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Ralph Forsyth makes move for mayor's chair

Councillor comes prepared with priorities and goals in quest to lead Whistler



Ralph Forsyth has confirmed what many in town have been speculating about for several months now: he is running for mayor in November's municipal election.

He admits to having butterflies in his stomach just before finally making his decision public, realizing this is the stepping off point before several months of campaigning that could change his life significantly.

Forsyth is the first in Whistler to declare his intentions for the mayor's seat, though rumours are rife that others are mulling the decision too.

"It feels so compelling, so right to me, that now is the time, that it's of little consequence who the other candidates are," said a confident Forsyth.

"I have my plan. I have a vision for Whistler that I want to create and I'm moving forward with that."

That vision is articulated in detail on his website, But this week he shared what he is most concerned about and where he wants to direct his leadership.

In his capacity as mayor, Forsyth wants to play the dual role as the chief economic officer for the town, driving tourism and removing barriers to business.

"That's a fundamental shift from what we've had from mayors in the past - active, assertive leadership that's a booster for the town," he said.

For example, municipal government needs to piggyback federal and provincial trade missions overseas, to places like China and India, and entice businesses and tourists to Whistler.

The hotels and Tourism Whistler, said Forsyth, are not alone in the efforts to get occupancy levels at 60 per cent. That has to be a collaborative, collective effort from all stakeholders.

To complement the efforts to attract business, Forsyth also has a focused goal in delivering municipal fiscal responsibility.

He consistently voted against the Five Year Financial Plan throughout this term on council which implemented a series of year-over-year tax increases since 2009.

He explained that voting record this week.

"I'm criticized for wanting to count the paperclips," he said.

Not so.

"There is lots of opportunity for us to increase revenues and cut costs (at municipal hall)."

He points to the labour model at the hall, which he said needs to be reformed. That labour model, complete with pay rate increases, is based on six Lower Mainland municipalities for staff and management. Those need to be separated.

"That's our single biggest cost," he said. "I don't begrudge people what they make. They earn what they earn but things like... the ever escalating cost of that SOFI (Statement of Financial Information) list..."

Forsyth is frustrated that when he first took office in 2005 there were 35 municipal staff members making over $75,000 as detailed in the SOFI list for that year. In 2010 it was 78.

The municipality needs to develop targets to reduce labour costs.

But don't pin Forsyth as the conservative candidate focused solely on the economy and fiscal responsibility at the exclusion of everything else. He is just as committed to environmental and social issues as anybody else, he said, but without a strong economy Whistler can't sustain any of the programs it invests in.

The father of two young boys, Forsyth is often remembered for a passionate outburst several years ago when he walked out of a council meeting after his motion to negotiate for a long-term lease at the Teddy Bear Daycare was deferred.

"What about the families in this town?" he said, as he left the room.

When asked about that outburst, Forsyth shrugged. Effectively the motion to defer shut down any debate on the issue and that roadblock frustrated him. Remember, he added, this was a time of crisis in Whistler for families struggling to find daycare space.

"I'm not vanilla," he laughed.

"If people want passion and energy and enthusiasm, it doesn't come in a brown paper bag."

The concerns of local families are still high on his agenda.

Forsyth said if he becomes the mayor he will still find the time to coach his sons' football teams - one of his passions. Four years ago he started the boys' flag football for 6-9 year olds, and now tackle football for the 10-11 year olds. There are lessons there on the sports field that can be transferred to the council table.

"One thing I've learned for sure is that an enthusiastic coach can motivate a team to play well beyond its ability," he said.

"The other is being able to put my athletes in positions where they will be successful - if they are successful then they'll have fun and the team will be successful as a result. I think that its the same in any leadership position - set people up for success and you'll get great results."