Opinion » Maxed Out

Now, the work begins



There's nothing in the world politicians of all stripes cherish more than a mandate. For those with a shred of understanding what representative democracy entails, a mandate is strong validation of the platform they ran on, tempered with an appreciation that they also represent all the people who voted for their opponents. For those predisposed toward ideological purity, it's fiat to run roughshod over anyone who stands in their way, notwithstanding their "mandate" may well have come from a minority of voters. Doug Ford is a great example of that, as is the orangutan ruining, er, running the country to the south of us.

But what if you have no mandate, yet occupy "elected" office? That is the position Happy Jack, mayor of all Whistleratics finds himself in. He's mayor without a single vote cast for or against him.

Now, to be fair, Jack's acclamation perhaps says more about the current labour market in Whistler than anything else. He wanted the job; no one else did. And to be even fairer, Jack would have preferred to have an opponent. He didn't want to be acclaimed mayor. He wanted to run, wanted to campaign. He would have loved having a mandate after victory.

But as it is, he doesn't have one. What he has instead is a relatively strong council ... and his one vote thereon. In municipal government, the mayor only gets one vote. The vote of each of the six candidates who won council seats weighs the same as his. There are no party politics at this level of government in this town, something for which we should all be grateful. Jack's effectiveness will, in the first instance, be defined by the extent to which he can get half or more of the new council to agree to implement any elements of the platform he kind of outlined before having a platform became irrelevant to his chances of getting elected. But he might do well to heed the platforms of those in his council who can truly claim a mandate.

The two highest vote-getters—despite the best effort of those declaring conflicts of interest were hiding under every bush—were Councillor Cathy Jewett and newcomer, Arthur De Jong, with 72 per cent and 66 per cent of total votes cast, respectively. They were followed by Coun. Jen Ford, for whom 60 per cent of voters cast a ballot. If there is a mandate to be declared, they collectively lay claim to it. The other half of council collected fewer than 50 per cent of votes cast, but with such a large field of candidates, it only took 27 per cent of the vote to fill the final seat.

Having spoken with each councillor during the campaign, one of the things high on most of their agendas is changing the governance model at the RMOW. At it's most simplistic, this might include things like fewer meetings held and decisions made in camera. It might include having proposed budget numbers ready and released in advance of public budget meetings so people can come prepared to ask some probing questions of council in the only face-to-face chance they'll have to do so. Might mean getting council packages out with more time for councillors and the public to read through them. It certainly means having staff deliver accurate information in public presentations.

And despite claims to the contrary, it means somehow overcoming the perception, commonly held among residents who pay even passing attention to what local government does, that the tail is wagging the dog. That is to say that staff—by which, people mean certain senior staff—and the CAO are running the town. Every time that accusation comes up, it is met with strong denials. Yet, it not only persists, it grows. Whether perception is reality or not is largely irrelevant. It is an issue that needs to be tackled in such a way people begin to perceive and believe it's not true.

In the real world, people are people and motivating them to do what you'd like them to do isn't quite so black and white as council-sets-policy, staff-implements-policy. If life were so tidy and leadership so easy, none of us would ever receive bad service in stores and restaurants, never be ignored by staff more interested in whatever they're doing instead of helping us find what we were looking for, and never have to take something back twice because it wasn't fixed right the first time.

To change this perception council has to be seen to be setting policy and staff have to be seen to be implementing it.

This, not housing, is probably the most important thing this new council has to tackle. Housing's easy by comparison. Changing culture is far more challenging. It's important because left undone, this belief that council is powerless in the face of unelected decision-makers undermines peoples' faith in local government which, in turn, undermines its credibility and ultimately its effectiveness.

One former councillor described a conversation with a senior member of staff thusly: "We don't need elected officials telling us what to do." Now, that may well have been said tongue-in-cheek, but Freud had a lot to say about the coefficient of truth in humour.

Whistleratics deserve a responsive, cooperative, transparent government that, the "Whistler Standard" notwithstanding, continues to develop the resort and community responsibly. We don't need more Gateway Loops where, from design selection to execution, decisions seem to have been made with no consideration for receiving value for money.

We deserve it because we turned out to vote for a government we deserve. The gross number of approximately 32-per-cent voter turnout more likely reflects nearly double that for resident voter turnout. We demonstrated a desire for consistency by returning all three incumbents. For careful, detailed analysis and an understanding of real-estate development by electing Coun. Duane Jackson. For a larger worldview, environmental credibility and consensus building by electing councillor De Jong. And for an end to frivolous spending by electing Coun. Ralph Forsyth.

So the election is over, Halloween and ski season is just around the corner, and it's time for everyone to go to work building a local government as successful as the town itself.

Get busy.


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