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Politicians go the distance

Mayors, MLA discuss leadership in the short term vs. long term

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With approximately 50 cents of every tax dollar going to health care, and health care increasing its share of the provincial budget, the system is not sustainable in the long term.

But the issue has yet to be addressed - in B.C. or elsewhere in Canada - as politicians weigh the short-term political benefits of inaction against the long-term pain of overhauling a health care system that will eventually fall apart if nothing is done.

This yin and yang of short-term vs. long-term political leadership was on the agenda last week as MLA Joan McIntyre and Mayors Ken Melamed of Whistler, Jordan Sturdy of Pemberton and Greg Gardner of Squamish took part in a Whistler Forum discussion on political leadership - for the next election or the next generation. The Jan. 6 discussion drew about 35 people to the Whistler Conference Centre.

The forum brought out the human side of the corridor's three mayors and MLA, a side unseen by many members of the public whose connection to politics is often highlighted in emotional, personal issues of the moment, and in between marked by blissful ignorance of other issues.

This was a point several of the panelists mentioned.

"This is a public process but often people aren't aware of an issue until it's nearly done," McIntyre said.

"Once emotion enters the argument (it) becomes very difficult."

Melamed said the London Drugs proposal for Whistler Village, which dragged on for nearly two and a half years, might be the only issue in Whistler when people haven't stood up and said, "You didn't ask me."

"We often hear from people, but they're not necessarily in the majority," Melamed added.

Gardner, citing official community plans as an example, said: "I don't think we (politicians) are the ones deciding these things. The public has an important role."

Melamed suggested British Columbia has been "very progressive in looking long term." He noted that local governments are required to produce five-year financial plans, regional growth strategies and schedules for reducing carbon footprints that must be included in community plans.

Those requirements contrast with the "instant gratification" that much of society seeks, Melamed said.

"To make long-term visions come true, you have to satisfy people's short-term goals," Melamed said.

He used logging in the Cheakamus Community Forest as an example of short-term discomfort for long-term vision. He also pointed to public sector wages, which don't react to the market as quickly as private sector wages.

"A couple of years ago it was hard to attract people, businesses had to offer bonuses or incentives. We couldn't do that," Melamed said. "Our staff didn't get those bonuses."

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