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Maxed Out

Anatomy of Change – Part III

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by G.D Maxwell

Take heart; this is the last chapter… for now.

I’ve been having this recurring dream. Actually, since I’ve only been having it for about two weeks, I’m not certain it qualifies as a recurring dream so much as a current, if prolonged, nightmare. It’s not like the recurring dream I’ve been having for almost three decades now, the one about suddenly realizing I forgot to formally drop the Advanced Quantum Physics class I’d signed up for, hadn’t attended, never did any of the reading for, couldn’t even remember which room it was held in but somehow had to pull it together enough to go write the final exam the next morning. That one doesn’t make me wake up screaming any more but it sure screws up a good night’s sleep.

This recurring dream is more immediate, more terrifying, more spiritually crushing. Kind of like dreaming your country went to war for no good reason and it turns out you really have elected Bozo the Clown to lead you. Which seems apropos. In this dream, the clock on the wall, which is actually a calendar, strikes November. I arise on a cold, crisp morning to a fresh snowfall and the certainty Whistler’s going to have the earliest opening ever. And then I remember no one else filed papers to run for mayor and it’s still a race between yesterday’s man and the day before yesterday’s man. All I want to do is go back to bed.

Now, I’m pretty certain that isn’t going to happen. I’m confident Councillor Wells will take her long-desired shot at the top job; I’m intrigued that Councillor Melamed would entertain the idea; and I’m hopeful that someone long on skills and vision and short on council experience will sweep in and capture the electorate’s imagination.

But in evaluating candidates, here’s what I’m looking for, in no particular, strategic order.

I want a mayor who, working hand and glove with the new municipal administrator – whomever she may be – will set a higher moral tone of community service and exorcise the daemons of paranoia, indifference, hubris, and entitlement that my e-mails from disgruntled employees and pissed off residents suggest is so rampant in the management ranks of muni hall.

I want a mayor who will make working for the muni an experience so positive it’ll banish the need for unionized employees. But I want one who will recognize the legal and moral obligation to bargain in good faith with employees who have decided they need a union, instead of listening to outsiders – and insiders – who would rather jerk unionized employees around and either bust their union or make their individual lives so miserable they’ll leave in disgust.

I want a mayor who will investigate thoroughly, act decisively and speak publicly on the kinds of allegations contained in the complaint filed by Jim Dunn against certain municipal employees, instead of having the muni’s lawyers write threatening letters to the media warning them of dire legal consequences should they publish those allegations.

I want a mayor who will personally work closely and positively with the provincial government to improve Whistler’s standing in Victoria. We’ve mishandled a marvellous opportunity to do just that the past several years, years when the flow of tax dollars from Whistler to Victoria was one of the few positive economic notes in a bankrupt symphony. Why remains a mystery to me but with much of the rest of B.C.’s economy now buoyant, our leverage to effect change has diminished. We still need a broader array of financial tools; we still need property tax reform to recognize the imbalance between residential and commercial that defines such a broad swath of strata-titled property in Whistler and we need greater autonomy to influence development at our fringes if this Quixotic experiment in sustainability is ever going to get off the ground.

Speaking of financial tools, I want a mayor who will open a frank discussion with the community about just what the heck that term means. Candidate Nebbeling says we already have financial tools he delivered when he was Minister Nebbeling. Various councillors say that’s BS unless financial tools begin and end at jigging the resort tax. Aloha O’Reilly says Flash Gordon promised to deliver financial tools as a going away present but then Flash still claims he only had one martini and two glasses of wine in Maui. So just exactly what do the people of this town believe we need – or don’t need – as financial tools to move us a baby step away from our reliance on property taxes while not picking the pockets of our guests?

I want a mayor who won’t be so dazzled by the Olympics that VANOC winds up running roughshod over our community and saddles us with soul and money sapping white elephants come March of 2010. Why, for example, can they find the dough to plough 60 or 80 million bucks into a ridiculous, environmentally catastrophic, unsustainable bobsleigh track which will not only not be a legacy of any lasting value to the community but will, in all likelihood, be a money and resource drain until the day it’s torn down, and at the same time be unable to pony up more than half the dough needed to build the sledge hockey arena which, arguably, might have some value after the Olympics leave town? Did you know the bobsleigh event was cancelled at the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics when the town and organizing committee refused to build a track because they considered it a waste of money? Strange but true.

And finally, I want a mayor who will engage this town in a discussion and exploration of what’s going to happen when we, very soon, reach our self-imposed growth cap. Until now, the whole notion of limited growth has been hypothetical. We weren’t there. But we’re going to get there sometime in the term of the next mayor and two things are certain: There will be pressure to grow from both inside and outside the community; and, there will be growth just outside our boundaries. I want to know how Whistler is going to be the first community to ever effectively stop growing without declining. I want to know how we’re going to dissuade growth at the fringes so we don’t wind up with meaningless political boundaries like the one between, say, Vancouver and Burnaby. And I want to know how we limit growth without becoming a community of dark, empty second and third houses for rich bastards who will be happy to move on once the life is sucked out of this place.

That’s what I want in a mayor. What do you want?