Opinion » Editorial


The first city council I covered as a reporter was in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, population 13,000. The population was 13,000 when I lived there in 1987; it was 13,000 in 1977 and it will probably be 13,000 in 2027. Just outside of town, in a field beside the TransCanada highway, was a large sign that read: "To live and die in your sins is to spend eternity in hell." There was some connection between the sign and Portage la Prairie’s stagnant population, but I didn’t stay long enough to figure it out. The issues Portage la Prairie council dealt with were about as stagnant as the population: sections of the sewer and the roads needed upgrading from time to time, some snowplows and lawnmowers had to be replaced each year, and once or twice a year a piece of land had to be rezoned for a new building. There was no need for a bed unit cap. The 13,000 people of Portage la Prairie and their elected council didn’t expect a great deal of change in their town and they didn’t deal with a lot of change. Whistler is the polar opposite of Portage la Prairie. Whistler is going 100 mph while Portage idles in neutral. Change is as much a part of Whistler as skiing or boarding. Trying to meet the needs of all the people with an interest in Whistler, while keeping an eye on where the town is going in the face of internal and external change, is no easy feat. The interests of the second homeowner sometimes collide with those of permanent residents; guests’ experiences have to be balanced against employees’ living conditions; environmental values may be weighed against economic values; and neighbourhood perspectives have to be considered in the context of the entire town. I regurgitate this bit of Whistlerese because it appears that many of the new candidates for council, and some of the people behind them, are campaigning in reaction to many of the decisions taken by the current council. That is certainly their right, and this council is not without fault — the meandering direction taken on the tourist accommodation issue is perhaps this council’s most glaring mistake. But there also seems to be a feeling by some candidates that a "correct" decision can be made on every issue and that too often the current councillors have made the "wrong" decision. If only it were that easy. If only Whistler were Portage la Prairie. Some of this feeling of wrong decisions stems from the idea that the current council hasn’t listened to "the people." More public consultation is needed — perhaps referendums — according to some candidates. Certainly there are issues deserving of more public input; the Olympic bid is probably top of the list. But I think what many of the candidates mean when they say the current council hasn’t listened is that they didn’t back down in the face of opposition at public hearings. Opponents outnumbered proponents at, for example, the 19 Mile Creek public hearing, as they do at virtually every public hearing. The public hearing process — established under the Municipal Act — invites opposition. Councillors, by now, know that and have to weigh the opposition at public hearings against what they perceive as the best interests of the community and fairness to all concerned. There is no right and wrong decision; it’s a judgement call. Those are the kinds of decisions councillors are elected to make, and often they aren’t happy with the choices. It’s politics, the art of compromise. If enough people don’t agree with a councillor’s or council’s judgement calls they’ll be turfed out of office. Fair enough. But just because decisions are unpopular doesn’t mean councillors haven’t been listening.

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