Opinion » Editorial

Next council must tackle 'the vision thing'



"Whistler will be the premier mountain resort community — as we move toward sustainability."

That should sound familiar; it's the vision statement for Whistler 2020, "...the community's shared vision and plan for continued success to the year 2020..."

Those who survived a seemingly endless series of meetings may recall that after three years of consultation Whistler 2020 was finally adopted in 2005. The council that's elected Saturday will be in office until 2018. Given the advancing age of Whistler's highest level policy document — not to mention the vintage 1993 Official Community Plan the municipality is currently operating with — it would seem prudent to review and update Whistler 2020 before it matures. But there's been little said about "the vision thing," as Bush I referred to it, during this ponderous election campaign.

Many people's eyes glaze over at the mention of Whistler 2020. It's a complex, layered, blue-sky document that attempts to put into words and numbers the community's values. And in an election scenario where the question on most people's minds is "are my taxes going to go up?" the blue-sky stuff tends to be ignored.

Still, three years ago candidates had to demonstrate some knowledge of Whistler 2020 — the policy that "frames community decision-making and re-imagines Whistler as a sustainable, low-footprint community" — to be taken seriously. This year most candidates are running on the coattails of the current council, even if they weren't part of it. Continuing the good work of the last three years is about as visionary a statement as we've heard from most of the candidates.

It's not that the townsfolk are crying out for a new vision of the future; hardly. But if the candidates are asking for the opportunity to govern the community they should understand the framework the community has established for decision-making.

Despite its abstract nature the value of Whistler 2020 over the last nine years can be seen in a number of decisions related to the Olympics and Whistler U, for example. Even though things like the Economic Partnership Initiative, Learning and Education Task Force and Community Cultural Plan have received more attention lately and are helping set direction for the future, Whistler 2020 has been the overarching framework for "social and environmental sustainability and a healthy economy."

But it was adopted in 2005, back when Paul Martin was prime minister. Whistler may have developed within the parameters set by Whistler 2020 but the world around us has changed.

The 2008 economic meltdown and the still tenuous recovery are one obvious difference. The Olympics have also come and gone, and as they fade into the distance so too does the province's apparent interest in tourism. Relations with neighbouring First Nations — which Whistler sought to strengthen through the Olympics — have changed in the wake of this summer's Supreme Court ruling on Aboriginal title for the Tsilhqot'in First Nation.

Less obvious but significant changes from nine years ago include the broader acceptance that climate change is real and will affect Whistler. As well, smart phones, the Internet and social media have revolutionized the way we plan for, choose and buy things, including vacations, in the time since Whistler 2020 was adopted.

By 2020 the youngest of the Baby Boomers — still the largest demographic — will be in their early 60s, while the youngest of the Millennials — the next largest demographic — will be in their early 40s. Meeting the needs of aging boomers, either residents or visitors, is something Whistler has yet to fully confront, but doing so would seem to be part of "moving towards sustainability."

Sustainability for Whistler beyond 2020 will also involve enticing middle-aged Millennials and, presumably, continuing to attract a new group of seasonal workers every year. How we do that is anyone's guess. But if we're not prepared to ask the question soon we certainly won't be prepared to answer it in 2021.

During development of Whistler 2020 a number of organizations in Whistler signed on to the vision, endorsing it and committing to work within its framework. "Partnering for Success" is one of the five priorities identified in Whistler 2020 to achieve the vision. Whether the vision still works for all of those partner organizations, or will work for them beyond 2020, is another question that needs to be asked.

Whistler 2020 also includes descriptions of success. One is that: "By 2020, the Whistler community has achieved a comfortable stability, in which a close-knit population of permanent, short-term, and part-time residents work and recreate, sharing their passion and life experience with visitors from the region and around the world."

The work that needs to be done to keep the community stable beyond 2020 will have to start soon, and the people elected on Saturday will lead the charge. However, not all the candidates have shown the capacity to tackle issues of this scale. Some want to micro-manage municipal hall, others want to revolutionize the banking system.

Vote accordingly. But vote.

Bob Barnett, Pique's founding publisher and editor, is re-joining the editorial pages to cover election issues.


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