluxe arena in the village will cost $58 million. Do you want to pay more taxes to support this?
The report did exactly what it was intended to do: it put the spectre of a $58 million white elephant in people’s minds and let them draw their own conclusions. And in a town where $10 million houses don’t even get a second glance anymore, $58 million for an arena is accepted.
Except that Vernon built a similar facility for $15 million four years ago. Certainly construction costs have climbed steeply in recent years, but a release from the District of Squamish on Tuesday stated that Squamish can build the Paralympic facility for $18 million.
Last year Cowichan was looking at building a new arena and eight-lane, 50-metre pool for $25 million.
Some members of council have complained about information management in municipal hall; that they weren’t getting the full picture from staff or council representatives on various boards and committees. Whistler voters have a right to complain about the same thing.
There is a dollar cost for the arena and there is an opportunity cost; neither one has been properly explored. Last week we were left with the statement that if Whistler turns down the Paralympic arena then the highest and best use of Lots 1 and 9 in the village can be determined. This, in a perverted use of the word, was presented as an opportunity.
To reiterate: the arena is not the solution to all of Whistler’s problems. It might be a part of the solution – assuming we have a handle on what the problems are – but that whole issue doesn’t appear to have been examined. If, for example, someone left $38 million on the front steps of municipal hall with a note that it was to be used for the Paralympic arena it could be combined with the $20 million VANOC has promised for the facility and Whistler would have enough money to build the deluxe 5,000-seat model. But we still wouldn’t know what the highest and best use of Lots 1 and 9 are. That would require further study.
Based on the information that has been made public, we haven’t determined how many permanent seats would be ideal for a Whistler arena; we haven’t looked at the commercial possibilities for Lot 9; we haven’t considered the needs of the various clubs and community groups; the possibilities for expanded medical services haven’t been incorporated into the mix.
Eldon Beck, the principal architect of the Whistler Village, has been in town this week to look at Lots 1 and 9, and perhaps he will provide some new views or information on these opportunities that will be presented at Saturday’s open house on the arena. But this, again, is information management by local government. Why wasn’t Beck consulted much earlier in the process so that Whistler council members and taxpayers could look at all the information and make an informed, timely decision?
It is late in the day to be starting a full examination of what it is Whistler needs, but the only decision VANOC needs from Whistler in the next month is a yeah or nay on whether it will build the Paralympic arena. Surely we can find the time, and resources, to properly address that question.