Opinion » Editorial

Time to think elections

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It's less than four months to the municipal election.

Hello? Is anybody out there?

By this time in 2011, during our last local election when they were still three years apart, we already had a slew of people running for council, as well as two candidates for mayor — along with former mayor and long-term councillor Ken Melamed (now the Green Party candidate for the corridor), who declared his intention to run just a month before the Nov.17 election.

And there were issues on the table, too. Pay parking, the operation of the asphalt plant in the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood, concerns over municipal spending and municipal wages, pending lawsuits and an undercurrent of discontent over years of tax increases.

In this term, the council has held the line on taxes, and it continues to work on the pay parking and asphalt files — it's interesting to note that these were hot-topic button issues last election yet they have hardly been mentioned in the last year despite the fact that neither issue has been fully addressed.

The resort has seen record numbers of visitors again this summer, last winter was pretty good for most and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the in general the resort is coasting on good times.

Perhaps that explains the lack of residents coming forward to run for council?

At this point, only Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden has announced that she will be seeking the mayor's chair for a second term — a decision she thought long and hard about with the term moving to four years, and a busy and successful law practice to manage.

"I have the capability and the capacity to continue to serve the community and to provide good government," she told Pique in June when announcing her decision. "I know it sounds kind of dull and boring but I think maybe that's what people like in local government, some stability, some continuity."

Councillors Duane Jackson and Jayson Faulkner are bowing out of a second term; Andrée Janyk announced she will run again for council, and councillors Jack Crompton, John Grills and Roger McCarthy have yet to declare their intentions.

(The list of candidates will not be made official until the Declaration of Election at 4 p.m. on Oct. 20. The nomination period for potential candidates starts on Sept. 30 and ends on Oct. 10 at 4 p.m.)

Could it be that Wilhelm-Morden will be acclaimed? And what does that say about the state of our local government?

What I don't believe it says is that Whistler residents are apathetic about their local government, or the issues that affect us. You have only to read the local Facebook political sites to see that debate is alive and well in Whistler.

But what it may well indicate is that some of the issues now facing the resort are far more complicated than something like pay parking — and perhaps local government is only a small part of their solution.

Take the Official Community Plan for example. Years of work have had to be shelved while the RMOW, the province and First Nations talk it out.

Look at the debate around the Temporary Foreign Workers issue. Our Chamber has sent an urgent appeal to the federal government to take a look at how it is impacting, and going to impact, the resort. The resort needs workers, it argues, including ski instructors who speak a variety of languages, to draw international destination skiers (let's remember that according to the Economic Partnership Initiative report of Oct. 2013 destination skiers spend $350 a day in the winter compared to $145 spent by the regional visitor).

That same report found that fully one third of Whistler employees work in the recreation sector, food and beverage places represent 19 per cent of total annual employment and employees working in the accommodation sector make up 15 to 17 per cent of total employment.

That's a lot of voters who want full-time work at a living wage, and if social media comments are to be taken at face value many residents are not living that reality.

Can local government address this thorny issue? That's challenging. Any first year university course tells you that the economy finds its own balance and that government interference rarely works out for the best. Yet there are calls for the municipality to be part of a creative solution.

But as one Facebook commenter said: "I think the labour shortage is going to separate the poor employers from the great employers and the strong will survive."

Surely that is more likely to be the ultimate solution.

Part of the long-term equation in labour also has to include housing options — another issue that needs creative solutions between local government and other organizations, such as the Whistler Housing Authority.

In some ways, perhaps council is the architect of these challenges thanks to the great success of the festival program, along with attracting such things as the Audain Museum. This has lead to more and more people wanting to make the resort their home on a full-time basis squeezing the rental and WHA inventory of homes.

As usual with these complicated issues, the answer lies in cooperation between many stakeholders.

But a good place to start the conversation is by asking those running for election for their ideas and solutions.

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