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What's life like in Whistler, asks annual municipal survey

Questions range from housing, to services, to trust



It's time for Whistler residents to speak out about what they like and don't like about the community and its services in the seventh Community Life Survey, just now getting underway.

Market researchers, the Mustel Group, will conduct 500 random phone interviews of 300 full-time residents and 200 second-home owners. It is hoped that around 200 people would also participate online.

Dan Wilson, in charge of tourism business and monitoring for the Whistler Centre for Sustainability, said there were a few new questions this year, centering on communications and municipal building and development services.

He said that in 2012 the most important issues to respondents included housing, RMOW operational concerns, the economy, the environment and transportation.

Wilson said the survey is just one part of a comprehensive monitoring program, with a budget of between $20,000 and $25,000. The two main goals of the survey, he added, were to measure and track community progress toward Whistler 20/20, and to track RMOW corporate performance and budget questions and how they play in the community.

Communications and community input is also important, depending on the year, he said.

"I think it has contributed significantly to policy over the years, and also private enterprise and research about the community and learning. These are the three main users, municipal staff, businesses and students and researchers typically doing work for business or the municipality," Wilson said.

He said dissatisfaction with housing in Whistler was a topic that had shifted in interest over the years, with 40 per cent of respondents calling it an important issue in 2008 and 2009, but this number dropped down to five per cent in 2012.

"The survey fills a niche in really getting at information and data you couldn't get in any other way," Wilson said, citing the demise of the federal long-form census, which used to be put out by Statistics Canada as impeding the collection of information.

"More and more communities are doing this. And the fact that we've got five to seven years of longitudinal data is actually pretty useful now, given that the folks working with the census are saying it's really hard to look at the National Household Survey."

Wilson said getting the information at the micro-level in a small community is another reason to do it.

"Because this is a broad-brush survey, it often leads to seeking out other surveying or other types of feedback to get more insight into something," he said.

"There was a question last year that spoke to how to manage (financial) reserves in a municipal setting. Should we save for future costs plus inflation, or future costs based on today's costs and not save and let people in the future pay for it... it's checking in and sometimes you keep the same policy," he said.

"And for years we've been tracking recreation and leisure and that scores very high for overall satisfaction, but when you look at a good chunk of the community that is only somewhat satisfied versus very satisfied, the municipality knew it could target that in its leisure masterplan this year to improve those services."

He said it gave the RMOW a better sense of what is missing.

Said Whistler mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden: "The survey is in our decision-making, everything from budget line items to the performance of the municipal council itself to issues of concern for second-homeowners. It really is a critical piece of information."

Public trust in local government had jumped 20 points between 2010 and 2012, rising from around 47 per cent to 69 per cent.

There was no survey in 2011. The monitoring began in 1994, with the survey introduced 10 years later when the program was realigned with Whistler 20/20.

The survey results will be presented to Whistler council later this year. A web version of the survey will also be available for residents at the end of September.

To view surveys from previous years, visit: