Opinion » Maxed Out

Labour Day in Tiny Town


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Well, it's almost time to take a Monday off and celebrate the fact we'll all have to go back to work Tuesday instead. Of course, that doesn't apply to those of us for whom the concept of weekends and stat holidays doesn't apply, which is to say those who'll be working Monday and the rest of the weekend so you slackers can raft, bike, bungee, hike, quaff, golf, eat and sleep your three-day weekend away.

Labour Day is, perhaps, not the best time to ponder what the heck ever happened to the Age of Leisure we were all supposed to be enjoying by now. I should probably let the unfulfilled promise of 20-hour work weeks continue to remain one of those smouldering grudges burning somewhere deep in the recesses of my memory, right near the dying embers of flying cars, robot maids and rocket packs I still haven't been able to enjoy because some scientist somewhere hasn't been working hard enough to make them reality.

Instead, the reality in many people's lives seems to be too many work demands crashing up against too many family demands and exhausting a limited supply of personal labour. When demand outstrips supply, prices go up, or so economists tell us. The price of all this demand seems to be diminished personal satisfaction, spiritual yearning, an inane desire to drive sport virility vehicles and a quick trip to Whistler to pack as much of the good life into a weekend as humanly possible.

Sometime between your morning latté and your evening dessert, spare a kind thought for the minions beavering away to make all this possible, for they truly live lives of irony.

When they chat up an outlander, as they've been taught to do, there is a moment of pride when, in response to the inevitable query, they get to say they live here. The usual response is, "Lucky you." And it's true; they feel, we all feel, lucky... or blessed, or somehow more fortunate... when we're not outraged over something easily dismissed as a First World problem. We breathe clean air, we drink clean water, we swim in nice lakes, we are immersed in natural beauty. And there's some pretty good skiing too. The uglier side of urban reality has more or less bypassed this place — probably couldn't afford to take up residence here.

But they also know the reality of living here is that they probably won't be living here too much longer. The average age of Whistler rises only slowly, and not because none of us grow older. It's because so few of us actually stay. We can't afford to.

Some of us can't afford the karmic cost of "wasting" an education performing service jobs having nothing to do with our degree in comparative romance literature or Russian studies or nuclear engineering. Some of us can't afford to put off getting a degree much longer; we only figured on taking a year off when we came here five years ago. Some of us can't afford the personal toll of working a couple of jobs, playing too hard, partying too much and not sleeping nearly enough for our own good. Some of us can't afford the feeling of being exploited, of doing a "management" job that would pay about twice as much in any urban setting in the country as it does here.

But most of us simply can't afford to live here.

We can't afford the $1,400 to $1,800 — or more — a month some people actually try and squeeze out of us for a one-bedroom suite, assuming we can find one to begin with. We can't afford the way we feel and the lack of privacy when we have to pay six or eight hundred dollars a month to share a bedroom in a house with seven or more other people, at least one of whom is an unrepentant slob. We can't afford the knowledge that no matter how secure our "management" job is, we will never be able to buy a house that isn't part of the "affordable" social housing pool, financed by other people like us who tied up their entire net worth and cashflow to facilitate Whistler's social housing infrastructure.

There aren't any real villains in this melodrama. In many ways, we're just victims of our own success. There are, to be sure, greedy landlords, but if you ask them why they charge so much, they'll tell you, "That's what the market will bear." And they're right. The flip side of their reality is that there are also crappy tenants who destroy property that isn't theirs and slip out in the middle of the night like a fart in the breeze.

New homeowners, those who've come in and paid top dollar and even bid the market up for a slice of the dream, feel compelled to charge as much as possible. They have to. The size of their mortgage would choke a horse. Hey, at least they're willing to keep the suite instead of turning it into a playroom for the kids. They're the minority.

There are plenty of outlanders who would love to tie a suite up for their own little escape pod over the winter. They can pay the freight and they'll only be here on weekends and a week or two they can squeeze out of their jobs. Renting a suite for the season is still cheaper than paying the price of a condo for that many nights. It's an attractive deal for a landlord, less wear and tear, less risk. No comment on the Airbnb phenomenon.

Finally, there's the rich and fatuous. It's not just that there aren't any suites in a $10-million home that's the problem here, although there aren't. It's the ripple effect. The incremental multimillion-dollar home attracts the next multimillion-dollar home. It makes it attractive to buy a home with a million or five, tear it down and put a $10-million home on the lot which puts pressure on the value of the $4-million home next to it that happens to be owned by someone who's lived here 25 years and couldn't possibly afford the house they live in if they had to buy it today on what they make being a ski patroller or whatever.

I hope somebody's labouring away at some solutions to this problem. If not this weekend at least after it ends and everybody knuckles down and heads back to work.