Well the annual convention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) has come and gone again, and with that comes the inevitable letters to the editor decrying the expense of sending Mayor and Council to the conference. The letters imply that our leaders do nothing but eat overpriced food, swill fine wines at the local taxpayers’ expense and sleep in overstuffed beds in overpriced hotel rooms.
Here’s the reality of UBCM and Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). Yes, there are social gatherings. They are not nearly as much fun as a Whistler event and are interspersed with a lot of hard work. There are useful presentations interspersed with mind numbing speeches on topics of marginal importance to anybody. Councillors gain useful knowledge they can bring home, make useful connections they can leverage and have the opportunity to lobby provincial and federal politicians on issues that are of critical importance to Whistler.
The implication that these trips are junkets, and that our leaders are eager to swill at the public trough, is both unfair and divorced from reality. Look at one of our councillors and ask yourself: would that councillor rather be at UBCM with a bunch of middle-aged white men suffering through a debate on the relative merits of high pressure or low pressure steam for community heating systems, or would that councillor rather be at home in Whistler coaching kids on the soccer field and enjoying her family? Would that councillor rather be out on a sunny day rowing his boat and leading his pals on an effort to clean up Alta Lake, or sitting through another plated chicken dinner? How about the Mayor who has a law practice to run, muffins to bake and daughters who are striking off as young adults. Where would she rather be?
Let’s give Mayor and Council a break here. Rather than chastising them for taking time out of their lives to advance Whistler’s interests, we should be thanking them. A lot of very good work gets done at UBCM and at FCM, but at a personal cost to our local leaders.
Not to throw gasoline on the fire, but our Mayor, Council and senior staff should go on an even more expensive fact finding mission. The quarterly good-news broadcast by Whistler Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler and the Chamber of Commerce notwithstanding, Whistler is not doing well. Millions and possibly billions of dollars of wealth have been stripped from the real estate market, to the point that our employee housing is selling at well below the capped rates because there is better, more affordable housing available in the unrestricted market. Hotels still aren’t getting the occupancy rates they need. Retail, and in particular locally-owned retail, has suffered badly and continues to suffer.
When I was on Council there was a running debate between the greenies and the blood sucking capitalists regarding the role of our municipal government. The greenies thought that municipal government should stick to providing roads and sewers – and of course any sustainability program they deemed appropriate. The blood sucking capitalists thought that the Hall should participate in building the local economy. As evidenced by the summer events, the Whistler Film Festival, Gay Ski Week and the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, the blood sucking capitalists won out. The Whistler economy is showing some signs of life, but just barely.
Mayor and council need to identify our stiffest European competitors, then get on a plane and visit them during the height of their winter season They need to see what the European resorts are doing and bring those ideas back here. Sure, having Kurizawa as a sister city is great, but how about having a world class Austrian ski resort as a sister city? We could benefit hugely from their knowledge of service standards, training, retail offerings, on-hill amenities, local transportation and sustainable energy systems.
Sure, some people will grumble, but they probably don’t pay taxes and almost certainly don’t vote.