The tri-annual shin-kicking contest that is our general municipal election is finally over, and this time it's a completely blank slate with no incumbents in sight - a fresh start for a town that is feeling divided and restive. Through the campaign it became clear that public discontent is at an all-time high, and the public discourse at an all-time low. I say it's time to put some ice on our shins and move forward.
With 31 candidates for council and mayor this time around, less than a quarter of candidates were elected on Saturday. My advice to the runners-up is to keep their chins up - the odds were stacked against you from the start, vote splitting played a huge role and it's a fact that a lot of people don't get voted in the first time they throw their hats into the ring. Jack Crompton, Ralph Forsyth and Chris Quinlan all ran at least once before getting elected, showing that Whistler sometimes likes to get to know its candidates before casting ballots and the town will often reward persistence.
Some other advice to all the candidates, both successful and not, is to give us all a break. Please. Thirty-one candidates on a ballot is absurd for a lot of reasons, but the thing that sticks out for me the most is the fact that all of the candidates at some point in the campaign claimed to be team players, able to work with others to get things done. I found that ironic because none of the candidates - with the possible exception of Roger McCarthy and Duane Jackson (both elected) - bothered to prove it by forming any kind of a team at the start of the election.
Given the general agreement around many campaign issues (pay parking, asphalt, zero-based budgets, etc.) it just seems like a no brainer. Why didn't the candidates form parties or slates?
When asked, one candidate at WORCA's speed dating session said, "I don't think Whistler is a slate kind of town."
Really? Just because slates have never been tried here before doesn't mean that we don't need them or wouldn't like them. With a record number of names on a ballot I know that voters would have appreciated something, anything that could have helped them simplify their choices.
It's also a fact that previous councils have been plagued by infighting and divisions that made it harder to address the issues of the day. That's why so many candidates stressed the fact that they could be team players in the first place - again, without actually taking the next step and proving it.
The reality is that political parties and slates are necessary in many jurisdictions like Vancouver where there are a lot of candidates in the race. They help voters make sense of issues and ballots, and provide some guarantee that candidates are at least somewhat united under a common platform that you either agree or disagree with. That's much better than a system where you have to sort out where 31 individuals stand on different issues.
There are also benefits for the candidates, like the ability to combine financial resources or place one big sign on the highway instead of several little ones. They can share a common website, tackle the social media monster as a group, and ensure that at least a few members will have a chance to speak on behalf of the party at a crowded all-candidates meeting.
As a final point, I really think we need to cut our current and former representatives some slack. The Olympics were a massive disruption and the hangover will last for years. All the big issues of the day - pay parking, staffing levels and wages, the asphalt plant, budget shortfalls and debt - have roots in the Games, and there is no easy solution to these issues that doesn't involve going back in time to 2003 and bribing IOC members to vote against Vancouver. (Apparently all you need is some plutonium and a DeLorean, I've looked into it.)
It's easy to criticize some of the choices that have been made, but I'm not convinced anyone could have done anything all that much differently with the weight of the Games and economic crisis on their shoulders.
I have no doubt that we will get through this, but it's going to be tough. Meantime, we need to keep our collective cool and remember that we all live in this particular community because we really do have a lot of the same things in common - more so than people living in other places. We ski, we bike, we love the outdoors. "Common" is the root word of community, though it seems that we've forgotten that. Things got ugly.
So again, congratulations to the winners, back pats to the losers and let's focus on what's important. Like the fact that it's snowing.