Opinion » Editorial

Whistler can make a statement to the world in 2018



So it's all over, before some even knew or noticed it had begun.

Sue Maxwell, Steve Anderson and Jen Ford are the new members of council, joining returning councillors Jack Crompton, Andrée Janyk and John Grills and led again by the very capable Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

There's little left to say about an election that never really got anyone excited. Voter turnout, as expected, was pathetic. Just 27.3 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots. In 2011 54.8 per cent voted. Only 69 mail-in ballots were received by deadline this year, compared to 397 three years ago.

Over the next four years we should come to know the new and returning council members a little better — through engagement with them as well as through observation — as they lead us through the alphabetical labyrinth of RMI, EPI, 2020, OCP, CCP and various other acronyms. Understanding these and how they fit into the whole of Whistler goes a long way toward understanding when and why your taxes may increase.

Exactly what's going to happen by the end of this four-year cycle is anyone's guess — so why not start the speculation now?

After a very successful first term as mayor, and having not made a mistake yet during her second term, right now Nancy Wilhelm-Morden would be a shoe-in for a third term in 2018, if she decided she wanted to be mayor for 11 years in a row. But she does have a life, a family and a career outside of municipal politics. Chances are seven years as mayor may seem plenty long enough.

Often Whistler chooses a new mayor from the previous council, so who among the just-elected and just-re-elected stands out as mayor material? The newcomers need a year to find out what they've gotten themselves into before any mayoral aspirations surface. Among the returnees, Jack Crompton is the youngest and perhaps the most enthusiastic. He's also competent, engaging, thoughtful and caring. In 2018 he would probably make a very good Whistler mayor.

But there are dynamics beyond Whistler's boundaries that cannot be overlooked and may come to the fore by 2018. Across the Western world, in industry, in politics and in institutions, efforts are being made to change the face of leadership so that boards and executives are more reflective of the diversity in our society.

On the political level, the greatest example of this came from south of the border, where in 2008 Barack Obama became America's first black president. And the end of middle-aged-white-guy-rule will be underlined if Hillary Clinton is elected the first female president of the United States in 2016.

So the 2018 election may be the time for Whistler to make a statement that it too is inclusive and progressive. Certainly Whistler has taken steps in this direction, electing Wilhelm-Morden its first female mayor in 2011 and then overwhelmingly re-electing her last weekend. And with Andrée Janyk, Sue Maxwell and Jen Ford onboard, women now outnumber men on Whistler council.

Voters have also shown that sexual orientation is no barrier to public office in Whistler, electing — with very little fuss — gay mayors three times in the previous century.

But 2018 may be the time for Whistler to send a signal to the rest of the world that it is truly a resort municipality of opportunity; that its leadership is demographically representative of the diversity of its citizens; that anyone can grow up (enough) to become mayor of Whistler.

To do this, in 2018 Whistler must elect its first snowboarder mayor.

Sure, previous Whistler mayors Ken Melamed and Hugh O'Reilly (before he was infected by golf) knew how to snowboard. But they weren't snowboarders anymore than Stephen Harper is a francophone because he can speak French.

Snowboarders — true snowboarders — are a visible minority; they don't change from a board to a pair of skis any more often than a Republican changes his mind. They make up about 30 per cent of snowsliders — a potentially powerful voting bloc — yet politically they are difficult to engage.

It has been a long, slow march to political equality for snowboarders, the descendants of surfers and skateboarders. At one time snowboarding was banned at some "ski" areas; at others there was a separate entrance for boarders, which they used after riding to the ski area in the back of a bus.

Whistler was among the first to recognize it was not a crime to slide down a slope athwart a single board and end this discrimination... Well, actually, Blackcomb got it before Whistler Mountain. But anyway, in 1995 the whole resort began to welcome snowboarders to the annual World Ski and Snowboard Festival. And so 23 years after the first WSSF it will finally be time to put a snowboarder in charge of Whistler.

Whistler's Founding Fathers were two-plankers (although Pat Carleton's skis rarely left his garage, which was also council chambers), but we have moved on and the world has grown from 1975.

It was more than 200 years ago that Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, questioned whether a representative body composed of "landlords, merchants and men of the learned profession" could speak for all people. By "learned profession" he presumably meant people who had spent years learning how to ski. The answer then, as it is now, is no.

By 2018 the council elected last weekend will have sorted out RMI funding, First Nations relations and affordability. It will finally be time for Whistler to elect a leader who can ride goofy.

Bob Barnett, Pique's founding publisher and editor, is re-joining the editorial pages to cover election issues.