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Whistler residents not 'keeping sweet' for 2010

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With only seven months to go before the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler's anti-Olympic sentiment was exposed in Gary Mason's exposé in last weekend's Globe and Mail article, Whistler's Olympic wipeout.

Mason's full-page article discusses the town's growing dissent and distrust of VANOC, the IOC and the local municipality. As a 10-year resident of Whistler, I felt the article was balanced and touched on the key issues, with the exception of the security entourage that will descend upon us and the erosion of civil liberties.

This "cantankerous lot" is no longer comprised of environmentalists or activists. In the past, Olympic dissent was centered on several outspoken letter writers or a handful of activists protesting the destruction of wetlands and urban forests.

The resort's anti-2010 movement now includes wealthy residents, lawyers, local business owners and families who are slowly seeing their democratic rights eroded and way of life destroyed for good. It's great to have company on the anti-2010 front. The realization that the IOC doesn't have Whistler's best interests at heart is something activists have been saying all along. Vancouver held a referendum on whether or not to host the Olympics, but Whistler residents were never asked their opinion on the games.

Whistlerites have many reasons to be incensed, such as the outlandish municipal spending and wage hikes, the trail of environmental destruction, the never-ending highway construction, the rising cost of living, and new user-pay parking fees with no transit expansion or improvements.

It's still sad that only 10 people showed up to protest the destruction of a rare wetland last summer, while the petition against pay parking has garnered over 2,000 signatures. Our priorities may be a little skewed.

In the last week alone, several local businesses have closed their doors, proving that the 2010 economic boon is not materializing as VANOC had initially promised.

WHISTLER'S ATHLETES VILLAGE -- ANOTHER WHITE ELEPHANT?

In his article, Mason praised Whistler's 350-unit athletes village, which was built on time and on budget, without any of the scandals that plagued the Vancouver athletes village. Although 90 per cent of the units have already been pre-sold to local residents, no one is discussing the other "white elephant" in the room.

Many of the units were designed with flat roofs, even though Whistler receives between six to eight feet of snow per year, which can be saturated by spring rain, thus tripling the weight of the roof. Any architect will advise you to build with pitched roofs in snow country.

When I toured the new development last July, the realtor told me that the units were designed to trap the snow, to act as insulation and minimize the snow removal costs.

Hopefully building standards weren't compromised on the "greatest legacy of the Games" and that the flat roofs will be able to withstand the weight of the snow and rain. Personally, I would feel better if the snow fell to the ground.

WHISTLER'S DWINDLING OLYMPIC PRIDE

On July 7, Intrawest CEO, Bill Jensen addressed the Canadian Ski Council's (CSC) annual conference in Whistler. According to the Pique Newsmagazine, Jensen told the audience "... it's going to be a long time before we start to recover."

His speech entitled, Our New Reality, painted a dire picture of the state of snow sports in North America, attributable to a rapidly aging customer base, climate change, access to credit and capital, and the financial crisis. Jensen ended his speech by touching on the positive benefits from the Olympics, such as "... infrastructure improvements and source of pride for the community."

Judging by the visible tension in town, there will be little pride left as people "get out of dodge" before, during and after the Games.

TWO DIFFERENT MAYORS

Vancouver's mayor, Gregor Robertson has experienced his share of Olympic controversies, yet he publicly slammed the ‘Orwellian' limits on free speech, referring to the RCMP's labels of "free speech zones" and protest pens for activists during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Whistler's mayor, Ken Melamed, once an outspoken critic of the Games, has wholeheartedly embraced the games and Vanoc, while alienating his constituents. Our tax-hungry council has instead chosen to dictate, rather than engage residents in any meaningful discussion about the games.

These issues could be easily diffused if the mayor engaged citizens in the Olympic process or simply listened to their concerns, instead of digging his heels in deeper as opposition to his policies continues to grow. The remainder of his three-year term will be an especialy rocky one if he continues down this road, especially with no post-2010 transition plan in place.

With less than seven months to go until February 2010, Vanoc has not yet released the security and transportation plans, sticking to the old adage of keeping the masses in the dark until the end when it's too late to do anything.

I live only metres away from the Creekside Downhill venue, but still have no idea how my movement will be restricted. Olympic restricted zones with a radius of one to two kilometres will be set up over Olympic athlete villages, and all competition and training venues. I guess I can look forward to a sea of military personnel, security checkpoints and overpriced groceries.

According to an advisory issued on July 14 by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and U.S. Department of Transportation, residents are banned from parachuting, parasailing, paragliding, hang gliding, radio controlled aircraft, unmanned air vehicles, hot air balloons, dirigible aircraft, agricultural operations, sight-seeing, aerial advertising/banner-towing," This begs the question -- why is the U.S. controlling Canadian air space?

KEEP SWEET

The polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C. is known for its mantra ‘keep sweet,' a phrase that's repeated young girls to remind them of their place -- their submissive role in marriage.

VANOC and our elected officials are hoping that residents will ‘keep sweet' during the games, but what works for a fundamentalist Mormon sect, probably won't work for Whistler.

People keep reminding us that the games are still coming and that resistance is futile. I still think we need to fight for and protect the things that first attracted us to Whistler. The changes that happen during the Games have the potential to destroy our lifestyle and home for good.

The Globe and Mail article ends with a quote from Whistler's mayor saying, "In the end, most people will agree it will have been worth it."

I'm not so sure.

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