Aside from a couple of disastrous days on the highway, the weather this winter has been just about perfect for a ski resort. Combined with the warm weather that has left Europe and eastern North America with little snow and driven skiers from those parts of the world west, we all look like geniuses. And we have reveled in this abundance and celebrated our good fortune, as we should.
But face shots and metres of powder snow shouldn’t obscure our view of what’s going on around us. While things have gone very well in Whistler recently, there are also some ominous signs on the horizon.
Indications are that affordable housing, the oldest, most worn out oxymoron in any ski town, may be reinventing itself and, like a new strain of influenza, hitting back harder than ever. Maybe it’s due to the abundance of snow this winter, but how many previous seasons have there been people desperate for housing in January? This winter has seen people going door to door inquiring about housing, people starting their own website to exchange information about housing leads and, in the middle of January, people arriving at newspaper offices at 7 a.m. on a Thursday to get first crack at the classifieds.
Housing is an insidious issue. Whistler has always gotten by in housing crises. There is no evidence to suggest that a lack of housing has been solely responsible for the collapse of a business, and it certainly hasn’t killed the resort — which leads some to conclude that housing is not as big an issue as it’s often made out to be.
But with North America facing a general labour shortage for the next several years, with greater competition for employees than ever before, virtually no new affordable housing built in the last four years and with only two new housing projects likely to be completed for next winter (Don Wensley’s apartment building in Function Junction and the first phase of Nita Lake Lodge), housing will be an issue as long as Whistler gets snow.
Which in itself is an interesting thought. A major UN report on climate change to be released next week will not be heartening news to anyone with long-term plans that depend on stable, predictable weather patterns. Climate change has, in the last few months, reached critical mass, at least in terms of recognition as an issue. A coalition of American business leaders this week urged action. “The science of global warming is clear. We know enough to act now. We must act now,” James Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy said a day prior to President George W. Bush’s seventh, and second last, State of the Union address.
There was, however, only one brief reference to climate change in Bush’s speech.
But in terms of subjects to avoid this week the Picton murder trial in New Westminster topped them all. Everyone in B.C. must be aware of the allegations against “the pig farmer” and the 26 murder charges he faces, but anticipation of the horrific details that have and will emerge during his first trial led many people to try and avoid all coverage of the case. Some callers to radio shows stated they don’t want to hear another word about the case.
Many Canadian media outlets have openly debated how much detail of the trial to provide. Others have posted warnings that the content of stories may be disturbing to some. And a few have even offered “layers” of information, so that people can chose how much detail they receive. But trying to avoid the matter entirely is futile. It’s also wrong-headed.
As one media analyst said, the Holocaust was a horrific, despicable series of actions, and what the world learned from it was to never forget. So too with the Picton case.
The story right now is going on in a New Westminster courtroom, but it has implications for British Columbians and Canadians everywhere. It has to do with the plight of First Nations women, with the people of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, with our regard for down and out drug addicts and prostitutes. It speaks of the society we have created, or have allowed.
And even if British Columbians choose to try and avoid the story, the presence of international media ensures that the story will be known around the world.
World issues are Whistler issues, and vice versa.