Opinion » Editorial


Olympic tail wagging the Whistler dog?




I used to live in Whistler. Now I feel sorry for people living in Whistler. Everybody out there has been Olympically brainwashed.

The rest of this province is now going to pay for your fancy crap.

I hope it rains in 2010.

– unpublished letter to the editor


If you’re already tired of the Olympic “hype”, which is what some people call any information about the 2010 Games, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Starting this month, the flow of information about the Olympics, including public forums, advertising campaigns and news stories, should be ramping up.

Which is not a bad thing. Many of us have been waiting for meaningful new information about the Olympics for some time. As details about accommodation, transportation and budgets finally starts to emerge Whistlerites will get a better picture of what they’re in for, and can plan accordingly.

But whether the thought of more Olympic information coming your way makes you groan or gives you a sense of relief that somewhere, some people are actually making progress (and decisions), the Olympics and Paralympics are more and more going to be a part of our lives for the next two and a half years. Love ’em or hate ’em, we’re not going to be able to ignore ’em.

In fact, the 2010 Olympics already permeate much of what we do. You only have to look at the front page of Tuesday’s Vancouver Sun to see how the Olympics are becoming the prism through which many things are viewed.

The main photograph on the front page, by Whistler’s Bonny Makarewicz, was of the logging truck that tipped over just south of Function Junction on Monday. Two people miraculously survived the accident, which sent a log through the windshield of their car while other logs crushed the car. A pickup truck was also damaged.

The headline over the photo, in all caps, was: “Sea to Sky Route the Olympics’ Achilles heel?”

The lede for the story on page 3 was: “For the second time in three days, a serious accident shut down the Sea to Sky Highway on Monday, raising questions about how organizers of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics will deal with such problems during the Games.”

Further down the story stated: “The treacherous highway is mid-way through a $600-million upgrade, in which some sections are being expanded to four lanes specifically to accommodate the anticipated increase in traffic during the Olympics.

“But the highway remains dangerous, and accidents frequently shut it down.”

The story was not about the injured people. It was not about the safety of logging trucks on the highway — this being the second logging truck to lose its load on the same corner in seven months, this time during national trucking week. It didn’t mention that the corner is being removed in the highway upgrade. And there was no discussion of the impact the multiple highway closures in the last 12 months have had on businesses and individuals already. The main story was all about the highway in the context of the 2010 Olympics. A sidebar provided the details of the accident.

In Whistler, as well, the Olympics have become the context for many of our discussions and decisions. The major issues at municipal hall — the development of Lots 1 and 9 and the athletes’ village, renovation of village properties, transportation planning, sewage plant upgrades, budgeting, labour and accommodation, new buses, policing, the municipality’s now-defunct request for special powers to regulate businesses during the Games — are all directly or indirectly related to the Olympics. And those issues that aren’t Olympic-related — the west side sewer — are not priorities at the moment.

On Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, many of the upgrades this year are specifically for the Olympics. The Games have had a direct impact on the growing involvement of First Nations in Whistler and on the burgeoning arts scene. Much of the federal and provincial governments’ interest and funding locally is Games-related. And despite the fact there’s no rational reason why a two-week sporting event should influence people’s decisions to spend hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars on real estate, one could make a case — and many undoubtedly will — that the Olympics are having an impact on the once-again booming real estate market.

None of this is particularly surprising. When the 2010 Games were awarded to Whistler four years ago the idea was put forward that the Olympics would give the community a focus and a deadline. And one of the major benefits of hosting the Olympics, those of us who have been advocates have always maintained, is the legacies left behind. Things like the Nordic centre and the athletes’ village housing, but also the second hydro substation, the new fibre optic line, the international exposure, and on and on.

The key is for Whistler to look at the Olympics on its terms. Rather than seeing Whistler — or an accident on the highway to Whistler — in terms of the Olympics, we should be looking at what the Olympics can be for Whistler. The Games are not the end goal; they can be a means to reshaping Whistler beyond 2010.

There are lots of people working on getting Whistler ready for the Olympics. But the Olympics can’t be the tail wagging the Whistler dog. As details about these efforts emerge the rest of us should be looking at them not as more Olympic hype, but as more information that we can use to make the Olympics, and Whistler, what we want.