Opinion » Maxed Out

Solution may lie in self-help this time



I'm not much of a poker player. It's always taken too much effort to earn money to see it disappear so quickly with so little pleasure left behind. But I'd like to sit down at a high stakes game with ... not sure who but someone at the RMOW. Specifically, whoever decides to show their hand to everyone before the game even begins.

That's pretty much what the muni did last week when Happy Jack announced the RMOW lacked the "legal authority" to pass a bylaw forcing retailers to keep their freakin' doors closed instead of heating the great outdoors and melting the white gold that keeps people coming here, and to their stores, all winter.

Aside from the remarkably naive act of showing their cards before the game started, I have some problems with their announced position.

First, is the ubiquitous legal opinion they've trotted out, much as they've trotted them out in the past—most recently to redact any actual rental rates submitted with private developers' employee housing proposals the second time around. I'm not sure where this legal advice is coming from but I hope it's not from the same legal beagle that forgot to file pleadings in a timely manner in the past. Come to think of it, the muni has suffered from questionable legal advice several times in the past and maybe needs to be reminded lawyers advise, decision makers decide.

An even greater puzzle though is the RMOW's anti-swearing bylaw. Yes, there is an anti-swearing bylaw on the books. I'm not sure it's ever been enforced but it's there. Freedom of expression—free speech if you will—is protected as a fundamental freedom under Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It was so protected back in the day when council, under the mayoral leadership of Ted Nebbeling, passed the anti-swearing bylaw. I'm pretty sure had they sought legal advice any lawyer who was aware of the Charter would have said, "It'll never hold up."

So what? And that would have been the smart move in this case. So what? Pass the bylaw. Warn businesses that keep their doors open. If they persist, ticket them. Let 'em sue. Really? They're going to hire a lawyer and go to court to press their "right" to keep their doors open all winter and melt snow? I'm certain that violates the first rule of public relations and the first or second rule of not holding yourself up as an ass in front of a public you depend on to stay in business.

But apparently in Tiny Town, the commercial right to assume your potential customers are too stupid to figure out you're open during regular business hours unless you have your door open is a greater right than the Charter's protection of free speech. The mind reels.

With no substantial data to back them up, that is the primary reason you see businesses in town with open doors all winter long. They assume more people will walk into their shops if their doors are open. Or they've been ordered to keep their doors open by owners or managers, frequently of the non-resident variety.

Other reasons cited have included wonky heating systems that make their stores too hot if they don't open their doors. That rationale is hard to support when you see their workers wearing coats. It's also hard to square with most commercial HVAC—Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning—systems. They're designed to work most efficiently with doors closed. One store's open door throws the whole system into chaos and it starts pumping out more heat to compensate.

Some businesses argue they've installed air curtains to keep cold air out and warm air in. I've passed by a number of open doors with air curtains installed above them. I don't think they're working the way they're supposed to because I sure feel warm air outside the open door. And even when they are working properly, they work best in applications where there is frequent entry and exit, for example the rental shop at the Village Gondola building. They amount to lipstick on a pig for most retailers who don't have a couple of hundred people go through their doors each hour.

And, of course, there are way more open doors with no sign of air curtains. For those businesses, it comes down to sloth, greed and a general don't-give-a-damn attitude. They are convinced their business will suffer if they close their doors and they are willing to melt the snow if that's what it takes to sell another tchotchke.

So, the battle lines are drawn. The RMOW lacks the fortitude to take even this simple, painless step. Far easier to piss off Western Canada's oil and gas producers than to do even the least impactful thing possible.

That only leaves self-help. And for the second time in recent weeks, I find myself in agreement with Councillor Forsyth. We should and shall reach out to the Chamber of Commerce on this. The Chamber has been at the forefront in stirring up community spirit among workerbees, with their Spirit program. They understand the value of having workers put their best face forward. Time to start prodding their members to do the right thing as well, in this case just about the easiest thing they can do.

And AWARE is a likely candidate to have a role to play, this being the definition of low-hanging fruit on the environmental do-good tree.

Perhaps one of our talented artists can come up with a compelling design for an attention-getting, universally-understood sign businesses can hang on their door letting passers-by know, in no uncertain terms, that they are open for business.

And we can—and we will—urge people to not patronize businesses who keep their doors open. Heck, this is the Era of Naming and Shaming. Maybe we should all just pop in as we pass open doors and ask them to please stop melting snow ... or just close their doors for them. You know, a project as juicy as this may be enough to get me back on antisocial media or perhaps urge someone to set up a Facebook Snowmelters of Whistler page.

Hey, I might even give over the last paragraph on this page to the Snowmelter of the Week. For example that activity centre who, ironically, sells all the very cool activities that are on tap in this town—all of which depend on snow during the winter—but which never ever closes its doors. Check it out. Its staff is generally wearing puffy coats.

On second thought, why not have readers send in their own Snowmelters of the Week nominations. Yeah, why not. Send 'em in, maybe include a picture, to Pique's editor at edit@piquenewsmagazine.com. She'll figure out something creative to do with them.