Opinion » Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor for the week of February 15

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Supporting adventure tourism

I was very pleased to see that Christopher Nicolson, (president and CEO of the Canada West Ski Areas Association) was able to make a presentation to council about the Adventure Tourism Coalition.

While I think he was preaching to the choir, Whistler can be a major voice for the industry. Whistler is a centre of adventure tourism and the myriad of adventure-tourism companies that exist now in the corridor as a result of the success of Whistler as a destination, is a clear testament to what is possible.

I am an advisory board member of the SFU Faculty of Environment, Centre for Tourism Policy and Research. This initiative was put together as a result of the last many decades of tourism and land-use policy in this province that has consistently understated and underrepresented the importance of adventure tourism and its contributions to the GDP of this province, its communities and to society in general.

B.C. is blessed with the most extraordinary combination of first-world infrastructure and relatively intact (relatively is generous) big, wild lands with animal populations that are healthier here than in most places in the world.

This exists in very, very few places on Earth outside of Canada. Back in the early '90s, the Sierra Club did a mapping project of the areas of the world that still had "intact" wilderness, which they defined as an area of contiguous roadless/uninhabited land of 1,750,000 hectares or more. Of the only 11 areas left in the world (outside of the poles and deserts) something like four were in Canada, two in the U.S. (Alaska), one in South America, three in Eurasia, and one was in Africa, or something like that.

The point is, or was, that Canada in many respects was the last greatest place left where people could see some relatively intact nature in big spaces to get away.

Since this was almost 30 years ago when the population of the planet was 5.5 billion versus 7.6 billion today, I suspect that this number is much, much less.

One of the largest intact spaces in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the Tatshenshini/Alsek/Kluane/Glacier Bay parks that form an amazing almost 10,000,000 sq/ha roadless area.

It is with interest that I saw the recent work the province had been doing promoting B.C. in China for skiing. I attended the ISPO China show for three years and presented at the conference in 2013 specifically focusing on B.C. as arguably the very "best" destination in the world for not only skiing but also for adventure tourism for the Chinese market and the international market overall.

Happily (hopefully) we may be seeing a fundamental refocus as we realize more and more that what is so rare is so very precious in this case. And the B.C. government needs to step up with a strategy that supports the adventure-tourism industries that have the best chance of sustaining this incredible asset, which is one of our greatest strengths — our outdoors and it's healthy ecosystems. At the same time, adventure tourism is providing jobs and economic support for our citizens.

B.C has a great opportunity and responsibility to the rest of the world to do it right.

Jayson Faulkner
Whistler

Your Whistler vision?

There has been great effort to work together as a whole community toward a vision of Whistler shared by both residents and resort businesses over the last 40 years, which built this wonderful place.

Right from the start there was a realization that control of growth would be needed.

Our new Official Community Plan (OCP) now needs stronger growth control to go sustainably forward. If the bed cap alone was effective enough, we would not have the congestion, housing and capacity issues we are already experiencing.

I wonder if the visions of our tourist-industry leaders and the rest of the community still align given the marketing efforts in China and elsewhere described in last week's Pique ("Provincial delegation to China highlights B.C.'s ski industry," Feb. 8) while this community already struggles with current visitation levels.

Many popular resort destinations have become overcrowded because communities underestimated the long-term consequences of allowing overdevelopment of tourist attractions. Google "overtourism."

My purpose for writing is not to sell you my vision of Whistler.

My main purpose is to encourage you to think about yours. Talk to your family and your friends and ponder your vision of Whistler 10 or 20 years from now. The Community Vision Forum is on March 1, with OCP meetings to be announced.

This community is at a point where I think it must be decided if we can find and maintain a sustainable balance that satisfies, environmental, residential and economic needs of a resort community, or do we want a more urban community where every opportunity for economic growth continues to be the priority.

I really do not see how we can have it both ways and I feel like we need to decide now while the choice is still in our grasp. I hope that enough time is given to allow residents of Whistler to decide on the future of their community.

With continued developments (such as) Vail Resorts has announced publicly so far, and with growth in businesses and projects already approved, I just wonder how the Whistler we see today will survive. Will the bedcap manage or control the increased visitation that is being planned?  I don't think so.

If I am the one that is out of step and the current pace of growth is in fact what the community wants then future infrastructure needs to be planned.

Think of all the community amenities, many of which are well used or near capacity already, which will need to keep up. A growing community will need more schools, medical clinics, recreation centres, grocery and other stores, roads, parking lots... everything.

How will these be funded, and more importantly, where will they be built?

On the other hand, if you feel as I do that Whistler is already getting big enough should we try to gain control of growth that those who started Whistler's development tried to include in the original planning? 

For the sake of you, your children, the wildlife and the natural environment of the valley please take part in the Community Vision Forum and watch for the scheduling of the first OCP public meeting.

It is my hope that no matter which future direction is chosen by this community that a clear and honest vision for Whistler's future is defined, and an effective plan toward that vision be created.

John Wood
Whistler

Cause and effect

While Ms. Ogden's letter titled "Help limit avalanche fatalities" (Pique, Feb. 1) presents some interesting statistics to consider and be aware of, I would like to point out some shortcomings in the way she has presented her findings.When analyzing a data set it is always important to remember that correlation does not imply causation, a common logical fallacy in statistical analysis. For example, the fact that "between 1984 and 1996, a total of 63 per cent of avalanche accidents occurred between noon and 4 p.m." does not prove that the accidents were caused by the fact that the time was between noon and 4 p.m. One needs to study the reasons that this might be the case. A possible reason, that daytime warming in the upper snowpack can have important effects with respect to skier-triggered avalanches, could be a factor, recognized by experts (Bakermans, "A solar warming model (SWarm) to estimate diurnal changes in near-surface snowpack temperatures for back-country avalanche forecasting." International Snow Science Workshop 2008, Whistler, B.C.).

But one must consider other possible causes, such as the number of people in avalanche terrain at any given time. This could be the highest in the afternoon, meaning more people are exposed to the hazard, which is a higher risk. If people left earlier in the day in order to get off the slopes by noon, they would simply be exposing themselves to the hazard earlier in the day.Another reason that has been studied is that people don't eat enough early in the day, have low blood sugar by noon, and can be prone to making risky decisions.It is also important to note that this means up to 37 per cent of avalanche accidents occur before noon, still a substantial risk if you are banking on time of day in order to avoid getting caught in an avalanche.I am suggesting that Ms. Ogden instead look at reasons why mid-day avalanches happen. This would allow people to apply these statistics at appropriate times, in appropriate situations.

In order to minimize risk, backcountry travellers familiarize themselves with the snowpack and weather forecast, and the specific concerns each day. They evaluate which slopes are likely to be safe, and if time of day is a factor for a given concern. As stated by Bakermans, day-time warming will not be important in every instability evaluation. It is also generally insignificant until around March."I expect specialists may have various reasons for not emphasizing time of day," stated Ms. Ogden's letter.

Yes, they do. It is never going to be as simple as being a go before noon, and a no-go after noon. Hard-and-fast rules are not appropriate for minimizing risk. Professionals try to communicate all of the potential hazards in the snowpack on a given day for everyone to use to make informed decisions. This might include information about the potential for daytime warming to cause problems, for example "warm temperatures and solar exposure will promote reactivity in a range of avalanche problems on Monday," and "travelling early in the day is recommended, as conditions can change rapidly in short periods of time due to daytime warming," from a bulletin in April 2017. Suggesting that staying off slopes after noon will prevent tragic avalanche accidents is simply not true.

It may even create a false sense of security in people who don't know better; that they are probably safe if it is before noon, without considering any other factors.Remember that statistics are a good tool, but some critical thinking is required before you rely on a statistic alone to make a decision.

Camilla Loughlin
Vancouver

Cap on ICBC claims will not save money

As a former lawyer, I read with interest the letter pushing for caps on ICBC claims (Pique, Feb. 1). Despite the prognosis that because the NDP minister in charge of ICBC, David Eby, was a lawyer he would not impose caps on insurance claims.

But this week, Eby did just that putting a cap of $5,500 on pain and suffering claims by those involved in "minor injury claims."

The justification is ICBC is losing money because those crafty lawyers are getting too much money for their injured clients.

For 30 years, I battled with ICBC. If I got a reasonable adjuster on the file, I could settle a claim quickly out of court for a fair amount and a little money in medical and legal expenses.

Sadly, more often than not, I had an unreasonable adjuster appointed by ICBC to oppose the injured person who, despite paying for insurance and not being at fault, was in significant pain that was messing up their life.

That unreasonable ICBC employee — instead of doing their job and minimizing costs to ICBC — would hire an outside lawyer who was paid by the hour to delay, frustrate or complicate the claim. Many a good ICBC lawyer would say to me they could settle the case but got unreasonable instructions from ICBC staff, which ran up the legal costs. Hell, if they fought with the hand that fed them, then next time ICBC would appoint a more hard-nosed lawyer.

The next cause of increased costs is that rather than using a staff lawyer paid a salary, ICBC appoints outside lawyers who are paid by the hour.

The more hours they milk the file, the more they will be paid. While there are many fine ICBC outside lawyers, the reality is the more time consuming they make settlement of the claim the more they earn.

The injured insured who did not wish to be injured and now seeks to collect on the insurance they have been paying for all these years usually hires a lawyer who gets paid a percentage of what an independent judge would think is a fair settlement.

The insured lawyer gets paid the same amount of the fair settlement no matter how many hours is spent dealing with unreasonable ICBC adjusters or appointed lawyers. It is in the injured insurers' lawyers interest to settle as fast as he can get a fair offer from ICBC.

Extra costs are next incurred because rather than quickly and fairly settling, ICBC instructs its lawyer to engage in long, drawn-out defense strategies and numerous court applications, and or, a trial that it loses.

The court awards the winner of a lawsuit some of their costs as an extra to reimburse for the time and expense wasted in this process. For example, rather than accept an offer to settle a claim from the injured lawyer of say, $50,000, a five-day trial results and a two-year delay occurs and then the judge says ICBC should have paid $55,000. Often, over $20,000 in additional court costs are awarded to penalize ICBC. So in this example, ICBC has spent an extra $25,000 that could have been saved by being fair to the injured who bought insurance but was dragged through a two-year legal ordeal.

The next waste of money occurs when, to minimize the claim, ICBC sends the insured to a doctor they appoint to assess the injury.

There are many fine doctors who can objectively interview the injured and opine as to whether the injuries are as claimed. Significant money would be saved if ICBC only hired practicing doctors who do their best to provide truly independent medical opinions — sometimes for ICBC and sometimes for the insured.

Courts generally respect such doctors over ones often hired by ICBC.

While things may have changed in the last seven years, in my experience, rather than appoint such a doctor, ICBC sends the injured to doctors who do not have a practice treating the injured and make over $50,000 a year doing medical legal reports for ICBC, usually to minimize the injuries.

I recall a file where I noted the same doctor in two opinions wrote the same text and came to the same conclusions almost word for word most likely using the cut and paste on his computer.

ICBC then goes to court denying a claim, or lowballing the damage value quoting these doctors. In cross examination to the judge or jury, the lawyer representing the injured will point out how much income the doctor made from ICBC and how little from treating patients. The judges in the decisions clearly often do not accept such doctor's opinions. But ICBC keeps appointing the same doctors and paying these large medical-opinion expenses.

An injured insured in an automobile injury has a right to have their day in court and have an independent judge award what is fair.

ICBC has an obligation to the taxpayers to reduce its cost and change the way it does business.

The changes proposed by the NDP will be unfair and not significantly reduce costs. Rather, the injured will be forced to limit the amount of money for compensation because another driver caused pain and suffering to $5,500 because some ICBC person defines the injury as a minor injury claim.

It might be minor in the eyes of ICBC but not to an independent judge. To say a panel of independent people rather than a judge will decide matters is offering those insured by ICBC second-class justice.

Does anyone think that to be appointed to this panel, paid for by ICBC, that many of these people will be truly independent in their thinking, or rather, will they be pre-vetted to make sure they don't have an insurance defense bias?

Already, we have ICBC trying to get most claims diverted away from judges to mediators, many of who are only appointed if they do not offend ICBC officials by pushing settlements that ICBC thinks are too rich.

At least under the present system, the injured can refuse the amount offered at mediation and have their right to convince a judge as to whether their injuries are minor or worth much more.

It appears this fundamental right to justice, to fair compensation, will be denied those who ICBC defines as being in a minor accident.

Further expenses will be incurred in the administration of this new caps system. It is avoiding dealing with the above noted more serious money wasting realities, which will continue to burn money at ICBC. 

Michael Blaxland
Whistler

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