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Province, Whistler detente

Annual convention gives politicians at two levels chance to lobby, network



By Alison Taylor

Whistler councillors are feeling upbeat after a week of networking with B.C.’s top politicians and their municipal counterparts across the province.

“I hate to say this but it was almost like a love-in,” said Councillor Bob Lorriman. “Everybody was getting along.”

Lorriman was one of five Whistler council members, the biggest delegation ever from the resort municipality, to attend the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Victoria last week.

“From the people I talked to I think we’re seeing a real mood of co-operation not just amongst municipalities but I think we’re getting good co-operation from the province,” he added.

In fact, Whistler’s oft-strained relationship with the province in the last several years was one of the things on Lorriman’s mind during the weeklong convention. He said the feedback from provincial ministers, however, is it’s a good working relationship. They may have differences and each take hard line stances on certain issues, but on the whole the relationship is perceived as positive.

“We will continue to work on strengthening that relationship but I don’t think there’s a problem there,” said Lorriman.

Mayor Ken Melamed agreed with that assessment, adding that fostering a good relationship with the province is one of council’s key priorities.

“One of the challenges is to educate them about Whistler,” he said. “There are some misperceptions about what’s going on here. We need to take advantage of every opportunity to improve their understanding of Whistler and increase their willingness to assist us when we go to them to ask for help.”

The UBCM convention gives local politicians the chance to meet with provincial ministers on top-of-mind issues. In a fashion akin to speed dating, they schedule 15-minute interviews to get their point across.

In one of those interviews Lorriman and Councillor Ralph Forsyth met Colin Hansen, minister of economic development, to discuss labour shortage issues. Forsyth called the meeting “super productive”, with Hansen suggesting Whistler work with Tourism B.C. to not only promote B.C. as a holiday destination but also as an employment destination.

Councillor Gord McKeever used the convention as a way to lobby for something near and dear to his heart — the Sea to Sky Trail.

He had no formal meetings set up with ministers at the outset but managed to introduce the idea of the trail to Stan Hagen, Minister responsible for Tourism, Sport and the Arts, as well as talk to Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon about a specific problem where the trail crosses the highway at Brandywine.

“Now that we’ve got consensus (for the trail) on the ground at the regional level, UBCM was a powerful vehicle for taking that to Victoria and getting it acknowledged, particularly within those two ministries,” said McKeever.

The convention was very valuable for both networking with fellow municipal politicians and getting introductions to the top cabinet ministers, said Councillor Tim Wake.

The UBCM culminated in a speech from Premier Gordon Campbell, which got a series of standing ovations.

In it Campbell promised up to $20 million to assist communities in creating or enhancing outdoor public meeting places, new financial incentives to help municipalities shift to hybrid vehicles and a commitment to work with municipalities to build more affordable housing for people with mental illnesses and addictions.