Opinion » Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor for the week of September 18th

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Standing up for business

Members of our community have rightfully asked, "just how big" is this Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) issue for Whistler?

In June and July the Whistler Chamber surveyed its members to answer this question and 67 businesses responded — which is roughly 10 per cent of our membership.  Some entrepreneurs commented that Whistler should be going to greater lengths to recruit and retain Canadians, but many others were concerned that changes to the TFW program would seriously impact the bandwidth of their operations.

The results found that 36 per cent of our surveyed members' workforces are composed of at least 30 per cent temporary foreign workers. This has raised some eyebrows because it may not make intuitive sense at first.

The majority of our members are very small businesses (under 10 people), which perhaps puts the previous data point into better context — but we also assume some survey participants took a TFW proper to be equivalent to a working holiday visa holder.

All this preamble is to say: Whistler needs workers from other countries when we cannot find Canadians, period. Whistler does not particularly love the TFW program — even before the program changed it was labour intensive and costly — but we do appreciate it as a valuable tool in our recruitment kit. 

Far from being hyperbolic in our cry, we are merely standing up to let government know there will be unintended consequences with the recent changes to the program. And Whistler is not the only community in Canada to do so. 

So what is the Whistler Chamber of Commerce doing to reduce dependency on the program and help local businesses (not just members) attract and retain Canadians?

As the steward of Whistler's service strategy we have partnered with the University of Victoria to offer very affordable training options this winter season so businesses might direct resources into other things — like better wages. With stellar support from the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Whistler Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler we have a vision to elevate our local workforce. This world-class training will also be something Canadians can proudly put on their resumes to drive up their market value.

Minister (Jason) Kenney suggests businesses seriously consider beefing up training to attract and retain Canadians, so we will continue to be proactive in this area.

As a membership organization we champion the issues our members tell us are important — and we battle-test those advocacy positions against data and stakeholder consultation (even with non-members so as to achieve a fuller perspective). Our members have told us the TFW program is an urgent issue, so we will lobby on their behalf.

Val Litwin

Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO

Good service brought me back

Thank you to the business community of Whistler!

I just spent the last two weekends in Whistler and was very impressed with the level of friendliness, knowledge and courtesy I received from all the staff I encountered there including hotel, restaurant and other service staff.

My plans originally only included staying one weekend in Whistler but after such a great experience, I decided to return again the following weekend, as a result of feeling so welcomed and appreciated as a tourist in your community.

Thank you for appreciating your customers and taking pride in all that you do!

I'll be back!

Lisa Roberts


Supporting public education

I would like to thank Jane Millen, Carl Walker and Rob Neagar for their recent "letters to the editor" (Pique, Sept.11) with regard to public education.

As one of the Trustees on the Board of Education for SD48, and a parent of two school-age children, the current (and hopefully recent by print time) dispute has been a very difficult time for all of us.

Jane was my son's teacher last year and I can attest to her love of teaching. As she says, Public Education is for the benefit of all society and it is eroded when underfunded. Her point that: "We have a choice: we can spend tax dollars up front on excellent education, or later, on mitigating the needs of those who weren't lucky enough to receive an excellent education" is well made.

Carl Walker (Sea to Sky Teachers' Association) acknowledges the frustration and anger of teachers, parents and students. I would like to thank him and acknowledge him for his tireless caring and support of teachers and the communities through the dispute.

Rob Neagar brings up a good point that private schools receive as much as 50 percent of public school's funding and that this is unacceptable. While everyone has different needs, I would have to agree with him. It's why I put myself up for the role of school trustee — because I believe in public education and that all students have a fundamental right to an equal and excellent education.

Through the labour dispute, there has been much discussion of the issues at hand between the trustees and senior staff. Personally I have persistently sought advice and the opinions of my fellow board members to better educate myself on the issues. However the role of a trustee is to work for and represent their constituents to and as part of a board.

At its meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 10, the Board of Education unanimously agreed to endorse the BCSTA (School Trustees Association) position on ending the labour dispute.

The points are as follows;

• An agreement that is freely negotiated that can be supported by both parties going forward. While legislation or a binding settlement imposed by a third party would get students back into classrooms neither of these approaches adequately address the long-term issues facing the education system.

• Boards of Education have repeatedly expressed the need for flexibility on class size and composition. Rigid numbers set in a contract make it very difficult to accommodate individual learning needs at the school level.

• The Learning Improvement Fund (LIF) provides a flexible way to provide additional learning supports in classrooms where needed. BCSTA has called on the government to increase the LIF funding beyond the $75 million already in the 2014-2015 budget. The LIF must be increased to address class size and composition issues.

• BCSTA believes that while teachers deserve an increase in compensation it needs to be comparable to those accepted by other B.C. public sector unions and realistic given the provincial government's existing economic mandate.

• BCSTA urgently and continuously calls for increased funding for B.C.'s public education system.

• When a settlement is reached it must be fully funded by government.

While we may not all agree on the specific aspects of each party's current position, trustees, teachers, administrators and parents agree that we need students back in the classroom now.

I would like to thank our superintendent and senior staff for their tireless work, in working with teachers, staff and administrators not to mention parents and students through this difficult time — and I would like to thank all of our valued teachers from the bottom of my heart for standing up for public education, for their passion for what they do and for the sacrifices they have made over the last three months, including not being paid.

As a trustee I am very proud of all we have accomplished over the last three years particularly with respect to our "Pathways to Learning Education Plan." Seeing this in action in our schools is highly rewarding and seeing the growth both in and of our district through great leadership is inspiring.

Rachael Lythe


Taking funding from private schools not necessarily the answer

Rob Neaga takes up an oft heard refrain when it comes to public education, that the government's partial grant to students of private and independent schools should stop, with the saved money redirected to public education (Pique "letters to the editor," Sept.11).

This argument works if one assumes that the total number of children in the public school system will not increase with that change in policy. By my quick calculations, the sweet spot is 50 per cent: If 50 per cent of children now in private and independent school were to go to the public system, the amount of money per public school student would remain what it currently is.

If that number increased to more than 50 per cent of children, the amount available per public school child would decrease from the current rate.

Of course, the lowest amount per child would result if all children in B.C. were taught in public schools (all of this assumes the overall budget remains the same).  

From my experience, parents of children in private and independent schools make sacrifices to pay for their children's education. There is a distinct possibility that half, or more, of them would move their children back to the public system.  

Mark Mehrer


GranFondo thanks

On behalf of the nearly 4,000 cyclists who had the privileged of cycling through Sea to Sky country, I thank-you for welcoming them with enthusiasm.

Your support and participation on (our) one-day endeavour is important, as it enhances the international reputation of Whistler as a lifestyle and cycling destination capital.

Neil McKinnon, Founder and President

GranFondo Canada

Frustration over recreation policy

I am writing to express my frustration over swim class accessibility. I understand that there are larger issues at play between Whistler and Pemberton municipalities; however, I am frustrated that my daughter will have no chance at swimming this fall/winter.

I looked up Saturday to see how many spaces were left available for "non-residents" (a term I find ridiculous) and found zero spots available for Sat/Sun for fall or winter. Is there any way to add a class or two or three even for Sat/Sun for fall/winter for the three- to five-year-old age groups?

Just so you know, I know that this bigger issue needs to be resolved with mostly the Pemberton local government and I intend to make it an issue in the upcoming election.

I also think its silly to impose a 33 per cent surcharge plus a week waiting period. Take away the week waiting period, so we have a fair chance if we are paying more.

I am OK with user fees; however, I do think the municipality of Pemberton should pay to help subsidize what we all know most of Pemberton uses — the pool and arena!

I am sure I am not the only one to voice my opinion on this. I just feel it's a bit of strong arming between governments, and at the end of the day it is local Pemberton families (and most of these parents work in Whistler) that can't afford to buy in Whistler, that are suffering. It's ridiculous.

What are our choices? How can I help to make change happen because this is not working, at least for Pemberton residents? It's also leaving a bitter taste in my mouth about Whistler. I think we can all get along, can't we?

(See related story on page 24)

Bree Thorlakson


Adios Muchachos!

It is with a heavy heart, and an enthusiastic pen sitting here on a beach watching the sun set on the Pacific Ocean for the last time in a while, that I write this letter to you, the good people of Whistler.  

Twenty years ago I was sitting in a Grade 10 Career and Personal Planning Course, in a classroom full of career keeners itching to find their path down society's acceptable model — go to college, get a career, get married, buy a house, have kids and live happily ever after.

I was the guy sitting there reading a Powder Magazine article about four ski bums who had disenfranchised themselves from this acceptable model of society, and had kept the "dream" alive well into their 30s.

Shortly after finishing the article the magazine was quickly snapped up from my textbook and tossed in the trash with the teacher lecturing me on how "I shouldn't waste my time with that garbage."

In my opinion to this day, I couldn't describe how wrong he was. I wrote my first and only "letter to the editor" at Powder Magazine shortly thereafter and they published it. It said, "Thank you for helping me choose my career path." - Ryan McKeeman, Grade 11 student, Comox, B.C.

I moved to Whistler shortly after high school on a college work term in Hotel/Restaurant administration, 30 per cent because it was a good path, but 70 per cent because I wanted to ski. I had a dream to ski professionally, travel the world, and to live a fulfilled life of enjoyment, in pursuit of happiness. Conveniently Whistler had a lot of restaurants and hotels to fund this lifestyle.

Fast forward 15 years and I want to revisit the path I took away from the traditional model of society and how we are all winning as people in this town. We have all moved here in search of a more fulfilled life of adventure, quality of life, and ultimately — success.

We are all bred by the "Career and Personal Planning Program" to follow the conventional role in society because that's how its supposed to be. People have been bulldozed into a career that they find financially rewarding, but (many) are not happy with their lifestyle. How many people have come here on vacation and "never wanted to leave?"

The beauty of this town is that most of us stray from that model role in society to find happiness in what we like to do — what a lot of people wish they could have done. A career should not be what we do, but it should be the means of doing what we love.

To all the university degree holders that are working jobs they are severely overqualified for, in the name of a better quality of life, I applaud your decision and encourage you to stick with it 110 per cent.

We are in the greatest town on the planet with far more life enriching experiences right out our back door than most people could experience in a lifetime. Don't ever take that for granted.

We are also surrounded with world champions, Olympic gold medallists, professionals in the sports we love, yet we work alongside them, play recreation-league sports and rub shoulders with them like regular people.

Whistler encompasses greatness at all levels. We are all champions in life, because we do what we love and it defines the people that make Whistler what it is.

I have made lifelong friends, and had lifetime experiences I will always cherish. The first person I met 15 years ago is still the first person I call for a surf trip, and I am grateful for a community like that.

Twenty years ago I had a dream, and today I believe I have fully accomplished that and much more. Through the good people and connections within this town I have manifested another dream I have decided to pursue in Toronto.

It's a big change, but I am excited to pursue the next dream, get outside "the bubble" and challenge myself on a whole other level.  

In my 15 years, I've had only one bad landlord, and the rest have been incredible people. I have had the pleasure of working for some top-notch companies and people, had some incredibly amazing jobs, and fortunately never once had to pay for a (mountain) pass.

I've pinched myself numerous times, but have never woken up.

I'd especially like to thank Chris Prior for listening and believing in me. It was a true honour to help build the Prior ski brand to what it is today, and to live out my dreams skiing on something I had a hand in designing. I cannot even begin to describe how good that feels. Much love.

For now, I am leaving Whistler on a high note, with a positive outlook, a tank full of determination, and a goal for the future.

In the meantime, keep doing what you love, work hard, and cherish the lifestyle you all live. Thank you all for being who you are, and I hope to see you again.

Ryan McKeeman

Formerly of Whistler

A day of fun inspired by nature

On the last weekend of August the sun shone and something special happened in Rebagliati Park, as Whistler locals and visitors came out to be inspired by nature.

Live music, nature crafts, old-school games and Whistler's inaugural Vegan BBQ Contest shared the park with Whistler's environmentally focused non-profits in a coming together of all things eco-positive.  

Crafty By Nature was organized by Whistler's Environmental Charity, AWARE in partnership with the RMOW's annual EnviroFest and with support from the Community Foundation of Whistler's Environmental Legacy Fund.

As part of AWARE's 25th anniversary we had wanted to hold a celebratory event that was free and open to all. Nature crafts were by donation, with line-ups for the bird and bat box building even before the event started.

Sharing the event with all of the non-profits that work for the betterment of Whistler's natural environment in the treed surrounds of this riverside park made for a great grassroots vibe that pulled over 700 people into the event.

One of the greatest successes was the Vegan BBQ Contest where the Four Seasons, Whistler Blackcomb and Gardein battled for the title of vegan slider champ.  Interestingly, Gardein won with their replica chicken slider, but rest assured no chickens were harmed in the making of these particular sliders.

Both Whistler Blackcomb and the Four Seasons blew people away with their homemade vegan options, which were both delicious and nutritious and had many omnivores exclaiming that they didn't know vegan food would be so tasty! The time, energy and food that went into this is all thanks to Wolfgang and his WB team, Tory and his Four Seasons team and Christine and team Gardein — thank you all from the bottom of our tummys!

There are too many thank yous to list, as so many local businesses stepped up to donate prizing, equipment and time to this event, but there are some that have to be mentioned: Suzann Rowden volunteered to help organize the event and gave so much time and energy, even roping in her partner Paul of Cloudy Mountain Construction who came to the event with 70 bird and bat box kits!

Hayley Ingham of Whistler's vegan society, Earthsave, was a driving force behind the vegan BBQ contest and thanks Wolfgang, Tory and Christine and all their BBQ teammates for being so fun while getting everyone fed.

Thanks also to Tina Symko of the RMOW who was invaluable in helping organize the event and Joanna Runicman for pounding the pavement to source tents and prizes from so many local businesses.

To all those who gave their time to run booths / help with set up / the event itself / to tear down of which there were over 25 people — whether you gave hours or days, we literally couldn't have done it without you!

Thank you all so much – what a great way to celebrate 25 years!

Clare Ruddy on behalf of the AWARE Board of Directors

(Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment)