Nancy Wilhelm-Morden running for Whistler mayor

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The Whistler election campaign has begun in earnest. So far it looks like former councillors Nancy Wilhelm-Morden and Ralph Forsyth duking it out for the job, although there is still plenty of time to declare.

The divisions are already apparent between these two. Below you’ll find my story about Nancy declaring her candidacy. Below that you’ll find a post by my colleague, G.D. Maxwell, responding to the story and the concerns brought up therein.

What’s most fascinating is that Max’s column has essentially drawn a line in the sand for these candidates. The evidence is beneath that, a Tweet from Ralph responding to Max’s column… and a Tweet that could be a theme that defines this election campaign and that Ralph is seizing on already.

It’s an exhaustive post, but if you read through to the end you get a pretty good sense of the themes that could come up in this campaign.

By Jesse Ferreras and Andrew Mitchell

Whistler’s ballot sheet for mayor and council in the upcoming election just got a little more crowded.

This week saw local lawyer and columnist Nancy Wilhelm-Morden declare for the mayor’s position and designer and drafter Richard Diamond throw his hat into the ring for council.

“Whistler’s at an interesting crossroads and I believe that I do have the skills to help,” said Wilhelm-Morden at a press conference to announce her candidacy officially this week.

Wilhelm-Morden has emphasized experience as part of her campaign. She has served four terms on Whistler council, first in 1984, then again on councils starting in 1988, 1996 and 2005.

While she said that the current council has had “ups and downs” in its three-year term, Wilhelm-Morden said she disagrees with some actions lawmakers have taken when it comes to “fiscal responsibility.”

“Twenty-two per cent tax increases, for starters,” she said when asked to elaborate. “The budgeting process needs improvement. There needs to be fiscal accountability. There’s no reporting back on the performance of the $77 million budget after it’s passed. That’s just the beginning.”

Since her last term on council, Wilhelm-Morden has written a column for the Question newspaper that has been critical of decisions taken at the municipal level.

One in particular has been the ongoing issue of an asphalt plant located close to the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood, which served as the Athletes’ Village during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Some months ago, four members of council voted at an in-camera meeting to issue a cease-and-desist order against the plant, which is operated by Alpine Paving (1978) Ltd, and which both the resort municipality and its lawyers maintain above loud objections has a right to operate there. A judge is expected to rule on its ability to operate sometime in November.

Asked whether she would have issued the order were she on the current council, she said, “Absolutely. I would have done that a year and a half before council did it.”

If Wilhelm-Morden were elected mayor, she would be tasked with acting as spokesperson for a community in which she has repeatedly represented clients who have brought lawsuits against some major organizations operating here.

In 2009 she represented clients who brought a lawsuit against Intrawest and Doppelmayr over an Excalibur Gondola accident that trapped their children inside one of its cabins. In 2010 she represented a client who sued the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association for negligence when she was injured during a Toonie Ride.

And later in 2010, she represented a client who brought a lawsuit against the resort municipality after falling into a ditch in the Day Lots in 2008.

Wilhelm-Morden admits that community members have raised concerns about her representing clients who have brought lawsuits against major employers and organizations, but said in many injury cases, when a client brings a lawsuit, it’s usually because they have sustained serious injuries.

“I represent people who bring on lawsuits for compensation from the injuries they’ve sustained as the result of the wrongful act of someone else. If elected as mayor, I will fight as hard for my community as I have for my clients.”

Running for council has been on Diamond’s mind for some time.

“I’ve been talking about it for a number of years now with friends, about what we think needs to be different in town,” he said.

Diamond, who also did planning work in Pemberton and is familiar with both the Local Government Act and Community Charter, said his goal is to represent “the other side of the coin” in municipal debates.

“There’s this other side of the coin that’s usually not discussed or put on the table, although there are a lot of people here that are affected by things,” he said. “There’s a feeling that special interest groups are looked after and not always the community as a whole.”

One example, he said, is employee housing. “Every developer has put a lot of emphasis on employee housing, but we haven’t considered others in the community that could benefit from their contributions in the way of amenity,” he said. “One example is that we hear a lot about the need for another hockey rink. Maybe that’s one of the things we should be getting from developers rather than more (Whistler Housing Authority) housing.”

As another example, he suggested that Function Junction has been left out of spending decisions in favour of investing in the village. In that sense, Diamond said one group of small businesses are being served while another is not. And nobody, he said, is looking out for second homeowners.

Decisions, he said, have to be made in the context of what Whistler has become.

“We’re not a little resort town anymore,” he said. “We’re more like a city. Things have changed a lot, and so have the needs of the community.

Like other candidates, Diamond is also concerned about the growing municipal budget, and said that will be a priority of his as well.

“Fiscally, what we need to do is make some differentiations between what we want, what we need and what’s good for the community as a whole rather than special interests,” he said. “And it’s hard. I’ve worked in local government and I’m familiar with the Acts that govern what council can do and can’t do. It’s harder than people think.

“I’m not saying we need to get rid of people. We can’t do that until we sit down at a table and see what our obligations are under various acts. That’s when we make decisions – trim the fat, find efficiencies, reduce red tape and get out of the way of business (so it’s) not required dealing with the municipality for absolutely everything. We need to make things easier for people, and not harder. And reduce the size of government.”

I object!

By G. D. Maxwell

Q: What is the difference between a catfish and a lawyer?

A: One is a scum sucking bottom dweller and the other is a fish.

I am who I am. I am not what I do. Oddly enough, there are people who don’t understand the distinction. I’m not sure whether they have problems separating who they are from what they do for a living or whether their work is so all-consuming it simply defines them.

Though not an exhaustive list, I have been a gas jockey, draftsman, astronomer, factory worker, steel fabricator, lawyer, banker, writer and hospitality worker. None of those things adequately define who I am and, quite frankly, with the exception of writer, I did them because I had the skills and/or education and, more importantly, because they paid the bills. Had fate been fickler, I’d have done none of those jobs and spent my days frittering away family wealth. I’m sure that activity would have had the pleasant experience of shaping me into something other than what I am but, as Popeye said, “I yam what I yam.”

As much as it pains me to take exception with anything written in so august a publication as Pique, I fear last week’s news piece on the latest fous to enter the mayoral Campagne de Fous left an overwhelming impression that Ms. Wilhelm-Morden was a bit of a catfish. As a recovering lawyer, I take exception.

Generally, this wouldn’t matter to me. I’ve come to understand the lasting impression anything we write in Pique has on the attention span challenged people of Tiny Town. But with the other mayoral fous being on record as referring to his now-announced opponent as an ambulance chaser, I feel compelled to speak out… or at least be similarly slandered myself.

The fact of the matter is, while our brethren south of the border may indeed chase ambulances, that particular activity happens far less often in the socialist paradise of Canada. Simply put, chasing ambulances doesn’t pay the bills up here. Awards for medical compensation are, understandably, mere fractions of what they are in the litigious states of America, given Canada’s universal healthcare. And for whatever reason, Canadian juries aren’t nearly as sympathetic towards injured parties; as a result, they tend to be stingy awarding damages.

Nonetheless, there are people injured in the Great White North and there are negligent acts that need to be addressed and the only people around to do the heavy lifting are lawyers, as satisfying as it might be to sic a biker on someone who hurt you. But just to be clear, lawyers don’t bring lawsuits; their injured clients do. Journalists don’t make news; they report it. Columnists on the other hand….

And while it’s amusing to poke fun at frivolous lawsuits – most of which seem to emanate from the USA, e.g., granny and the, surprise, hot coffee from McDonalds – the fact is, we all benefit in ways we tend to take for granted.

If you’ve ever walked away from a head-on car crash, you probably escaped on the backs of those who didn’t. Not many years ago, if you ran into something with enough speed behind you, there was a good chance your steering column would impale you like a medieval lance, right through the heart. Auto companies didn’t design collapsible steering columns and padded steering wheels because they wanted to be nice. Governments didn’t force them to stop killing people in that particular way. Lawsuits did.

When I was younger, kids not infrequently ended up in burn wards or morgues when their pajamas got too close to open flames, like the ones on candles and fireplaces. If your children’s PJs don’t flare up like flash paper, thank a lawyer. Someone’s kid whose PJs did sued the pants off a manufacturer and spent the rest of their lives grieving.

Does your kettle turn off when it runs dry or tips over? Are there seatbelts in your car? Are your prescription drugs safe? Is your workplace safe? Does your food not make you sick? Thank a lawyer, grudgingly if it makes you feel better, but thank one anyway.

There are people in town pissed off at the latest mayoral fous because a client of hers sued Golden Search & Rescue when his calls for help went unheeded and his wife eventually died of exposure. The case grinds on and may eventually be decided by people who will hear the whole story, unlike anyone who’s already made up their mind.

But by simply having launched the suit, all B.C. SAR groups have benefited because the provincial government stepped up to provide a liability backstop for them, something they should have done a long time ago, given SAR performs a quasi-governmental function on a volunteer basis. That’s a pretty big bonus to rescuers and directors who were facing potentially personal liability, often without even knowing it.

There are people in town pissed off over the suit a client brought against WORCA. But because of that suit, WORCA discovered they were being defrauded by their insurance broker and were running without any liability insurance. That left the directors of WORCA personally liable for damages to anyone injured or, at a minimum, legal fees to defend a claim of negligence leading to injury. When the fraud was uncovered, the same ambulance chaser talked it over with her client and they agreed to drop the suit; neither wanted to go after the directors personally. Oh yeah, and WORCA’s paying a lot more attention to safety these days. What a terrible outcome.

Until people and businesses and governments step up and voluntarily accept responsibility for their negligent acts – inadvertent though they may be – that wind up injuring other people, we’ll need to have lawyers to do the suing for us. If it’s ever been you who’s been the injured party, you understand. For those of you who haven’t, lucky you. If you ever are, the first thing you’ll discover is the other side probably has a lawyer and if you ever want to get anywhere, you’d better get the best one you can find. Our new mayoral fous is one of the best.

But she’s also a strong supporter of this community, having sat on council a total of 12 years and been instrumental in launching and nurturing the Community Foundation of Whistler. And she’s helped any number of people I know in this town get compensated when someone else was responsible for the injuries they received.

So we can make fun of lawyers – Q: What’s black and brown and looks good on a lawyer? A: A Doberman. – and we can even call them ambulance chasers if it makes us feel better about what we do for a living. But compared to, oh, say teaching people to ski steeps, I’ll take the new fous’ accomplishments any day.

@ralphforsyth(Ralph Forsyth)
Ronald Regan wasn’t a Lawyer OR a businessman… Neither was Eisenhower or Nelson Mandela or Stephen Harper or Martin Luther King or Ghandi

About jesseferreras

Sea to Sky-based journalist. Snowboarder, cyclist, cinephile, bon vivant.
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