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Whistlerites meet council hopefuls in first all-candidates forum

Candidates tackle issues from tent cities to handling cost overruns on RMOW projects

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Whistlerites got their first look at 17 of 20 council candidates at an all-candidates meeting hosted by the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) and Arts Whistler on Wednesday, Sept. 26.

Hundreds packed the theatre at the Maury Young Arts Centre to a standing-room-only capacity, with overflow attendees watching on a monitor in the lobby, to see the candidates field questions from the organizers and then from the audience.

The evening (moderated by Mike Mills) started with two-minute candidate introductions followed by rapid-fire questions from the organizers and questions from the audience.

The stated theme of the night-"Building Sustainable Community"-was evident in the audience questions, which asked for candidate positions on a wide variety of topics: building a homeless shelter in Whistler, letting essential service workers jump the Whistler Housing Authority queue, high-density infill housing in residential neighbourhoods, transparency at municipal hall and many, many more (full video of the event will be posted to www.awarewhistler.org and the other host organization websites).

The mood remained lighthearted throughout, with more than a few big laughs interspersed amongst some big and challenging questions for the candidates.

Aside from Steve Andrews (who sent representative Marcus Culver in his place, as he's building bike trails in Uganda), Nathan Hawkins and Miroslav Kolvek, the full field of candidates was on hand for the meeting: Gord Annand, Lance Bright, David Buzzard, Arthur De Jong, Larry Falcon, Jen Ford, Ralph Forsyth, John Grills, Duane Jackson, Tova Jamernik, Cathy Jewett, Janice Lloyd, Jeff Murl, Ira Pettle, Brian Reid, Melanie Tardif and Dawn Titus.

The first question of the night was directed to De Jong, who was asked if he sees a conflict in his role as senior manager of mountain planning and environmental resource management with Vail Resorts.

"I'm not here to represent Vail. I'm here to represent you," De Jong said, adding that over his nearly four decades in the valley he's sat on numerous committees and volunteered with various groups.

"We've had six ownerships now in my career, since 1980-maybe there'll be another before I'm done, but my heart is community ... it's not just about being on the mountains, there's a lot of things that I bring to this table."

Affordability and mental health were common themes throughout the night.

Providing affordable housing would go a long way to addressing many of the resort's issues, Jamernik said.

"People can't afford to live here or work here, and that drives costs up," she said. "If you create affordable spaces for people to live, then that's going to help everyone: economy, poverty, families, friends, community."

Jamernik is also proposing a special task force committee on mental health and wellness as part of her campaign.

Forsyth pointed out that mental health services are not council's jurisdiction, but that of Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH).

"I would love to promise you rainbows and unicorns but ... I'm a plumber and you're asking me to put out a fire in your house," he said. "It's jurisdiction of VCH. What council can do is work with VCH to prioritize those mental health initiatives that the community feels are most pressing."

Several people asked questions about fiscal responsibility at municipal hall, including Ryan Nadeau, who asked Jackson and Forsyth if they would support hiring new building staff that "understand the concept of value engineering" to avoid cost overrun as seen on projects like the Gateway Loop and the library.

"I work in construction and development ... I see some of the decisions that are being made in terms of the materials that are being used, and some of the design ideas that are being put forward with municipal projects, and there is a lot cheaper and more effective way to do things," Nadeau said.

Focusing on housing, Jackson said there's two ways to build, one model being that of the Whistler 2020 Development Corp. (WDC).

"(The WDC) then go out to the best talent in the industry and make sure you can finance it so that you can build it at the lowest dollar, and then you go to the industry that's here, that are really robust and have done a lot of research in techniques and technologies and I guess new materials and material science," he said, adding that there used to be a working group that was trying to become an advocate for the industry to work with staff.

"I think we should probably try and get a few more of those meetings back on the agenda."

Forsyth talked about his time on the WDC board, and how much money they saved the community through their prudent planning.

"We didn't have to hire them, they volunteered ... there's a lot of talent in the community and we can figure out how to keep things on time and on budget," he said.

When someone in the audience commented that he didn't answer the question, Forsyth snapped back: "No, that was exactly the question."

Fitting with the theme of social services, candidates were asked at various points if they supported a homeless shelter or even a tent city in Whistler.

Jewett said she broached the topic of a shelter with WCSS executive director Jackie Dickinson not too long ago, when the pair saw someone plugging their toaster oven in behind the WCSS building.

"I pointed just kind of behind WCSS and I said, 'Hey, what do you think of that? Do you think a shelter could go there? And we were kind of like, 'Hmm... maybe.'" Jewett said.

"I do support the idea of a shelter. I look at the modular housing that's going up in other places and I see it as a potential solution here."

On the question of transportation and regional transit, incumbents Jewett and Ford both said it's a top priority and progress is being made.

Better transit will also give the RMOW the biggest bang for its buck in terms of reaching its climate goals, Ford said.

"I've spent much of this term pushing for better local and regional transit," she said, adding that she has been working with corridor partners to make it a priority with the province in her role on the board of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.

"We will see significant movement on regional transit in the near future."

Two candidates who talked about eliminating single-use plastic-Melanie Tardif and Larry Falcon-received big applause from those in attendance.

"We're Whistler. We're the No.1 resort. We should be the leaders in this aspect and we're not," Falcon said.

"What we should do out of the gate, what I propose, (is to) ban all single-use plastic items unless they're compostable, and do it immediately."

In terms of supporting the arts, Titus said she would work to make sure there is funding that is directed first to local artisans, and to remove the fees associated with Temporary Use Permits for home-based studios.

"When I saw that a year ago, I just shook my head. I couldn't understand how we could be imposing yet another fee on local entrepreneurs who were trying to make a go of it, " she said, to applause from the audience.

"I would be working towards removing that for sure."

Buzzard said he thinks the council has done a great job supporting local artists since 2011, though he'd also like to do away with TUP fees.

"One thing I've always wanted to see was, we have the giant huge stage that could house the Rolling Stones and it's only really used on the weekends," he said.

"Let's get some locals on there."

Other topics broached during the meeting included transparency at municipal hall, logging of old-growth forests, supporting seniors and giving young people a voice.

Over the course of the three-hour session many issues were covered with all candidates voicing opinions. Not every response can be reflected in the story. Please visit the event host's website to view the video of the evening.

Before the meeting, the host organizations also sent a comprehensive and wide-ranging survey to all candidates. Find the full results here: www.awarewhistler.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Candidate-Survey-Results-2018_Final_lowres.pdf.

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