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Taking care of business

Pique asks the business community which issues Whistler's election candidates should be focused on


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It's a given that any election candidate worth a vote should have ample knowledge of the issues facing the community they wish to serve. But in a global tourism destination like Whistler, having a knowledge base that extends beyond the community's borders goes a long way, too.

As part of its ongoing election coverage, Pique is asking experts in a variety of sectors about what issues Whistler's 20 council hopefuls should be focused on heading towards Oct. 20.

For Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Melissa Pace, coming into Voting Day with "a global outlook" is one way a candidate can separate themselves from the crowd. "Someone who's not just focused on the community itself—that's obviously extremely important—but having a focus on global economics, because they do play a huge part in the way our economy grows or doesn't grow," she said. "It does tie into housing and it does tie into labour, and I think a global perspective is one of the key differentiating factors I'd find in a good candidate."

Unsurprisingly, Pace highlighted housing, staffing and transportation as the top issues on the minds of local business owners, and she reiterated the need for public officials to attack these challenges in a holistic way that takes into account the wider external factors at play.

"If you're a candidate that hasn't done your homework, that hasn't gone down the road of research and spoken to the people who have been here for many years, has not done their reading on what the BC Chamber has done or is doing, has not looked at some of the work the federal government is doing, or not doing ... then you're going to be spinning your wheels in trying to catch up," she said.

Between the lack of affordable housing, rising costs of living and a slew of new taxes, Pace said the resort's small businesses are feeling the pressure from all sides. "The businesses aren't winning out," she said. "You've got the employer health tax, you've got the (real-estate) speculation tax in other communities that pushes people here ... which raises the price of homes, potentially. We've got the Residential Tenancy Act, which is not in favour of landlords wanting to rent homes, so that takes additional housing out.

"So there's a bigger picture that's not just about our community; it's provincial and federal."

For the food and beverage sector, Restaurant Association of Whistler president Amy Huddle said restaurant owners are also concerned about staff housing, and she called for more affordable inventory as well as "a greater variety of styles of housing within that inventory" that addresses the needs of different restaurant employees in the resort.

She also lobbied for more nuance in the RMOW's new once-through water-cooling system bylaw, which received first three readings at the Oct. 2 council meeting. The bylaw, if approved, would require businesses to phase out their water-cooling systems—a small- to medium-sized unit can use up to 1,600 cubic metres of water a year, according to the RMOW—within a 10-year period.

"I don't think the council realizes the impact on small businesses with this. For Sushi Village, it means $120,000 in new equipment, so it's no light feat," Huddle said. "It's not realistic to switch new equipment, and my bias on this is that we're sort of being scolded for having these water-cooled filtration systems, when in reality, in order to have an air-cooled system, you have to have a vent. So for a lot of (the restaurants) that are underground, like Three Below, or other businesses that don't have that ventilation function, (it's not practical). They're trying to do a blanket bylaw and I just want to make sure that everybody understands the implications of this."

Whistler heads to the polls on Oct. 20.