Whistler voters have issues upon issues to consider in this municipal election, including some very serious questions about the resort’s ability to provide current levels of services without a serious increase in property taxes.
But one idea that is getting a lot of traction through the campaign, in the name of economic diversification, is the concept of a Whistler University or a Whistler campus for an existing institution like BCIT. Some believe that it could help solve Whistler’s shortage of skilled employees, raise the resort’s stature internationally, diversify the economy, and provide opportunities for locals to pursue higher learning.
The main drawback for this idea appears to be the location. The Zen lands (a.k.a. Millar Creek wetlands, a.k.a. the last undeveloped piece of valley bottom not protected in parks with enough space for something this size) are an environmental bombshell.
Other valid points made against a university include the fact that it will likely come with a commercial real estate development to defray the cost, the possibility that it could place an additional burden on the municipality at a time when the budget is strained, and the reality that it will divert workers and beds from the tourism industry.
It also distracts from Whistler’s core industry. As Councillor Ralph Forsyth pointed out at an all-candidates meeting, Whistler’s should stick to doing what it’s best at, tourism, and any economic diversification should be related to diversifying the tourism experience.
All good points, all hotly refuted by proponents for an institution of higher learning in Whistler.
My reason for objecting is simpler and more selfish. I’m generally against any large scale development if it brings more people to live here, because I feel the mountains are too crowded already. The last thing I need are 300 students who’ll cut class every powder day to compete with me for fresh snow.
Besides that, I think Whistler’s reputation is just fine and the existence of a university will do little to enhance what we have. Remember, we just got a real library this year, after almost 40 years of steady growth and development.
Besides, until Quest University is completed and all of its classes are filled, and the Capilano College campus in Squamish is expanded and upgraded, we have no idea what the demand might be. Both those schools can claim the same amenities as Whistler, albeit with a much longer drive to the ski hill.
Then there’s the fact that Canada has enough post-secondary schools, some of which are already struggling to fill classes. Vancouver is closing elementary schools and high schools because there aren’t enough students in the city, with families moving to the suburbs, and there’s a general demographic shift going on. Do we really need to add another school, in the smug belief that it’s going to make money? At a time when people can take online correspondence courses for just about everything?