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Treat taxpayers like shareholders, businesses tell municipality

Entrepreneurs want local government to listen more to community voices



Leaders in the resort municipality need to listen more closely to community ideas.

So say business people who attended a breakfast meeting last Friday at the Wild Wood Cafe convened by mayoral candidate Ralph Forsyth. It drew 11 people to talk about economic activity and what the resort municipality can do to help promote it around the community.

Ben Thomas of VIP Mountain Holidays, a private concierge service, said he wants the municipality to treat its taxpayers more like shareholders.

"I believe we as taxpayers and residents and users of the community services are shareholders and the clients and customers of the municipality, and it appears to me that that's not actually the case," he said.

"And the same with the businesses. The businesses are customers and clients of the municipality, that's my view, and it doesn't seem that this view is shared by the hall.

"What I would like to see is that, when you're vetting a policy, that it goes through the checklist, does this go with Whistler2020, does this increase our shareholder value, our shareholders being all of us."

Forsyth said he agreed "100 per cent" with that statement and added that similar feelings have come to him "loud and clear" with other community stakeholders.

"If we didn't explain to shareholders where the value was coming from, or why we made this investment, then they have questions and they don't understand why we did it," he said.

"Part of that is a communications strategy and gathering support for our initiatives before we announce them.

"So when we announce a policy decision, why aren't we going to the Chamber or Tourism Whistler and asking what they think of it, and then taking that feedback away and saying, 'This is what we're doing, here's why we're proceeding with the changes you suggested and here's why we can't proceed with the changes you suggested,' so that everybody's on the same page."

Forsyth is interested in setting up an Economic Development Advisory Panel, similar to one set up in the City of Surrey that would help the Resort Municipality of Whistler inform the policy decisions of its council. The panel has helped get Surrey recognized as a prosperous municipality and Forsyth wonders whether the same can be done for Whistler.

Marvin Haasen, a co-owner of Dairy Queen in Whistler Village, pointed out that a similar initiative had been carried out in Whistler already: a Business Enhancement Committee with representation from various stakeholders.

"It had Tourism Whistler, Whistler Blackcomb, municipal representatives, councillors, small business landlords, and actually senior (RMOW) staff would often come in and bounce ideas off of us," he said.

"We had this wonderful committee that represented all interests with really good people on it. ...I have a feeling that the internal politics at city hall stopped this committee because I think they were afraid of what they were hearing. For example, pay parking, we stood against it."

As it stands, the municipality may already be taking steps to listen more closely to the community when it comes to fostering economic activity. Forsyth complimented Mike Furey, the municipality's new administrator, at the meeting for taking steps to engage with groups like the Whistler Chamber of Commerce to get their ideas on how to stimulate business in town.

Vacation property manager Diane Maskell agreed, saying the new leadership that the municipality is seeing encourages her.

"I'm very encouraged by the fact (Forsyth) finds the new CAO very open and amenable and on the same page," she said, "because I think that's a huge factor in why municipal hall hasn't been more responsive to our needs."