Opinion » Editorial


Speed bumps on the election road



One of the consequences of fixed election dates, as we have with municipal and now provincial elections, is that some of the actual decisions by government tend to be scheduled around those election dates. And one of the decisions each member of government has to make is whether to seek re-election.

In Whistler, some suggest, the campaigning for re-election begins, subtly, in January of an election year. With civic elections in November, that makes for a long campaign.

But more importantly, municipal elections seem to be speed bumps that slow down the decision making, or at least some decision making. In the months leading up to an election there is the natural slow down in July and August because of summer holidays. Then, once into September and October, with their mandate almost expired, councils tend to be less inclined to take on new issues, preferring to wrap up some existing ones and let the new council deal with others.

Following the November election there is a swearing in ceremony in early December, an understandably light meeting just before Christmas and then, after newly elected councillors have been to councillor school and the new council has had their weekend retreat to get to know one another and establish priorities, they are ready to get down to work by the end of January. This is the normal course of events, although it can be drawn out a little longer if, as was the case three years ago, there is need for a run-off election to break a tie.

It makes for a long period where councillors – who by Whistler’s definition hold part-time positions – are less than 100 per cent engaged in the governing and decision-making process. It’s not their fault, but between summer holidays, the election, Christmas holidays and orientation, it leaves the town with a six-seven month period where issues and decisions are not being dealt with as quickly and as regularly as they normally would.

And so Whistler’s new council, which has had only two meetings and has yet to have their retreat, is already starting to face some pressure for decisions on issues that have been hanging around for months. Some of this pressure is coming from Olympic obligations but some of it is a result of inaction during the previous three years.

Two elections ago, that would be in the fall of 2002, the successful mayoral candidate responded to a question about affordable housing by saying Whistler would have "options upon options upon options." In the three years following that comment, not one new affordable housing unit was produced.

This often-cited fact is usually countered with the statement that there were some unfortunate delays on some projects but a lot of work was done to pave the way for additional housing projects. True to some degree, but the largest of those projects, the Rainbow proposal, which was agreed to in principle a year ago, seems to be advancing with all the speed of a glacier during a heat wave. There are difficult issues that need to be resolved, with the physical logistics and with the parameters of the development itself. And it takes two sides in agreement to make a deal.

But assuming there is good will on both sides, and surely if affordable housing is a priority, those issues could be worked out in a year. Alternatively, the two sides could recognize that there were irreconcilable differences and they could jointly announce the project was off.

With the start of construction season about three months away, and with a huge demand for construction labour, there is pressure for the new council, and the community, to make a decision on Rainbow: can it deliver the affordable housing Whistler is looking for in a timely manner and at an acceptable price?

Then there is the issue of Lots 1 and 9, which will be the subject of a roundtable discussion this Saturday in the conference centre, the beginning of a six-month process. Last October, after finally grasping that public support favoured a fuller exploration of putting the Paralympic sledge hockey arena and perhaps other facilities in the village, council voted to do that.

Sort of. The resolution that was passed left Whistler an out if it determines the facility is too expensive. From a taxpayer’s perspective, that’s probably a good thing. But from the perspective of VANOC and some others, there may be questions about Whistler’s commitment to building the arena and hosting all of the Paralympic events here.

Despite the aborted negotiations with Squamish last year and the six-month evaluation process just beginning, there is still time to build an arena in Whistler prior to the Paralympics, or to move the sledge hockey event to an existing facility in Vancouver. But the "process" has already tested the patience of Squamish, VANOC and the Whistler business community, so some clear direction and commitment from the new council, soon, would be welcome.

It’s not fair that the new council faces these pressures so soon, but they do.