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Conflict of interest concerns cause Whistler Tourism shakeup

Councillor Jayson Faulkner has stepped down from the board of Tourism Whistler over concerns raised by fellow board members that he is in a conflict of interest.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden has named Councillor Roger McCarthy as Faulkner's replacement. She is making the announcement at the July 17 council meeting.

The board shakeup follows Faulkner's recent appointment as general manager and partner of the Sea to Sky Gondola project in Squamish — a new sightseeing opportunity that will take tourists to a viewpoint above Stawamus Chief Provincial Park.

Faulkner, who was appointed to the board by Wilhelm-Morden after November's election, couldn't help but express his disappointment, surprise, confusion and regret on the fallout from his new job.

"I'm not interested in creating a ruckus," he said. "If there are members of the board that felt there was some conflict, I'm disappointed, I regret that. I don't understand it (but) I'll move on, as it were."

The chair of the 13-member Tourism Whistler board Roger Soane explained what prompted the change.

The issue was first brought to his attention, Soane said, by a fellow board member and later echoed by others.

"I'm not going to tell you who," he said. "There were a couple of members of the board concerned that Jayson was going to take a position in a capacity that essentially could be competing with product that we have in Whistler. I think the board's overall feeling is what's good for Sea to Sky is good for everybody, but it did come to our attention that being that it was going to be competition to product that we have in Whistler... that maybe there was a conflict there."

The chief competition is Whistler Blackcomb's $50 million plus Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which transports sightseers and skiers between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains high over Fitzsimmons Creek.

But there are many businesses in Whistler which could be "perceived" as being in conflict with each other — Tourism Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb each have tourist booking platforms for example.

Soane spoke to all the board members, taking an informal straw poll, and then approached the mayor, asking her how she would like to handle it because she is in charge of the council appointments.

"(The idea was) let's see if we can do this without having an official vote and sort of 'voting him off the island,'" said Soane, who added that Faulkner was a good board member. "I really left it to the mayor."

The council board member is one of six appointed positions on the 13-member board; the remaining seven positions are elected. In addition to the councillor seat, the municipality holds one other appointed seat. Whistler Blackcomb has two appointed seats, the Chamber of Commerce another non-voting seat, and the final appointed position is for the president and CEO of Tourism Whistler.

The mayor said that prior to Soane expressing the board's concerns to her, there had been an internal discussion about Faulkner's new job with the Sea to Sky Gondola.

"We were satisfied that he did not have an actual conflict but we were concerned that it could be perceived that he had a conflict," said the mayor. "So, out of an abundance of caution, and after discussing it with Jayson he stepped down and Roger was appointed in his place."

Soane was not personally concerned about the issue of Faulkner working and promoting the Squamish gondola while sitting on the Tourism Whistler board.

"From a tourism point of view, my goal is to attract people to the region and then to attract them to Whistler so I think anything that is adding product to the Sea to Sky corridor is good and from my personal business it's good for the accommodation sector, it's good for the region," he said. "Now I don't operate an attraction though."

He's been on the board for almost four years and while members have to excuse themselves for certain debates, this issue has never come up before in his time.

"I don't think there's ever been a position where we've questioned whether somebody should be on the board or not," said Soane.

Still, Faulkner remains perplexed why he was singled out. In a small community like Whistler, people wear many different hats within several organizations.

"You hope and you expect that the people who sit in those positions are doing it with a sense of responsibility and integrity that if there was ever a situation where there truly was a potential (to be in conflict)...that they would excuse themselves from that discussion."

He's pleased, however, to see Councillor Roger McCarthy sit on the board in his stead.

"He and I see eye-to-eye on a lot of this stuff," said Faulkner.

The mayor handpicked McCarthy for two reasons.

She said: "His background makes him well-suited to be on that board and he has the fewest number of appointments to various board and committees so it was his turn."

Alison Taylor reports for The Pique, the Whistler-based newsmagazine where this story first appeared. The Tyee reported earlier this month on the controversy surrounding Squamish's gondola proposal.


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