By Alison Taylor
With only four days to go to the federal election, Whistler voters were few and far between at Thursday’s all candidates meeting.
Roughly 50 people were at Whistler Secondary School to hear party platforms and meet the candidates, but that number included the candidates’ families and entourages. The real number of actual interested voters was much less.
“I’m shocked it’s such a small turnout,” said local resident Betty McWhinnie.
She arrived half an hour before the meeting was scheduled to begin in order to get a seat, but she needn’t have bothered — there were more empty seats than full.
The chair of the meeting, William Roberts, president of the Whistler Forum, was also surprised by the low turnout.
“Maybe their minds are made up,” he said after the two-hour question and answer session. “I hate to think that they’re just apathetic.”
When asked if the all candidates meeting swayed his vote, Roberts said he had been looking for a candidate who was ready to engage the public and really listen to concerns. He’s not sure yet if he’s found that.
“I really am desperately looking for a party and a candidate who is more savvy and sophisticated about involving the public in public policy,” he said.
All five candidates in the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky riding made the trip to Whistler for the event.
Anne Jamieson was there representing the Marxist-Leninist Party, Blair Wilson, the Liberal Party, Judith Wilson for the New Democratic Party, Silvaine Zimmermann for the Green Party and John Weston for the Conservatives.
By the end of the two hours there was no clear winner, but neither was there a clear loser.
The debate in some respects mimicked the debates taking place across the country, with the Liberal and Conservative representatives taking shots at each other’s parties and the NDP trying to come through the middle as an alternative choice.
But what was clear was the concern in the community for Whistler’s future, especially in the lead-up to the 2010 Olympics.
The candidates fielded questions from the four community groups sponsoring the event — the Whistler Forum, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) and One Whistler — as well as from a handful of community members.
Many of the questions were specific to the problems facing Whistler.
How can you help Whistler address the predicted labour shortage in the years to come, asked Mike Wintemute, representing the Chamber.
The candidates’ answers ranged. Blair Wilson said the resort needed more affordable housing and the country needs to expand its immigration policies to bring more skilled workers into the country.
Judith Wilson suggested more training and retraining, while Zimmermann pointed to the low employment rates among the Aboriginal community and suggested the government provide more training opportunities for them.
John Weston said the government needs to provide aid for people entering the trades as a way to entice them into that line of work.
Patrick McCurdy, representing One Whistler, asked if the candidates could help Whistler in securing financial tools from the provincial government or getting the federal government to transfer more money to the municipality.
Blair Wilson said the Liberals put together the New Deal that sees federal monies going to the municipalities. This year it was more than $76 million. By 2010 it is expected to be more than $250 million — long term predictable funding the community can use. The Conservatives, he added, will not commit to the New Deal, one of the main differences in the parties.
Weston urged his counterpart to get his facts straight, saying the Conservatives have a powerful commitment to provide funding to municipalities and cities.
McCurdy also asked Blair Wilson and Weston if they would promise to commit to additional funding for Whistler’s Olympic facilities.
Weston said he would not make promises to win votes, although he recognized this was an issue facing the resort and spoke of the government’s surplus budget.
Wilson also recognized the facilities were over budget and said they have to lobby the government for funds and make them understand that “green” buildings will see savings in the long term.
The candidates will be campaigning over the weekend in preparation for Monday’s election.