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Whistler waiting for final agreements before endorsing Olympic bid

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"I hope you like the project, I’m doing this for you," Vancouver 2010 Olympic Bid chairman Jack Poole told Whistler council Monday.

Poole was warmly received by councillors but they didn’t appear to do too much for him, after a motion to officially endorse the bid failed.

In fact, no one even wanted to second Councillor Kristi Wells’ motion.

"I was absolutely taken aback by the silence," Wells said Tuesday. "I guess I should have warned the others (prior to making the motion)."

But Mayor Hugh O’Reilly said the municipality’s endorsement of the bid is predicated on completion of a deal for pre-Olympic legacies and an indemnification agreement with the province. Both of those things are close to being finalized, but aren’t there yet.

"I think she took everyone absolutely off guard," O’Reilly said explaining the silence. "I just think people didn’t understand (the timing of the motion)."

O’Reilly said he spent Tuesday with Poole and the bid CEO understands Whistler is waiting for final details to be worked out before officially endorsing the bid.

And O’Reilly said the bid corporation hasn’t asked Whistler for a resolution supporting the bid.

Although the mini-bid book, which lists Whistler as the venue for alpine and Nordic skiing events, was submitted to the IOC last month, Whistler is still in negotiations with the province.

The provincial government is expected to provide the municipality with a landbank – the site for an athletes village – and to permit expansion of municipal boundaries. O’Reilly said he thought those issues, and an agreement whereby the province indemnifies the municipality from any Olympic costs, would be finalized by now. They haven’t been but he expects they will be in the next few weeks.

"I think council is comfortable with the process, it’s moving along, we’re working in the framework we set out," O’Reilly said.

"(Poole) understands Whistler’s needs. We have the ability to have a permanent athletes village, a temporary village or a mix.

"I thought (Poole) really understood the issues as Whistler perceives them," O’Reilly said. "Maybe the positive response spurred (Wells’s) resolution."

Wells said her motion was based on a belief the time had come to formally endorse the bid.

"The last thing I wanted was to be fractional," she said.

"The silence was really unfortunate. If I’d known there would be no seconder I wouldn’t have made the motion."

Wells said staff told council a couple of weeks ago that if they wanted to have a referendum on the Olympics as part of November’s municipal elections they had to start working on that right away.

"There was no appetite for a referendum among council. There was no time spent on it," Wells said.

"We’ve been doing well on the legacies. The last two big questions in my mind were any future financial contributions required from the municipality and an indemnity agreement. (Poole) answered both questions Monday and so from my perspective the community concerns had been addressed.

"The mini-bid book is in. It’s not appropriate to not come out and support it," Wells said.

"This one really challenges me on our leadership."

Councillor Ken Melamed said he too was surprised no one seconded Wells’s motion, but he is also waiting to see the final details of the bid before endorsing it.

"Personally, I need to see the full commitment," Melamed said. "The highway, for instance. If the Olympics is driving a bigger highway then I can’t support it.

"We’ve been driven by our guiding principles all along. That’s what we’ve told the community," Melamed said.

But he also said he was concerned the final agreements are being left to the last minute, and Whistler may be left in a compromised position.

Asked if it wasn’t already too late for Whistler to drop out of the bid Melamed said the bid corporation and the province ignore Whistler’s demands at their own peril.

"It’s the same as the World Economic Forum. Whistler showed it’s not afraid to stand up for its principles," Melamed said.

"Everyone knows we hold the ace in the hole. You can’t have an Olympics without a downhill, and we have the downhill."

O’Reilly said he senses people are becoming informed about the Olympic bid and getting more comfortable with the bid as the information becomes available.

"We’ll get there. I’m comfortable we will," he said.

"When all the pieces are there council will have a debate. I’m comfortable we’re getting what we asked for and Whistler’s needs are going to be well looked after."

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