Last week, Whistler learned that it might have held the penultimate edition of one of the most polarizing events in recent resort history: Ironman Canada.
To many Whistlerites, that was good news in and of itself. Many locals surely won't miss the annual shutdown of the only highway in and out of town, the financial toll that closure places on small businesses, nor the litter and impact on our native wildlife.
But the relief that some are feeling at Ironman's likely exit shouldn't distract from the Resort Municipality of Whistler's (RMOW) lack of transparency around the situation.
On May 7, the City of Penticton voted to allow its staff to pursue an agreement with Ironman that would bring the race back to its former home in the Okanagan. If all goes according to plan, the five-year deal would begin in 2020, the final year of the RMOW's contractual arrangement with Ironman.
The news seemed to catch RMOW staff off guard. When Pique first approached the muni for a response, we initially got back a series of vague non-answers, staff hewing to the standard line about not being allowed to comment on third-party contract negotiations. No one seemed able (or willing?) to say what Ironman potentially backing out of its contract a year early would mean until Mayor Jack Crompton confirmed after Pique's press deadline that there would be no penalty.
Only three weeks ago, responding to questions about the $282,000 in municipal Festivals, Events and Animation (FE&A) funding being handed out this year to Ironman—an event owned by a Chinese conglomerate that generated US$31.7 billion in revenue in 2018—Crompton said that the RMOW had entered into an agreement with Ironman (in 2017), "and it's an agreement that we're going to honour."
It's a shame Ironman doesn't seem to pay the same deference to its own contractual obligations.
Whistlerites—and local media—have long called for greater transparency into decision-making at municipal hall, particularly when it comes to large-scale events such as Ironman. The RMOW is, of course, bound by privacy restrictions when it comes to these kinds of discussions—all contractual negotiations with Ironman were done behind closed doors and it's understandable that the company wouldn't want to risk publicizing any details into its business that could give its competitors an advantage. But that lack of information also means we have no real insights into the breakdown with Ironman, and that is significant when we're talking about a lucrative event that received at least a quarter-million dollars a year in Resort Municipality Initiative funding from the municipality since 2013, money that could go a long way for a number of locally produced—and let's face it, much less maligned—events on the Whistler calendar.
With the information that's out there, there are, in my mind, only two likely scenarios explaining what happened: Either local officials were completely unaware that Ironman had been in discussions with Penticton behind its back (unlikely, given that Dave Christen, Ironman's regional director for Western Canada, has since told Pique the RMOW has been aware of the negotiations since the jump, though the RMOW said it found out in April), or the municipality signed a toothless contract that has potentially allowed one of Whistler's largest events to back out scot-free.
Considering the municipality directs the spending of millions of taxpayer dollars on tourism and welcomes dozens of events a year to the resort, we should be given more answers.
If the RMOW wants to counter the prevailing local narrative around its lack of transparency—wasn't the creation, last fall, of a new governance committee meant to do just that?—it would do well to explain this entire Ironman debacle.