Thousands of Canadians are expected to visit Whistler during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, raising the issue of where people should go if they need federal government assistance of any kind.
After asking the question, a partnership was formed among the municipality, Whistler Chamber of Commerce and Service Canada to open a temporary Service Canada branch in the village, which will be open seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., until March 30.
Member of Parliament John Weston, West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, was on hand last week to welcome the centre to Whistler. On the way up here he stopped by the new Service Canada branch in Squamish to find out how it was being used.
"Since we opened the centre in Squamish the numbers have been just incredible. We had 800 customers during the first month, 900 the second and 1,000 the third," he said. He added that he was glad to at last be able to provide service to more than 10,000 Whistler residents and thousands more visitors during the Games.
While the service centre is temporary, Weston says government will be watching the branch carefully to see if a case can be made for a permanent location in Whistler.
"It's good to get a foot in the door here, and when the experience is over there will be a discussion of how well it worked," said Weston. "I believe this is something that every community can benefit from. Until a few months ago when the Squamish branch opened people had to go to North Vancouver to get this kind of service, and not long before that they had to go all the way to Vancouver."
Heather Backhouse, the senior director of citizen service, B.C. and Yukon Territories for Service Canada, said there are many ways that people will use the service. For example if someone loses a wallet they can visit the centre to apply for a new Social Insurance Number Card or fill out the paperwork to obtain a temporary passport. Service Canada employees, who are fluent in English and French, can also assist with issues such as taxes, Employment Insurance, the Canada Pension Plan and other federal programs.
"This is a point of contact with the federal government, a place to get your questions answered, to pick up forms, to learn about programs, that kind of thing," she said.
Mayor Ken Melamed welcomed the office.
"This is not just important for our 10,000-plus residents, but also to the other thousands of visitors here during the Games," he said. "Amidst all the fun there is going to be a real need for these services."
The Service Canada branch can also answer questions and provide assistance to travellers, with information on visitor visas, working holiday visas, immigration and other issues that are common to Whistler given its international workforce.
The centre is located at 201-4230 Gateway Drive, in the round building beside the Greyhound bus loop in the Chamber of Commerce boardroom. The door is on the right side of the building from Gateway Drive.