An incredible thing happened—or maybe the incredible part is what didn't happen—at the first all-candidates meeting of Whistler's election season last Wednesday, Sept. 26: respectful, productive discourse on the many issues that matter most to Whistlerites.
Maybe it's that my faith in the political process has been tainted by the relentless cynicism and anger that continues to undermine any real shot at constructive dialogue in the U.S.—look no further than the dog-and-pony show that was Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation hearings last week as an example. Or maybe it was last year's Whistler byelection to fill the council seat left vacant by the passing of Andrée Janyk, a combative election season that seemed, at times, more akin to the moralistic, win-at-all-costs politics found south of the border than that of a small, B.C. ski town. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that, for the most part, each of the 18 candidates present (Miro Kolvek and Nate Hawkins were not in attendance, while Steve Andrews—who's off on a volunteering trip in Uganda—sent a spokesman in his stead) presented their ideas in a measured, deliberate way that didn't devolve into the mudslinging that more seasoned politicians sometimes resort to.
Now, I'm not referring to the substance of the candidates' messages—with over a dozen council hopefuls, you can expect that their respective platforms were fairly diverse—but seeing how those ideas were put forward, with so many different perspectives gathered under one roof for a common goal, was heartening, to say the least.
It's easy to get caught up in the drama of an election campaign, even in the comparatively low-stakes environment of a 12,000-person community. We've been so culturally conditioned by the bloodlust of the 24-hour news cycle that we sometimes forget that politics, in its purest form, is about more than just gaffes and scandals packaged for our morbid entertainment. The reality of small-town governance is far duller—as it should be.
The diplomacy on display last week was all the more impressive when you consider the prickly issues presently facing our community, a community that stands at a crossroads in a number of ways. Housing, staffing, affordability—challenges that have now been dissected and discussed for years, and yet we seem no closer to solving them, if we ever will. Whistlerites have plenty of reasons to be frustrated, and yet, even when the audience in attendance took to the microphone to pose pointed questions to the slate of candidates, it was done in a respectful way that seemed to signify an unspoken acknowledgement that, despite our many differences, we are all in this together.
I was also encouraged by the sheer diversity of the council hopefuls who threw their hat into the ring. The candidates represent a variety of experiences, backgrounds and demographics, ranging from their early 30s to early 70s. If you're looking for fresh ideas at municipal hall, you could do a lot worse than this slate.
Finally, we should all tip our caps to each and every one of the candidates for having the gumption to add their names to the ballot. Serving the public is often a zero-sum game; your every decision goes under a magnifying glass, and no matter how good your intentions may be, it's impossible to please everyone. We would be good to remember that none of the council candidates are grizzled political veterans. They are, like you and I, ingrained members of this community, sacrificing their privacy, their time, and in some cases, their friends, to serve the place they cherish, and for that, we should be thankful.
A friend who was considering a run at council asked me a few weeks back if it was a good idea. As a reporter in this town who is privy to the often tiresome, thankless work that councillors do, my reply was straightforward: "Are you insane?" But maybe that's what this town needs right now: a council that is crazy enough to consider innovative ideas, crazy enough to embark on the high-stress life of an elected official, and crazy enough to put themselves out there for the betterment of the rest of us.