Several councils ago, the idea of an airport to serve Whistler’s needs started to gain traction.
Among those responsible for advancing Whistler’s economic interests there was a consensus that Whistler needed an airport to move guests in and out more conveniently. At that time we were one of the only major western ski resorts without an airport.
At the same time, there was a strong sentiment at the council table that Whistler needed to be a good neighbour to Pemberton and Squamish. Council was persuaded by a couple of particularly vocal councillors to hold off on advancing its own airport initiative until Pemberton had the opportunity to play its hand with the existing runway.
In retrospect, one can wonder whether the aggressive voices at the council table knew that Pemberton would never step up. If nothing else, that ought to have been patently obvious to the rest of us. Pemberton had naively negotiated an almost unconscionable deal with respect to the terminal building then never took advantage of issues in the contract documents which would have allowed them to get out from underneath that deal. Pemberton then concluded that they needed to get rid of Merlin Air, but badly mishandled that argument.
So what possessed Whistler’s council of the day to think that an airport suitable for Whistler’s needs would ever get off the ground in Pemberton? In that instance, we made the mistake of deferring our own best interests to those of a neighbour for no good reason. In the meantime, the world has moved on and it may be even more difficult to develop a Whistler airport in the future.
The Garibaldi at Squamish (GAS) proposal has been around in one form or another since at least the early ‘70s. The proposal seems to be gaining some traction, although at the end of the day the media attention and government involvement may be nothing more than a momentary blip. Industry experts say that not only is the GAS proposal document over-optimistic in some respects, the resort is a non-starter. The terrain is not suitable. The weather is not suitable. There’s not enough water. There are not enough customers. There is not enough vertical.
The proponent suggests that GAS will create a cluster of destination resorts, a vision we can sell to the world. The net effect will be an increase in the number of visitors to Whistler. If that is true, where are those customers now? A more likely spin is that GAS is simply trying to ride on Whistler’s coattails without regard for the significant adverse impact on Whistler’s economy.
So should Whistler sit back and wait to see whether our friends in Squamish can make something out of GAS the same way we sat back and waited to see whether our friends in Pemberton could make something out of their airport?
When friends have a common interest, it makes sense to work together as the result is often more than either could achieve alone. When one friend advances an idea in which another friend has no interest, the other friend has the option of helping, but should not interfere without good reason. But when one friend advances an idea that will hurt another, the other friend should not sit by idly simply because the action is being taken by a friend. In that case there is absolutely nothing wrong when the threatened friend elects to aggressively protecting its own interests.
Let’s not make the same mistake with Garibaldi at Squamish that we made with the Pemberton Airport. Whistler’s mayor and council need to make it abundantly clear, at every opportunity, that the GAS proposal is bad for Whistler, will ultimately fail and will not benefit Squamish or the province of B.C.