The Best Films of 2012

Amour

I agree with the New Yorker when they say that 2012 was a year of more anticipation than payoff. There were lots of films to look forward to but few lived up to their hype.

There were nevertheless some excellent films released this year and these were the best of the ones I saw. I regret that I did not catch “Argo,” “Looper” or “Silver Linings Playbook” so the list is open to amendments.

Best Films of the Year

10) Les Miserables – Raw, blustery and strangely powerful. Tom Hooper’s decision to have the actors sing live was jarring, yet effective at conveying the characters’ emotions. The picture loses steam about halfway through but gets a second wind with the arrival of the student revolution. My family saw it on Christmas, and my family had hardly a dry eye among us.

9) Moonrise Kingdom – Naive, awkward and idealistic – yes, we imagine this is what young love is like, and Wes Anderson makes it utterly charming. His story of lovestruck children who run away together has all the delights of his other pictures, with vivid colours that recall The Royal Tenenbaums. And there are few better uses of Benjamin Britten’s music than you’ll see here.

8) Rust and Bone – It was a glorious year for French cinema internationally, and Jacques Audiard’s film is probably its grittest offering. The director of “Un Prophete” continues his study of people on the margins of French society when he focuses on a backyard MMA fighter (Matthias Schoenaerts) who forms a curious friendship with a whale trainer (Marion Cotillard) who suffers a traumatizing accident. The film opts for a string of encounters over a clear narrative and it draws unexpected chemistry out of its leads.

7) Holy Motors – I’m being a tad disingenuous with this pick. I didn’t like Leos Carax’s cinematic elegythe first time I saw it. But then I came to see it as a work that (subtly) expresses dejection with technological reproduction, and how it distances us from the Real. Denis Lavant deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance as M. Oscar, a performance artist acting out a series of characters for an unseen audience.

6) Zero Dark Thirty – It’s hard to overlook Kathryn Bigelow’s alleged collusion with the Central Intelligence Agency. But if you can, you’ll find beneath it a gripping, doc-like thriller that plays like a breathless police procedural. Critics claim the film glorifies torture but I’m not so sure. I found the film more ambiguous in its depiction of torture and the practice’s usefulness in tracking down Osama bin Laden. It’s a patriotic film, just more subtly than most critics would like to admit.

5) Lincoln – How often can you be relieved that Liam Neeson turned you down? The Irish actor was Steven Spielberg’s first choice to play America’s 12th president, and when he backed out, Leonardo DiCaprio stepped in to get another, better Irish actor the part. The act was serendipitous, as Day-Lewis both anchors and drives this political drama about the fight to abolish slavery. Most stunning about the film is the dramatic ideological reversal between Democrats and Republicans. The 19th century Democrats depicted here would find themselves right at home among the Tea Party.

4) Django Unchained – While Lincoln depicted the lighter side of abolishing slavery, Quentin Tarantino’s picture concerned itself with the more horrific impacts of the practice… and made it a rollicking, bloody good time. Tarantino here makes Jamie Foxx the hero of a modern spaghetti western, with Christoph Waltz turning babyface as a bounty hunter who helps him track down his enslaved wife.

3) The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson’s films are connected by two themes: empty grandeur and a sense of belonging. They are fitting themes for a film that references Scientology. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in I’m Still Here was a mere audition for his performance as an aggressive, alcoholic, immature war veteran who falls in with a religious movement led by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s faux-intellectual. It is simultaneously the year’s most beautiful, and yet disturbing film.

2) Amour – We all feel for a sick relative, but we rarely see the toll it takes on a family day to day. Michael Haneke puts us up close and personal with an aging couple trying to cope with the debilitating effects of a stroke. Emmanuelle Riva delivers a heartbreaking performance as a woman waiting to die, while Jean-Louis Trintignant is simply devastating as her disillusioned husband. He can register a world of hurt in a single glance.

1) Beasts of the Southern Wild – Benh Zeitlin’s drama is a strikingly original vision of people who live on the margins, and fight to keep it that way. His characters inhabit a backwater world beyond the New Orleans levee and must contend with forces bigger than themselves to keep it theirs. Quvenzhane Wallis delivers a revelatory performance as Hushpuppy, a spritely young girl who must contend with all manner of beast, both fact and fantastical.

Neoseoul

Bravest Film

Cloud Atlas – Imagine the pitch meeting. The filmmakers walk into a room full of proucers and ask for $140 million to make a three-hour epic based on a high-concept novel that narrates a story across seven different planes. Thank goodness for the gutsy Germans who put up the money, because the result is a spectacular, though emotionally unengaging picture that could have fallen apart at so many turns. That it never falls into incoherence is a credit to Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis’ narrative skills.

Chronicle

Surprises

Chronicle – Call this Teen Hulk, or Fly By Me. It’s the story of three teens who develop sudden superpowers when they stumble on a glowing orb underground. At first it’s cool, but then the social outcast among them thinks to use those powers to take revenge on all who’ve oppressed him. Max Landis’ debut is a powerful, if predictable fantasy that gets right to the dark heart of power.

The Grey – Joe Carnahan’s survival thriller sticks out in the mind because it came out at a time of year when films this good generally don’t. Liam Neeson leads a group of oil workers turned prey when their plane crash lands in the wilderness, catching the attention of a pack of angry wolves. Pedestrian material is elevated by outstanding production values, including one of the more harrowing plane crashes ever put on screen. But what really sets it apart is its ending, which hints at more metaphysical powers imperilling the men.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Disappointments

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – So whose bright idea was it to stretch a 310-page book into three, three-hour epics? You could read the book in less time than it takes to see all three films. Every minute is stretched out to the thinness of a human hair, leaving you to jostle and turn in your seat in the thinner hope that it’ll entertain you. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis do their best with what they’re given, but even they can’t save the first part of what may be a failed trilogy.

The Life of Pi – There’s a heart somewhere in this picture, I just couldn’t find it. Ang Lee’s adaptation of the Yann Martel novel is every bit as spectacular as its billing, with a whale that jumps out of phosphorescent waters and a living island where meerkats reign supreme. But nothing in the film could make me care about Pi, a young man set adrift on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. Perhaps it was the film’s visuals that made it difficult to swallow. For all their beauty, they imbue the picture with an artificial quality, or maybe it’s the flat narrative arc of Pi retelling his story to an emerging author. Whatever it is, the whole picture just feels D.O.A.

Battleship

Worst

Battleship – Some films you just know will suck right from the beginning. And so it goes with Peter Berg’s adaptation of the popular board game. The acting is terrible, the dialogue laughable and the action scenes show us nothing we didn’t already see in the Transformers movies. Taylor Kitsch had a terrible year with this and two other releases, and it leaves you to question whether he’ll ever recover.

Savages – I thought I’d given up on Oliver Stone after W. and World Trade Centre. Yet I was still drawn to his latest picture, about a pair of dope-growers forced to do battle with a Mexican cartel. The trailers promise a supercharged, exploitative action flick, and it is, but it’s also cliched and unpleasant, with a ditzy Blake Lively voiceover that does nothing to make it more bearable. Stone proves nothing except that Quentin Tarantino is the only one who can do exploitative violence correctly.

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First impressions

Image via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been in Toronto a week now – more than enough time to pass judgment on a city and all of its people.

So far, I like it a lot. I live in the Forest Hill area, a short distance from the intersection of Bathurst and St. Clair. It’s a district not unlike Commercial Drive, with a smattering of restaurants and retail shops of Italian, Spanish, Greek and Portuguese origin.

My home is a one-bedroom apartment in about an 80-year-old building that in a past life could have served as quarters for clerics at the many nearby churches. It’s like a university dorm, with the added perk of stained glass windows.

Really the only downside to the place is the heating. I have radiators instead of space heaters, and they can make the place stuffy because they never seem to turn off entirely. That’ll surely prove useful in a harsh Toronto winter but so far here it’s rarely dropped below zero.

Toronto doesn’t seem nearly as big a city when you live in it. There are five main streets running east to west and, unlike Vancouver, no river to separate the uptown from the downtown. The downtown therefore seems to go on forever, reaching all the way to Eglinton before the high-rises peter out. At their highest, they seem engaged in a headlong battle against the sky (hat-tip to J.G. Ballard, RIP).

By far, the best thing about the city has been the people. In Vancouver and Whistler you hear countless tales of how terse and rude Torontonians are. Indeed, in the weeks before I left, a colleague told me I would be “so freaking unhappy” here.

The stereotype of the rude Torontonian has found its closest approximation at the Service Ontario office at 777 Bay Street – and even there, the terseness was wholly justified. Waiting in line next to me was a young man of about 25. Well dressed in a green sweater, gray Dockers and with a thin Movember mustache, he could easily have been from here.

Then he started talking. In a passive-aggressive tone, he asked the clerks to accommodate him as ICBC had in the past. For what, precisely, I don’t recall, but it sounded like an unreasonable request. The clerk very tersely told him no, but the young man kept on trying to negotiate with an opposing party that wasn’t giving any ground.

He walked away defeated, his disappointment registering in the weight of his steps. My own clerk said after, “We’re a tough province.”

And that’s as rude as people have been. I came out here expecting to have to force my way into subways and retail outlets, and worked out my shoulders extra hard to prepare for that. But by and large people have been incredibly friendly.

What strikes me most about the people I’ve met here is how informed they are. Last night I met up with a friend from Vancouver and a group of her people and we went skating down at the Harbourfront. I met a ton of new people and was just blown away at much they read the news. Similar people I’ve known in Vancouver would never be able to rattle off the words “Bountiful” or “Dick Fuld” in a conversation and still know what they were talking about. But here the depth of knowledge was palpable. People here clearly read the news and know what’s happening in the world around them.

While I’m enjoying myself here, I can’t deny I miss home. There are times I feel a lot like Jim Caviezel’s character in The Thin Red Line, in that scene where he’s jailed for going AWOL. He lights a match to scupper the boredom, then as he blows out the flame he has a flashback to his home life on a farm in the south.

In some private moments, you could take the images of a southern farm and replace them with trees, mountains and ocean and you’d get a good measure of how I’m feeling. I was blessed to grow up in a beautiful place and meet some great people along the way, and there is no doubt that I miss them.

But for the moment, I’m enjoying Toronto. And for a year at least, I’m happy to be in a big, friendly, social and well-informed place that is already giving me broader knowledge of my country.

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Ken Melamed: fire in the soul

Image via piquenewsmagazine.com

One of my last stories for Pique Newsmagazine. A profile of Mayor Ken Melamed, now seeking re-election.

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

November 17, 2011

The Emerald Forest is one of Whistler’s natural playgrounds.

And it is here, mere steps from civilization, that Ken Melamed seems truly at home. As a councillor in 1999, he took a leading role in protecting it from development, and today its 139 acres of old growth and wetlands give hikers, cyclists and disc golf players a first-hand look at the bounty that nature has bestowed here.

The mayoral candidate, dressed in a Team Whistler cycling cap, brown Op jacket and blue jeans, blissfully takes in the morning mist as it flows down from the heights above and moistens the moss on the forest floor, and for a few brief moments he can forget the gruelling process that is running for re-election.

“Whistler’s such a special place,” he says as a chorus of birdcalls welcomes the sunrise. “It’s a place people dream about being in, and we’ve been able to live the dream by being here.”

At this spot, just a few steps from a disc golf course and the Shit Happens bike trail, Melamed shows off some extra-curricular work he has carried out while sitting in the mayor’s chair. He has taken a broken section of bike trail, ravaged and bent by the elements, and fitted rocks like a jigsaw puzzle to make a smoother path for cyclists.

Only a mason could pull off this kind of work, and Melamed’s 25 years in stonework clearly shows in this project. Where the path above is dishevelled and broken, here even a less experienced rider need not fear the trail.

“Not many people have done a lot of stonework like this,” he says. “There are people that have been doing rock armory, but this is a whole other level. I can’t tell you how many hours (I’ve put in). I probably came out here 20 days.”

It would be easy to say that this Melamed is the chilled side of the more combative personality one sees at council meetings, but really, they are both parts of the same persona and they share a motivation: a “passion and commitment to a better world.”

Melamed is inspired, in large part, by Torbjorn Lahti, author of “The Natural Step for Communities,” a guidebook that talks about how cities and towns can adopt sustainable practices. In it the author talks about “Fire Souls,” people who defy suggestions that there’s nothing we can do to save the planet, who are determined against all common wisdom to strive for sustainability.

Melamed stops short of calling himself a fire soul, but the association is clear.

“There’s a fire in my belly, and for the most part I try and stay reserved and calm and respectful,” he says. “But there are times you need to let your frustration and your passion rise to the surface in a more compelling way.”

That passion was hardly more palpable than at an April 2010 meeting at the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, where he doubles as a director for Whistler. At that time, the Garibaldi at Squamish ski resort was in the last stages of an environmental assessment. The regional district had a chance to comment and Melamed wanted fellow directors to be clear and condemnatory in opposing the new ski resort.

Among other things, he objected to what he saw as the developer’s “wildly optimistic” assumptions about where the ski industry is going, a lack of information relating to socioeconomic analysis, as well as that, he had not seen a new, successful international ski resort in North America.

“I would ask that we as a board take a much stronger position than that recommended by staff and just outright object or oppose the application and ask that it be given a merciful death at this point,” he said, his voice rattling as he fired off reasons to kill the project. “It’s really time to pull the pin.”

Melamed brings a similar zeal to the proposal for a Whistler University near the Alpha Creek/Millar Creek wetlands next to Function Junction. He says, emphatically, that he doesn’t object to a university altogether – just this one, due to its choice of location, close to one of Whistler’s few remaining wetlands.

“I’ve seen five development proposals for that land,” he says, not referring solely to the university. “What gets me going is when people say this is sustainable because we’re staying away from the most sensitive areas. I’m not a biologist, but I’ve talked to enough biologists and ecosystem experts who say a wetland depends on its high ground and the adjoining habitat areas as much as what we used to call swamps.

“They call wetlands the lungs of the planet but biodiversity doesn’t work without the richness of the variabilities, so you need the wet, open areas, you need the transition areas, you need the tall, open forest. Imagine what 1,500 people would look like. What would you do, put a fence around the school so they didn’t wander into the old growth and wetlands?”

Melamed is facing five opponents in total, and two of them have spent months building electoral machines, canvassing social media and holding events to make a name for themselves among the voters.

His campaign has seemed low-key by comparison. At the end of October, Melamed didn’t yet have a website, nor any signs up on the highway. He spent more time strategizing and listening to what his opponents were saying than actually jumping on the hustings himself.

“It’s been kind of fun watching them go at each other, not knowing if I was going to run or not,” he says. “It was entertaining to see how they were going to position themselves.”

Melamed’s advisors tell him a campaign often comes down to its last week.

On our way out of the forest, Melamed looks offended when he notices discarded pieces of plastic scattered near his stonework – a “callous act,” he calls it, as he picks them up and carries them out of the woods, his own small contribution to keeping the Emerald Forest pristine.

Reflecting one last time on his surroundings, he adds: “It’s an amazing place, it can be more amazing.”

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Parting shots

Image via madamepickwickartblog.com

My last column for Pique Newsmagazine. You didn’t expect me to go quietly, did you?

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

November 10, 2011

Three and a half years ago, Pique Newsmagazine took a chance on a brash young journalism student who was eager to start his career. He came from university with a chip on his shoulder and a desire to shake this town up.

Three and a half years later, I find myself holding back many emotions as I prepare to leave a community that has given me a wonderful start to my career. I’ve covered the Olympics; backroom deals on Wall Street; gained unique insights into B.C.’s energy economy; and developed an intimate knowledge of Sea to Sky’s First Nations.

There are so many people to thank for making this an incredible experience. First and foremost is Bob Barnett. Kind, caring and with a mind as sharp as a knife, he permits his reporters to exercise boundless creativity when generating story ideas and never stops them from pursuing a story, even when it risks maligning a reputation. That a story be fair, accurate and compelling is all he ever asks.

I must also thank my current editor Clare Ogilvie. She fosters a culture of fair-play and balanced reporting in the newsroom, playing tough with her reporters when necessary and never letting us lose sight of the human element in any story.

In Pemberton, the community to which I have given most of my attention, I must thank Mayor Jordan Sturdy, who has always made himself open and available for comment. We have spoken on a weekly basis since 2008 and it is a wonder he has never tired of talking to me. Susie Gimse, the director for Area C, has been equally generous in helping me with stories.

I also thank Nigel Protter, an energy consultant who has given me insights into BC’s green energy economy on a scale that few could obtain elsewhere.

In Mount Currie I thank Marie Abraham, a teacher and a storyteller who has been so generous in imparting knowledge to me about St’at’imc history and culture. I am indebted also to In-SHUCK-ch negotiator Gerard Peters, who has helped me understand the lengthy process that goes into negotiating a treaty.

And I thank you, Whistler. I have reported on you almost every day since 2008. You’re a town full of compassionate people who help each other out in difficult economic times.

I will look back fondly on my time here… but before I go, permit me to get myself in trouble one last time.

When I started at Pique, my job was relatively simple. I would hear of something happening, I would call people up to confirm it and then I could write my story. I could call people anywhere and I would get the answers I needed within a reasonable time frame.

I can still do that in most places. Whistler Blackcomb is fantastic at getting back to me and providing the information I need. They get me interviews with staffers and answer my questions in a timely manner.

Where I’m concerned is with the Resort Municipality of Whistler. In my time here it has taken on a communications protocol that turned it from an open, accountable local government to a stifling, fortress-like institution with a communications protocol like something out of a Kafka novel.

The normal course of getting information goes like this. You call or e-mail the communications department, with a specific set of questions and a deadline. You ask questions like “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? When can we expect this to be done?”

There was a time when you would get block-paragraph answers to each of these questions, and even a phone call back from a staff member wasn’t out of the question. Nowadays you’ll get a single sentence back in response, or be asked to wait days to talk to someone.

The danger with this new protocol is that without learning an issue’s full context, you give people only half the story. That might make community members draw conclusions that aren’t entirely true, or else heap scorn on blameless municipal officials.

And this isn’t just for media. If you’re a member of the public asking the very same questions, you’re likely to get exactly the same answers.

I’m told that this is a new policy, that we should give it time before lambasting it. But this isn’t new for me. I’ve had a similar experience with the RMOW since right after the Olympics.

I hope things change. Because it’s a black mark for an institution when a corporation outdoes it on matters of accountability.

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The Spirit of Michael John

Image via piquenewsmagazine.com

Pique came out with its annual Halloween stories last week. Here’s my contribution.

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

October 27, 2011

It was cold atop Mt. Currie. Yet there stood Michael John in the middle of October, gazing down on a Pemberton Valley blanketed in strokes of red and yellow.

That he died 40 years prior allowed Michael to survive the climate. He didn’t feel the minus 40 C temperature at the mountain’s summit, but he still felt cold and alone. His new form defied description. He could not be seen. He could neither touch nor smell nor speak in a manner that humans could comprehend.

But still he could sense people, and they could sense him. He could see them, and travel up and down the mountains to observe the affairs of humans at close range. They could feel his presence whenever a draft passed through their front doors, or the poor weather stripping on their windows.

For four decades he watched loved ones grow old, their children graduate from high school. He could fly in and out of people’s houses, sit with them while they were watching television, even float above people’s beds in intimate moments.

He watched helplessly as his wife Gail lived alone in their house on Rancheree Street, keeping the fireplace lit and his seat at the kitchen table clean should he ever return.

He watched her speculate whether he’d simply left her. Was she not intimate enough with him? Not welcoming enough to his friends? Did she tie the knots of marriage so tight that they suffocated him?

None of it was true. She knew he did not simply run away. She knew, as did he, that he was murdered in cold blood, and that because his body was never discovered his spirit couldn’t go to the Creator.

Michael died in 1971, at the age of 25.

He was a fierce, strong-willed man his whole life. As a child he avoided going to residential school when, at seven years old, he struck a Jesuit priest in the face with a rock.

The priest sought the police’s help to find him, but when they arrived he could not be found. For the two weeks they searched, Michael lived in an istken (pit house) near Signal Hill, a place where before recorded time his people fought off the Tsilhqot’in who, coming from agriculturally decrepit lands, would raid other territories just so they could obtain food.

At only seven, Michael fended off a new breed of raider, one who wanted to kill him by stamping out his language, his traditions and his identity.

Eventually priest and police gave up, and before he was even a teenager, Michael got a new name: Eagle, the most powerful and authoritative of mythic creatures.

He grew to be revered in his community, fiercely protective as he was of his language and his heritage. He spoke English only grudgingly, because so many of his people had gone to residential school and taught not to be themselves.

He met Gail at 17. She was then a shy woman of 16, who didn’t talk much but loved to sing her people’s songs. One day at a community gathering he found her sitting alone with a drum, quietly singing to herself, afraid that a people cut off from their heritage would not appreciate her songs.

Michael went to her and asked her to play for him alone. Her voice carried like a wolf’s cry and he told her to never again be ashamed of whom she was. From then on, they were inseparable.

As years went by, two men from out of town began to get comfortable in their community. They would come in a white pickup and park themselves at the local pool hall with a flat of 16 and a carton of cigarettes.

There they met Roland Jim, a short, weak, lonely man who would drink alone in the hall, watching the clock run to midnight before he went home.

The men befriended Roland and so gave themselves a reason to play at the pool hall. There were there visiting their “buddy,” and in the meantime plying women with alcohol and taking them home to bed.

They grew to scare the community. On the way home from the bar they would smash empty bourbon bottles on the road, stumbling out of a smoky haze, then drive home.

One night Freddie and Frank Leo were playing pool when the men arrived. With three beers each down already, the men demanded that they get their time at the table. It was their time, they said, and their table. Freddie ignored them, took his shot, then one of the men broke a pint glass across his head. He and Frank were thrown out.

They were walking home angrily and stopped off at Michael’s house. They told him what happened and Michael was infuriated. Gail tried to stop him from going but his fury overtook his reason.

He stormed into the pool hall and found the men drinking, smoking and laughing. Shouting at them to get out, Roland walked behind him and smashed a pool cue across his back. Then the two men began kicking him around on the ground.

They threw his wounded body in the back of their truck. Writhing in pain, he could not see, for it was dark out and blood blinded his eyes.

What happened then, no one knows. Michael was reported missing. The police investigated and called it a cold case. At a meeting with community leaders the acting sergeant said he was sorry he could not find him… and as he spoke he felt a draft waft in across the back of his heck. The office door was closed and there were no other openings to the outside.

The men returned to the pool hall weeks later as though nothing happened. Roland was no longer there… but Michael was. Though it was mid-summer, they felt cold in the enclosed space, shivering as they downed whiskey to keep themselves warm.

As they left, Michael rode in the back of their truck once more. He followed them home to a trailer park in Pemberton. The breeze they felt in the pool hall followed them each to their beds and no amount of drug nor drink could prevent it.

Michael spent nights in each of their trailers, entering their dreams to remind them of what they’d done.

The men continued to drink, trying hard to suppress the memory. Michael hoped that one would simply come forward and show where his body was buried so that he could pass on to the Creator. They drank and drugged themselves so much that their livers and lungs betrayed them. Michael haunted them to their dying moments and, living alone, he would be the only one visiting them for days before they were found.

The only one left was Roland Jim, and Michael opted not to haunt him, for fear he would do the same as the other men. With Roland gone, there would be no one left to tell the authorities where his body was buried.

Roland continued to live alone, hardly leaving his house, for he never visited the pool hall anymore.

Gail sought him out, trying to discover whether he knew anything of Michael’s disappearance. She knocked at his house, but he never came to the door.

Forty years later, Michael remains missing. Gail still lives alone and Roland will not come to his door. His body has not been discovered and his killers have never been held accountable.

So still, 40 years later, in the summer and the fall, a strange breeze flows through the community.

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Province announces $1.1-million ski marketing program

Image via whistler.com

What the Province of British Columbia is doing to help raise destination visits to its ski resorts. Seattle, Toronto and California are being targeted to raise our visits from abroad.

Whistler to be marketed in Seattle, Toronto, San Francisco and Los Angeles

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

October 27, 2011

Transit shelters, subways and elevators in Ontario and elsewhere will be draped in wistful images of Whistler and other B.C. resorts as the province ramps up efforts to get people to ski here.

Pat Bell, B.C.’s Minister of Tourism, Jobs and Innovation, said in a Tuesday news conference that from November to March the provincial government will carry out “Get Above it All in British Columbia,” a $1.1-million North American ski marketing campaign that will see them try to draw visitors from Toronto, California and Washington State.

“We’ve been working with 13 ski resorts in the province to develop this strategy,” Bell said. “We think it can be very, very strong for us and make sure we have the kind of winter that people have been looking for throughout B.C.”

Barrett Fisher, president and CEO of Tourism Whistler, said she was happy that the province is putting greater focus in the U.S. market because it helps fill a gap left by the Canadian Tourism Commission, which about a year ago took focus away from the U.S. and put it on Europe.

“As a result there was a gap left in the U.S., so we are very pleased Tourism B.C. is putting some investment into the U.S.,” she said. “The U.S. market, even though it’s been challenged with a tough economy and currency, it is nevertheless one of our largest markets.”

The strategy comes at a time that Whistler is looking to up its intake of destination visitors, meaning not people from regional markets like Vancouver and Washington State. Whistler Blackcomb noted in its third quarterly report from earlier this year that it is seeing strong visitation from the regional market but is facing “headwinds” in the destination market.

Whistler Blackcomb has stated in the past that it needs to raise destination visits in order to make planned infrastructural upgrades such as replacing the Crystal Chair and installing a new chairlift at the popular Harmony ski area.

Asked why the province is not concentrating on marketing skiing in Europe, which has been in previous years a large source of destination visits, Bell said the areas where the province is concentrating its marketing activity come at the recommendation of the 13 ski resorts it is working with… including Whistler Blackcomb.

“The advice we received from the representative from Whistler was that Toronto, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle were the four communities they wanted us to invest in,” he said.

“They believe that they have sufficient reach into the European market already. Let’s keep in mind that the European marketplace is going through significant market turmoil.”

The ski marketing plan comes as part of “Gaining the Edge: A Five-Year Strategy for Tourism in British Columbia,” a new provincial initiative that aims for a five per cent annual growth in revenue in the tourism sector, expecting it to reach $18 billion annually by 2016.

The plan, announced by B.C. Premier Christy Clark at the 2011 B.C. Tourism Industry Conference, aims at drawing more tourists from countries with large emerging middle classes such as China and India, as well as maintaining visitor numbers from areas such as Ontario, California/Washington, the UK, Germany, Australia and Japan.

In a news release issued Tuesday, the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce lauded the new strategy, saying it came about as a result of “industry collaboration.”

“This new five year plan will bring new money to the tourism sector and be a driver of job growth around the province,” John Winter, B.C. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said in a news release.

“It is gratifying to see the province and the tourism sectors collaborating on achieving this lofty goal.”

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Treat taxpayers like shareholders, businesses tell municipality

Image via cartoonstock.com

This election story doesn’t have nearly the importance that stories around the nomination paper saga got, one in which the nominations of four prominent candidates were challenged by the municipality’s chief election officer, on a tip from someone involved in the Ralph Forsyth mayoral campaign.

Nevertheless, stimulating economic activity remains an important part of the election and that was no more apparent to me than at this breakfast I attended.

Entrepreneurs want local government to listen more to community voices

By Jesse Ferreras

Leaders in the resort municipality need to listen more closely to community ideas.

So say business people who attended a breakfast meeting last Friday at the Wild Wood Cafe convened by mayoral candidate Ralph Forsyth. It drew 11 people to talk about economic activity and what the resort municipality can do to help promote it around the community.

Ben Thomas of VIP Mountain Holidays, a private concierge service, said he wants the municipality to treat its taxpayers more like shareholders.

“I believe we as taxpayers and residents and users of the community services are shareholders and the clients and customers of the municipality, and it appears to me that that’s not actually the case,” he said.

“And the same with the businesses. The businesses are customers and clients of the municipality, that’s my view, and it doesn’t seem that this view is shared by the hall.

“What I would like to see is that, when you’re vetting a policy, that it goes through the checklist, does this go with Whistler2020, does this increase our shareholder value, our shareholders being all of us.”

Forsyth said he agreed “100 per cent” with that statement and added that similar feelings have come to him “loud and clear” with other community stakeholders.

“If we didn’t explain to shareholders where the value was coming from, or why we made this investment, then they have questions and they don’t understand why we did it,” he said.

“Part of that is a communications strategy and gathering support for our initiatives before we announce them.

“So when we announce a policy decision, why aren’t we going to the Chamber or Tourism Whistler and asking what they think of it, and then taking that feedback away and saying, ‘This is what we’re doing, here’s why we’re proceeding with the changes you suggested and here’s why we can’t proceed with the changes you suggested,’ so that everybody’s on the same page.”

Forsyth is interested in setting up an Economic Development Advisory Panel, similar to one set up in the City of Surrey that would help the Resort Municipality of Whistler inform the policy decisions of its council. The panel has helped get Surrey recognized as a prosperous municipality and Forsyth wonders whether the same can be done for Whistler.

Marvin Haasen, a co-owner of Dairy Queen in Whistler Village, pointed out that a similar initiative had been carried out in Whistler already: a Business Enhancement Committee with representation from various stakeholders.

“It had Tourism Whistler, Whistler Blackcomb, municipal representatives, councillors, small business landlords, and actually senior (RMOW) staff would often come in and bounce ideas off of us,” he said.

“We had this wonderful committee that represented all interests with really good people on it. …I have a feeling that the internal politics at city hall stopped this committee because I think they were afraid of what they were hearing. For example, pay parking, we stood against it.”

As it stands, the municipality may already be taking steps to listen more closely to the community when it comes to fostering economic activity. Forsyth complimented Mike Furey, the municipality’s new administrator, at the meeting for taking steps to engage with groups like the Whistler Chamber of Commerce to get their ideas on how to stimulate business in town.

Vacation property manager Diane Maskell agreed, saying the new leadership that the municipality is seeing encourages her.

“I’m very encouraged by the fact (Forsyth) finds the new CAO very open and amenable and on the same page,” she said, “because I think that’s a huge factor in why municipal hall hasn’t been more responsive to our needs.”

 

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