Last week Pique ran a column headlined "Do Olympic critics confront their enemies?" by Jesse Ferreras. I would like to answer some of Jesse's questions in the article.
Jesse asks, "Have Olympic opponents ever sat down with VANOC and listened to some facts they can offer?" Through my work with the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), I've met on several occasions with VANOC, both with a smaller group in a personal setting to try and negotiate for the environment, and larger meetings where AWARE invited VANOC to make a presentation. It is, however, my personal opinion that these discussions have not gained anything positive for the environment, as I feel none of AWARE's goals were achieved or even partially recognized. This is my opinion alone and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of individual board directors past and present.
I have also attended several of VANOC's open houses and made a point of asking questions on behalf of another group, Whistler Watch. In at least one case, an answer given to me by a member of the Integrated Security Unit (ISU) was false. I was told that people with signs opposing the Olympics would be allowed into the venues. A short time later a document obtained through a Freedom of Information Request in Vancouver was publicized stating, "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas." This is just one small part of a much lengthier Games bylaw passed by the City of Vancouver that outlaws all sorts of free speech. It is difficult to work with organizations that are not truthful and open. We've been told repeatedly that Canada's free speech laws will be upheld, but the FOI demonstrates otherwise.
I also agreed to meet with the ISU when they called me, but told them I would only meet with a reporter present. The officer had to check with his supervisors and then came back to me, stating that they would meet with the media, but first they wanted to meet with me alone. Again, I stated that I would only meet with a reporter present. I have not heard back from them since. How can I trust the ISU if they are not willing to make the conversation a public one?
There are many groups in Vancouver who are critics of the Olympics that have also made efforts to sit down with VANOC and the ISU. Other groups have watched this and have decided it is not worth their effort when little seems to change.
Another question Jesse Ferreras asks is, "How can we take Olympic opponents seriously if they can't even query the organizers directly?"
Over the last several years I have worked relentlessly to ensure these Games have as little impact as possible on the environment, on social issues and on civil liberties. Unfortunately all my work talking with VANOC and the ISU has been useless. So, I've turned my attention to the public to inform them on the current realities, and have made the decision to look to future Olympic Games and see how my actions on the ground in Whistler can have a positive impact on the future of the Olympics. I believe that through drastic reform, the Olympics can become a true celebration of sport and humanity instead of an environmental nightmare that ensures the most vulnerable people in the host countries suffer and where civil rights and free speech are suspended, while large corporations make tons of money.
If there was a time for dialogue with VANOC and the ISU that time has passed. I call for all citizens of Whistler to make yourselves heard and to stand up for your rights to freedom of speech. I believe that we can do better and I believe that we will make change happen, not at these Games necessarily but hopefully in the future.
Education the ultimate stimulus plan
This letter was addressed to Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid. A copy was forwarded to Pique for publication.
There may be no place on the planet that has escaped the effects of the financial markets' failure. British Columbia is as exposed as any other jurisdiction. There is simply not enough money to cover the expenses we consider necessary. Yet, is this the time to reduce education spending? Education is the ultimate stimulus spending. If we can educate the future generation to be creative, intelligent, independent problem solvers our entire province and more will benefit. Furthermore success in school translates to lower social costs down the road.
Minister Coleman's comment regarding a lack of "blowback" from parents concerning the Direct Access Grant (DAG or Gaming Fund) cuts has rankled parents. This week I attended our school's first Parent Advisory Council (PAC) meeting and our first District PAC meeting of the school year. Some PACs have not elected an executive nor had a meeting. Nevertheless, it was the first opportunity we have had to ask parents how they feel about education and DAG spending cuts. PAC's throughout our province have taken a 50 per cent cut in the DAG (Gaming Funds). This cut represents approximately $42,000 in our district alone.
The cuts go deeper than just DAGs; your ministry has cancelled the Facilities Grant. Our school district will have to draw from contingency funds to pay for some of the maintenance projects completed over the summer; leaving only a small cushion for emergencies. Installation of a new boiler, expected to save $10,000-$15,000 a year at a cost of $100,000 - cancelled. A solar project at a school has been cancelled. The school district is required to be carbon neutral by the end of 2010. How ironic that we are cancelling projects that would bring us closer to this goal. We may be forced to buy carbon credits! A zero-interest 10-year loan from the ministry to support carbon neutral initiatives could solve this. Otherwise we cannot afford to move ahead, we will be stuck in a carbon-offset rut and students may also fall victim to the re-routing of funds.
What impact will HST have on the school district budget? Will all day Kindergarten be adequately supported when it starts next September? These costly policies are mandated by your government. On top of the cut to the Facilities Grant, your ministry has cut $100,000 from the rent paid by School District 93 (Conseil Scolaire Francais) for a total loss of $1.2 million to our school district budget. This renegotiation of rent affects every school district with an S.D. 93 program. How can you continue to ask for more?
In our DPAC's opinion, the timing of these decisions is poor and there seems to be a pattern. Has there been a September, in recent memory, that school boards have not had some kind of major financial policy change to absorb? How about a radical change? We request that school fundraising is banned and that all resources are henceforth to be supplied by the Ministry of Education. They can buy and install the playgrounds; buy the library books, text books to support new curriculum, desks, chairs and soccer balls; install computer labs; provide whiteboards, paper, art supplies and fund author readings and art programs. All items our PACs have purchased through DAGs, fund-raising and access to matching funds from generous donors like the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation. We are lucky to be a "have" school district with world interest bringing international students to our schools. Yet our board faces a major funding shortfall; what is the situation in the "have not" districts? Ministry funding of all matters related to education is the only way we can guarantee all communities have equal access to funding.
Your colleague's "blowback" comment was ill-timed for a fast response; we'll try to make up for that with the quantity of response. We challenge parents and PACs to respond, in writing, to these funding issues.
District Parent Advisory Council
Sea to Sky (48) School District
'Ask me!' launch shows Whistler's true colours
We want to thank everyone that came out and supported the official launch of the "Ask Me!" program, last Thursday night at the GLC. It exceeded our expectations with well over 200 people attending. The enthusiasm and energy was exciting as people rallied around the vision of Whistler becoming the most friendly, caring and supportive tourist community in the world. The world will be watching us in February and it is our opportunity to show everyone that beyond the skiing and other activities, there is a community that is committed to making their vacation memorable.
The overwhelming response to the "Ask Me!" program is proof that the residents of Whistler are ready to step up and show their love for Whistler in ways that has never been seen before....
Janis McKenzie, Whistler
Dan Perdue, Toronto
When the lottery winnings are gone...
Burning fossil fuels, carbon emissions and climate change are not problems that we need to solve. Rather, it's a predicament that we need to deal with.
Tens of millions of years worth of sunlight energy was captured in the making of fossil fuels - 300 years ago humans won the energy lottery with its discovery. All of our material lifestyle comes from this windfall and we're not about to give that up. At least not until every drop of oil, natural gas and chunk of coal is burned or left in the ground because it's too expensive.
Peak oil will be crossed as gold medals are being awarded here in Whistler. Peak natural gas will be reached about 20 years later and peak coal sometime before the end of this century. The question I've been asking lately: "What's it going to be like when the energy lottery winnings are spent?"
It's likely that you are either a believer in progress and that we'll techno fix (in good time) our way through this energy/climate predicament or you believe that without a drastic transition to renewables, the apocalypse is imminent. Both positions are trappings of our cultural myths. Net energy (energy you get out less the energy you put in) varies depending upon source. Light sweet crude's net energy is about 200:1, while wind is about 4:1, photovoltaic solar about 1:1 and hydrogen is negative - making it an energy sink, not a source.
Unless humans win the lottery again by discovering another abundant, cheap and safe net energy source, the next 200 years will see our lifestyles slowly go back to being much the same as they were before the discovery of fossil fuels.
As the politicking about Whistler's carbon neutrality heats up, envision your great-grandchildren skiing or riding down the mountain (if there is still snow). How did they get to the top? It's likely in the same way your great-grand parents did - by walking.
Winds of change: the next five years
November 2009 is the five year anniversary of "Winds of Change: A Healing Vision." The Winds of Change is a strategy of the Village of Pemberton and Lil'wat Nation to work on building a healthier future together. Broadly speaking, the strategy takes a harm reduction approach to the objective of increasing our collective safety and wellness.
In April 2009 both councils re-committed to the Winds of Change vision. At the same time they also agreed that a time to regroup was required to give the Winds of Change some new energy.
The opportunity to regroup is approaching soon as the Pemberton & Lil'wat Community to Community Forum on Oct. 13 will centre on the theme: "Winds of Change: 5 Year Anniversary and Renewal." This is a significant moment for the Winds of Change. How can we translate the political will into a sustained movement for positive change?
Here are a few ideas:
• Re-evaluate the 13 recommendations contained in the Winds of Change strategy. Determine if the recommendations are still relevant and feasible. Once these are set then it is imperative for the committee to stay focused on implementing the recommendations.
• Renew the community wellness indicators and base-line information used to develop the strategy. This information should be collected at least bi-annually. The information needs to be available to the councils, the public and be the basis for all harm reduction efforts.
• Place a stronger emphasis on communication to cultivate supporters and allies. Create greater awareness of the Winds of Change goals and projects. Sustain momentum by keeping Winds of Change "top of mind" in strategic partners that can collaborate on implementing the recommendations.
• Ask for more help to understand the issues. Committee members are not necessarily experts nor should they be. We need greater support and guidance from experts like the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, B.C. Centre for Addictions, Ministry of Health, etc. Once issues are understood we need to be a more vocal advocate for services and programs that support solutions.
• Without disrespect to anyone currently on the committee I think it is important to re-evaluate who is there and why they are there. Who is missing from the committee?
• Greater administrative support and leadership from the Mount Currie Band. While political representation from Pemberton and Mount Currie has been balanced the Mount Currie Band administration has not made this initiative a priority. The committee is not funded and to make things work we need to draw on the resources equally of the Village of Pemberton and the Mount Currie Band.
These are a few of my own suggestions. I hope our politicians, committee members, and other community members come on Oct. 13 having thought critically about how to make this work. Wanting something to continue is different than wanting something to succeed.
Dare you, Whistler
This beautiful Whistler bubble sometimes makes it hard to remember that there are places where people struggle every day through health and safety challenges, where grandmothers raise their grandchildren after losing their own sons and daughters to AIDS.
This is also a fantastic place where adventurous spirits from around the world congregate to enjoy nature and interesting challenges.
There is an opportunity to support grassroots organizations in 15 African countries that help care for people whose concerns are more basic than pay parking or snow levels. Dare to Remember is a Stephen Lewis Foundation fundraising program daring participants to do something extraordinary for financial support from peers and friends. All funds will be handed over to existing on-the ground organizations, supporting individuals affected by AIDS.
People of the bubble, I propose a dare. I will dare to wear 2010 Red Mittens anytime I am outside every day in February 2010, and during the Paralympics. You can support me, join me, make your own dare (and I can support you), and/or dare someone else. Each dare gets it own webpage - mine is http://stephenlewisfoundation.akaraisin.com/p/MaryAnnG.aspx .
You can dare to do something more epic (be on-mountain every day in December, shave your head), something more wacky (wear your pyjamas for a day, walk backwards for a week) or something that you've been putting off (not drinking for a month, quitting smoking or cleaning out your storage unit).
Your global network will be happy to challenge you, so go ahead, make a difference, I dare you!
Mary Ann Graebling
It's not pixie dust
I am a runner and run almost every day on Whistlers beautiful trails, paved and unpaved, rain and shine. I believe I have seen the entire flora and fauna Whistler has to offer - chipmunks, raccoons, snakes, bears, beavers and even a coyote. But one elusive creature has escaped me - the Whistler Poo Fairy.
I am led to believe, along with many others, that she must exist as I see the offerings alongside the trails every time I go out. Neatly wrapped white plastic bags full of poo carefully tied with a knot.
Now call me a skeptic but my lack of an actual sighting is making me doubt her existence. So all those dog owners leaving offerings could you please carry them to the nearest garbage - I'm sure she'll find them there!
Picture trouble; adjust your set
The "news" in Pique this past week was bookended by two equally inspiring columns that created a momentary dilemma until I saw the connection between the two. Both columns were "pictures."
On the first page was a professional snap shot of us "working" on climate change. If I could do it alone I would remove the "taxpayers" from the bottom of the picture. Agreeing we have degraded Nature and it might matter, if we do not remove from the picture of climate change "taxpayers" and the divine Economy we represent, there is as much chance of us reversing to the extent we can the destructive effects we have had on our environment as melting glaciers have of surviving the hell we have created.
On the last page was an artist's rendering of a future Olympic event. I could but I won't be painting myself in beside Max. Evidence confirms that next to "taxpayers" the greatest source of the conflict killing us are worshippers of gods. If I could do it alone I would also remove worshippers from the picture of humanity for as long as they are in the picture we will not be able to save ourselves. This assessment keeps me away from the church in which I was raised. If I painted myself into Max's picture I would feel like I was back in church.
Even so, neither will I be seen in a picture of protesters creating conflict with adherents or true believers who want to worship at the Olympic alter. I have changed myself. That is all I can do. I cannot change humanity.
Damp and somewhat disillusioned
As a serving police officer in Mississauga, Ontario I had the good fortune to visit Whistler in August this year to participate in cycling events for the World Police and Fire Games. I was so taken with the area, as well as the hospitality and friendliness extended to me by the Whistler populace, that I decided to visit again with a view to perhaps retiring in 2010 to this beautiful part of B.C.
On a damp Wednesday in September I took the bus from YVR to Whistler Village, intending to be dropped off at the Crystal Lodge around 11:30 a.m. When I exited there I discovered that the driver had mistakenly unloaded my suitcase and left it on the sidewalk at the Visitor Centre. He immediately returned to this high traffic area but the suitcase evidently had been stolen. The incident was subsequently reported to the local RCMP.
With ever decreasing optimism I asked around, anticipating perhaps that a good Samaritan had wheeled the suitcase in to the nearby Visitor Centre, but after some hours resigned myself to frequenting the village stores to supplement my sparse (and increasingly wet) wardrobe.
Suffice to say that this unfortunate event has not dampened my enthusiasm for your community and I fully intend to visit again in October, this time only with a carry-on bag on the bus!
My experience here, however, would seem to indicate that there are always individuals around looking to commit those opportunistic thefts. I would say to the suitcase thief that he might not want to wear my T-shirt from the North American Police Soccer Tournament (NAPST) that took place in Ottawa several weeks ago. That would be a unique T-shirt to Whistler!
On a serious note, I sincerely hope that this incident might serve as a caution to Whistler visitors and residents alike, especially as the really busy season approaches.