If the American presidential election seems to have dragged on forever, even though the parties’ nomination meetings have yet to take place, Whistler’s municipal election is just the opposite.
Both elections are expected to heat up after the Labour Day weekend, when kids go back to school and politicians start to play again with the media. And with the growing likelihood of Canadians going to the polls this fall for a federal election, campaign promises in October may be flying as thick and fast as mosquitoes in August.
But that hasn’t happened yet, at least not in Whistler.
As the current Whistler council nears the end of its term voters may reflect on what has been accomplished in the last three years and what has not been tackled. For instance, this council has spent a lot of time and effort preparing for the Olympics, in the belief that most of the Olympic preparations will continue to benefit Whistler years after the Games are over. And the budget, which for years seemed to be passed unanimously, with few people taking any interest in municipal spending, became a hot topic in the last nine months after it was announced property taxes would be increased.
You may approve or disapprove of what this council has done, but at this point it seems unlikely the November election will be a referendum on the performance of council members.
Of the seven people sitting at the council table, only two have declared unequivocally they will seek re-election: Mayor Ken Melamed and Councillor Bob Lorriman. Of the other councillors, Tim Wake and Gord McKeever have announced they won’t seek re-election. Eckhard Zeidler has not formally announced his plans but is not expected to run again. Ralph Forsyth has said that he too will have to take a walk in the snow and weigh the time commitment/monetary compensation of being a councillor against time with his family and with his business.
Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden who has been elected as a councillor four different times, but by her own choice never in succession, has not announced her plans.
Vying to fill up to five vacant seats at the council table at this point are one confirmed candidate and one likely candidate: former councillors Kristi Wells, who has said she will be a candidate, and Ted Milner, who has said he is leaning heavily toward running.
No doubt there will be other candidates come forward as our fascination with beach basketball and synchronized rhythmic trap shooting wanes and people get back to work next month. And the people who are eventually elected to the next council will be at an interesting point in the arc of Whistler’s. story
Those people will be “in power”, if that is an accurate term for council members, during what should be Whistler’s crowning moment, hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics. That moment will come slightly more than one year after the new council is sworn in. But once the Games are over they will have a little bit less than two years in office to figure out what the post-Olympic world will look like for Whistler. Among the things the next council may be dealing with:
• Replacing senior municipal staff who may retire after the Games;
• Trying to grow winter visitor numbers again. Numbers are almost certain to be down in the Olympic winter and there are concerns about the winter ahead;
• What to do if the Legacies Society can’t operate the bobsleigh track, the Nordic centre and the athletes’ centre on a break-even basis;
• Little revenue from new developments, with the First Nations development projects being the only commercial developments on the horizon.
But perhaps the most crucial issue for the next council — and the community — will be to find a focus in the post-Olympic period. An emotional letdown — or relief — is inevitable after so much time has been spent preparing for something like the Olympics, but that doesn’t mean we can sit back and coast.
It may become obvious what that new focus should be, and it may be a blessing to no longer have the Olympics as a distraction; to no longer be waiting for VANOC or senior governments to make decisions and share details. But it also means there won’t be as much money coming from senior governments as there has been in the lead-up to the Games.
Mind you, Whistler will be left with an infrastructure other towns would kill for. From fibre optic networks to arts funding to the sewage treatment plant, Whistler will have the resources in place to expand its capacities and move in new directions.
The challenges — and the opportunities — facing the next council will be as significant as any that previous councils have faced. And given the need to refocus, it would seem to be an opportune time for a new generation of Whistler leaders to step forward.