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Editorial

Olympic tail wagging the Whistler dog?

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“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.