Opinion » Maxed Out

'Toilet Mahal' coming to a public place near you



I have this friend in Toronto. He and his partner are both successful lawyers, great people and good companions. They have a beautiful home in a tony section of town and a cottage on Georgian Bay. The word 'cottage' doesn't do justice to the spectacular, large, log home sited on a huge, wooded lot with magnificent views of the bay. That's context.

Like so many successful, wealthy people, money means something different to them than it means to those of us with substantially less.

One time, heading up for a few days to enjoy their company, I stopped at a roadside mom-and-pop farm not far from their cottage to pick up a few fresh veggies and some flowers. There was a nice bundle of small sunflowers shining like gold on the rough board counter. They were $10 and I bought a bunch. They were well received.

Two days later, my friend stopped there and bought another bunch. He didn't have a 10 so he gave the nice lady a 20, telling her to keep the change.

A day later, on my way back to Toronto, I stopped in to buy some to take home. The price was $20! My friend had gamed the market and doubled the price of sunflowers because of his indifference to spending $20 when $10 would have made the seller happy.

In a nutshell, that's the Whistler Premium writ small. With one major difference. My friend was doubling the market with his own money. The Whistler Premium is a legacy of staff and council, present and former, spending tax money.

Which is why staff, current, and Happy Jack have a special Valentine's Day present for all of us in the 2019 draft budget. One we're all sure to appreciate and love for years to come.

In 1988, Canada's Barenaked Ladies hit the charts with "If I Had a Million Dollars." It was a catchy tune where they mused about what they'd buy if they had a million bucks. Among other things, a house, furniture for the house, a Chrysler K-car, a tree fort, a fur coat—but not a real fur coat—an exotic pet, the Elephant Man's remains (creepy), really expensive ketchups, etc. Of course, a million dollars went farther in 1988 ... even in Whistler.

But circa 2019, Jack and the staff are going to buy us—and I'm not making this up—toilets. Million-dollar toilets. Several of them. Total budgeted amount: I hope you're sitting down, $3,052,000

In 1976, Earl Butz, who was U.S. President Gerald Ford's Secretary of Agriculture, was fired when word got out about a comment he'd made to Pat Boone, Sonny Bono and John Dean. You can Google them if you really need to know who they are/were but it's not important. One of them asked him why the Republican Party wasn't able to attract more black voters. He said it was because blacks only wanted three things: A tight (crude reference to female genitalia I'm sure Clare would edit out if I wrote it), loose shoes, and a warm place to defecate, although he use the more common word for that particular bodily function ... which I'm also sure would be edited out.

Well, if all goes according to plan, we'll all have a warm place to defecate when we arrive at Gateway Loop, stroll in Whistler Olympic Plaza (WOP) or visit the PassivHaus. And I'm pretty sure no one will lose their job.

The overlooked toilets at Gateway Loop, a.k.a the World's Most Expensive Roof That Still Won't Keep You Dry, will add $966,668 to the $6.7 million price of that monument to someone's ego.

New toilet facilities at Whistler Olympic Plaza are budgeted at a breathtaking $1,036,668 while the much-needed toilets at PassivHaus are a relative bargain at only $666,664. The remaining $382,000 is for professional services, though I don't know why they couldn't fit a couple of sixes in there too. Consider yourself serviced.

I have no idea what the Toilet Mahal at WOP might look like but even in Whistler it's a public toilet—stalls, urinals, sinks, counters, hand dryers, presumably.

To put the million-dollar price tag into perspective, let's suppose you had a building lot that was already serviced, that is to say you had water, sewer and electricity already on the site, not unlike WOP. Construction costs for a modestly upscale home in Whistler run around $500/square foot these days. That million bucks would build you a 2,000-square-foot home, which is much larger than most of you reading this—thank you both—are living in and, in my own case, have ever lived in. I've never seen a 2,000-square-foot toilet.

But that's the Whistler Standard, apparently.

To be clear, we've created that standard. It's a reflection of how carefully or carelessly staff and council has spent money over the years. How they've gamed up the price of things by over-designing, over-building and over-paying because, well, because we're special. We're desperate to put on a good face for the people who come here.

And, in this case, there's an added perniciousness, best voiced by Happy Jack when he said words to the effect, "It's RMI (Resort Municipality Initiative) money. We have to spend it on something."

We have to spend it on something. So it doesn't really matter what it costs, eh? Except it makes everything else the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) spends money on more expensive. Even the stuff RMI doesn't cover.

Some years ago, when the RMOW was festivalizing every weekend during the summer, they were booking bands to play as part of Whistler Live! RMI funds were paying for the lion's share. Another person in town who booked musical acts was commenting about how much more expensive they'd become because Whistler Live! was paying more than what they used to get and now, like the sunflowers, they thought that was what they were worth. And, in a very real sense, they were ... because a new market bar had been set higher by a bidder who wasn't spending their own money.

If you don't imagine this is important, dig into the history of Whistler Housing Authority prices. The escalation has tortured the concept of affordability and will probably take our breath away when prices for Cheakamus Phase II are announced.

Apparently no one on council challenged staff when the initial plans for Gateway Loop were revealed. No one questioned why or even suggested they were proposing the World's Most Expensive Roof when, really, all we needed was a simple shelter. The Whistler Standard Kool-Aid flowed freely and all drank deeply.

While I hope there might be some discussion about million-dollar toilets this time around, I suspect this too is a done deal and council will roll over and play dead.

So happy Valentine's Day. And remember, it's only your comfort everyone has in mind.