With less than two weeks until voters head to the polls, Whistler's 20 candidates for council are officially in the homestretch after the Oct. 9 all-candidates meeting—the last of the three to be held.
Seventeen of 20 candidates were on hand for the meeting (held at Whistler Secondary School and hosted by WORCA): Gord Annand, Lance Bright, David Buzzard, Arthur De Jong, Larry Falcon, Jen Ford, Ralph Forsyth, John Grills, Duane Jackson, Cathy Jewett, Miroslav Kolvek, Janice Lloyd, Jeff Murl, Ira Pettle, Brian Reid, Melanie Tardif and Dawn Titus (Steve Andrews, Nathan Hawkins and Tova Jamernik were absent).
Unlike the first two all-candidates meetings, the Oct. 9 affair was held in a speed-dating format, with each candidate (as well as acclaimed Mayor Jack Crompton) rotating through 18 tables for five-minute roundtable sessions.
The tables were full, and the more personal format was well received.
"It was very interesting to be able to engage with the candidates one on one and get more of an unfiltered answer when the spotlight wasn't on them in front of a large crowd, and there was a lot of more personalized answers. I liked it," said Ryan Nadeau, adding that the candidates provided a "total mixed bag" in terms of their answers.
"I felt like there was some candidates who absolutely could not answer some of the questions, and then there was some candidates who were very to the point, had direct answers and were able to answer very succinctly the questions that were asked."
His vote is now solidified, Nadeau added.
Brad Nichols liked the format for allowing him to get a sense of how approachable the candidates are.
"If you do have questions and concerns, having someone that is approachable I think is very important," he said. "Seeing that in this kind of environment is great."
The occupants at each table took advantage of the format to ask many of the same direct questions, like Nikki Best, who asked each candidate about their nomination forms and potential conflicts of interest.
Claire Ruddy of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, meanwhile, asked each candidate for their stance on how to address climate change locally, referencing a new United Nations report that says humans have just 12 years to make massive changes to global energy infrastructure to limit the effects of global warming.
"It's a great format to come at the end of all of the other all-candidates meetings, because you do get to delve deeper into the conversations," Ruddy said.
"You get to see how much of an understanding each of the candidates have as to the role of council and the function of council, and what you can bring to that as an individual."
The meeting also reaffirmed the position of Johnny Mikes.
"I would say having attended both the other all candidates meetings, tonight didn't change my mind on anybody," he said.
"It just confirmed where I was going based on the information I had to date."
If the crowd at the second all-candidates meeting on Oct. 3 was any indication, many other Whistler voters already have their ballots filled out as well—while the night started with another full theatre at the Maury Young Arts Centre, the audience had dwindled to a few dozen faithfuls before the meeting was over.
Where social issues like mental health took centre stage at the first meeting, housing was the hottest topic on Oct. 3, with candidates being asked for their thoughts on how to fund the next phase of Cheakamus Crossing, their medium and long-term housing goals, illegal nightly rentals and keeping rental rates affordable (among other housing-related questions).
"The first thing I would do (on Cheakamus Crossing Phase 2) is I would re-engage the WDC board in any way that I can. There is a wealth of experience and opportunity there that our community has benefited from, and we should again," sitting councillor Ford said, adding that in the next six months she would also seek provincial grants, explore modular homes and engage the community.
On the topic of fiscal responsibility, Murl, an accountant, said it's about understanding the numbers, which means talking to the staff members who generate them and understanding what forecasts and variables they take into account when creating budgets.
"That's what I like to do ... I like to get into the numbers, ask the questions, and really be involved," Murl said.
"And if there are mistakes made, which there will be, I want to stand up and say 'look, this is why this happened, these are the reasons, we've researched this, we've learned lots of lessons, and these are the lessons we'll apply in the future.
"Because if we're not learning from our mistakes, then we're going to make them again."
Asked about the RMOW's communications policy (barring reporters from interviewing staff and designating the mayor as spokesperson on nearly all municipal issues), Buzzard said he sees it from both sides, having been both a photojournalist and contract worker for the RMOW.
"I see their point, but I totally disagree with it," he said, wondering how the mayor is supposed to do an informed interview about flow rates at the septic plant, for example (to big laughs from the audience).
"This is craziness. We have enough issues with transparency at the hall already," he said.
On the topic of transparency, Reid said he thinks the RMOW does a reasonable job on things like the budget, but noted that people need to take action themselves if they want to see their voices reflected in municipal planning.
"We can't let apathy take over here," he said.
"We need to all step up as a group—whether you're four people living in a house or an entire community—step up, come forward, and bring what you want to the community table, so that we, or the new council, will understand what you want, and I think that is a good step to move forward with initially."
Asked if she would lobby the government for easier access to temporary foreign workers, Jamernik said she prefers long-term solutions that allow workers to actually enjoy their time here.
"In all honesty, I am a little tired of seeing Band-Aid solutions, and I'd really like to see us recognize that it's not just about putting on a good face but it really is about quality of life for everyone," she said.
Other topics covered over the course of the three-hour meeting included improving traffic, cannabis retail sites, keeping taxes low, increasing livability and community spirit and affordability.
The meeting, hosted by the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and Pique Newsmagazine, was attended by all 20 candidates, save for Steve Andrews (who once again sent representative Marcus Culver in his place while he's out of the country).
Over the course of the night, many issues were covered with all candidates voicing opinions. Not every response can be reflected in the story. A video will be posted to www.piquenewsmagazine.com.
Advance voting is available on Saturday, Oct. 13 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at municipal hall (4325 Blackcomb Way).
General voting day is Saturday, Oct. 20 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Whistler Conference Centre.
Find complete election coverage at www.piquenewsmagazine.com.