Opinion » Maxed Out

Trading for growth?

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Stools — real stools, not barstools — have three legs. A tripod is inherently stable. Doesn't matter if the surface it rests on is uneven, crooked, rocky, or just plain wonky, the three legs of a tripod will find a point of stasis and sit without a wobble. Don't believe me; ask any photographer.

A fourth leg, on the other hand, really complicates matters. Four points of contact need a flat surface, a really flat surface. Anyone who's sat at more than one restaurant table understands. There's a slapstick routine that has probably played out for anyone who's ever attempted to build a four-legged anything. Despite measuring twice and cutting once, the finished product wobbles. No problem; just cut a bit off the offending leg. Measure twice, cut once. Still wobbles. Cut off a little more. Repeat until whatever you started with sits 15 centimetres off the floor... which, warped with age, turns out was the cause of the wobble. Start over. Or better still, head to Ikea.

Triumvirates, troikas, have been a cornerstone of political power since Romans figured out two's company but three's a better number to oversee things without too much hanky-panky going on. Borrowing from their bureaucratic commissions, Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great and Marcus Crassus formed the first triumvirate to lead Rome. But like scorpions in a jar, once one — Crassus — died, the other two fought to the death.

After Julius got the knife, Marc Antony, and two other guys whose names you can't remember formed another triumvirate to make Rome great again. That one didn't work out so well either.

The Allied and Axis powers in World War II were triumvirates. The victors could have walked hand in hand to a glorious new world order but neither Roosevelt nor Churchill trusted Stalin and he was too busy starving his people into submission to care.

So what's the lesson here? Triumvirates are very powerful forces... until they reach their goals. Then they inevitably eat each other until only one is left standing.

And what's that got to do with the price of passes in Tiny Town? Glad you asked.

Let's suppose you're Mr. Burns. You're fabulously wealthy but even more fabulously greedy and you own the only nuclear power plant in Springfield. But that's not enough. You want more. You want to, say, build a new, swank hotel and amusement park. But many in Springfield aren't sure that's such a good idea. Maybe they're worried about too much growth, too much traffic, not enough worker bees to staff both the power plant and the amusement park, not enough hives for the bees to live in. Whatever.

You've got three choices. All-out war, which you may lose, thus boning your chances of ever getting what you want. Purchasing approval of the gatekeepers through lavish gifts of graft, a strategy that's historically worked and historically blown up in the faces of those who've tried it. Or, finding powerful allies and forming your own triumvirate to bring added strength to the bargaining table.

When you're the biggest business dog in Springfield, you don't have a lot of other potential allies among the business community. But suppose you have, shall we say, convergent interests with, say, a senior level of government who, perhaps, likes the revenue potential of your development plan. That would be a good partner. Heck, senior levels of government are always good partners when you want to twist the arms of junior levels of government.

But who ya gonna call for the third leg of your stool? How about another government. A parallel government perhaps. An indigenous government who swings a, well, if not a big club at least has the power to make things happen... or not happen, as the case may be?

Now, if we were to leave Springfield and travel to Tiny Town, we just might find spooky parallels between Mr. Burns, the town's biggest employer, and the desires of Whistler Blackcomb to grow ever larger and wealthier and toss us all in the wave pool for a good time.

Knowing their revival plan was not getting an enthusiastic reception within the community or municipal hall, it might seem like a good idea to bring the province on board. After all, regardless of what happened Tuesday — I hate early-week deadlines — Victoria swings a lot of weight and feeds the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding pipeline, among other things. And, hey, why not woo the Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations to join the effort? After all, there's that outstanding OCP still twisting slowly, slowly in the wind.

And thus, we have the February Triumvirate and subsequent approval of the mountains' Master Development Agreement. Which begat the MOU signed a couple of weeks ago between the Triumvirate and the RMOW.

Now, to be perfectly honest, I'd just like to say, "Well done." Forming the triumvirate was strategic genius on WB's part. No, no, credit where credit is due. When it comes time to approving any rezoning plan for Renaissance or pony up bed units, the RMOW is going to have a harder time saying no to all three partners than to any one of them. And it doesn't take a political whiz to understand it's in the RMOW's best interest to work collaboratively to explore Whistler's possible futures.

But here's hoping there's some tangible benefit that flows toward the community out of all of this. Let's be blunt. None of the three members of the Triumvirate have the best interests of this community as their No. 1 priority. Money talks; bullshit walks. Whistler could grow twice as large and twice as busy and twice as gridlocked and the triumvirate would be overjoyed. It's all about growth for Vail Resorts, all about the one-way flow of dollars for Victoria and I'm not presumptuous enough to speculate what all the First Nations want out of this but if the Community Forest is any indication, revenue would be high on the list.

So what does Whistler want in return? There's talk of community involvement in determining what that might be and I believe the RMOW has the best interests of the community in mind. But I also believe growth is inevitable. So what do we get?

Low-hanging fruit might be a guaranteed continuation of RMI funds and far more autonomy over how it's spent. Might include the provision for more staff housing and a living wage on the part of the town's largest employer. Maybe more provincial muscle to help solve our transportation woes. A Cheakamus base? An Epic break for locals and near-locals. Green-lighting the OCP. Recognizing the tourist value of old growth trees in the Community Forest. Heck, that's just a starter list.

The game's afoot.

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