Within the next couple of months, two communities in the northern Sea-to-Sky Corridor will be choosing new elected officials. Mount Currie residents will be casting their votes for chief and council, while next-door, Pembertonians will probably be deciding on a new mayor.
I say probably, because according to the BC Voters Guide a person can simultaneously be a local government representative — mayor, councillor, electoral area director, islands trustee of school trustee — and a Member of the Legislative Assembly. (You can also be a Member of Parliament, but the travel kills.) The website further offers this sage piece of advice for those contemplating taking a stab at this occupational twofer: “[T] here is a considerable amount of time involved in filling any of these offices; you may choose to do just one.”
But I digress … the point is, governance north of Whistler is changing and new opportunities are going to present themselves. (For the record, I can’t imagine Mayor Jordan Sturdy straddling the Georgia Strait to do both jobs — the harvest would never get in.)
Local elections are exciting. Unlike in federal and provincial elections, where people often admit they make their decisions based on the lesser of two evils, local elections feature some people we like and usually many more we know. This type of political activity is personal and that’s what makes it so great. The grocery store aisle chats and chinwags at the local java joint get a little more animated, everyone suddenly has opinions on everything and the air sparks with a sense of competition. But best of all, elections foster a sense optimism.
Unfortunately, this optimism often fades as attending to the day-to- day functions of government replace the blue-sky thinking of campaigns. So, how do we capitalize on the optimism? I say strike while the iron is hot and consider implementing informal meetings where local politicians could discuss regional issues that concern: the environment, transportation, education, tourism and other forms or economic development to name a few. No press. No public. Just politicians. I’m talking about casual gatherings where politicians could come and do some visioning, began discussion on region-wide issues and learn from each other — their triumphs and tribulations.
Take for instance a discussion about transparency. All four of these governments are approaching this issue from different perspectives. Each is at a different point in the process. The learning opportunities here could be impressive.
Or issues about the environment. Whistler has 2020. Pemberton has various bylaws. And Mount Currie has immense cultural knowledge. Together that’s a great foundation for some dynamic conversation, problem-solving and future planning.
And then there’s transportation. All the communities have some level of service; all need increases in service frequency.
And then there’s the bonding experience of sharing war stories.
The variety of experiences and political perspectives brought to the table would be immense. I believe many easy solutions can be developed when taking a broader view of any particular situation. This kind of think tank could create that vista.
The demands on local politicians can be immense. Many hold mortgage-paying jobs in addition to their public service. Public service means meetings upon meetings and not much time to add “the nice to haves” to the list. But I don’t think that informal meetings between the northern Sea-to-Sky governments fall into the “nice to have” category. I think if we are ever going to overcome some of the challenges we have in the region, we have to create spaces where our decision-makers can learn from each other.
There’s new opportunity in the offing, the question is, will it be seized?