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Blogging - keeping politicians on their toes

Apparently, my last blog entry on dealing with Whistler's new media communications protocol raised a few hackles at muni hall. Before continuing with my regular blog, Word of the Rings, it's important that certain elected and salaried officials become more accustomed with blogs and gain an understanding of why regular folks take time to share their opinions online.

In the past few months, we've watched as the world's media empires faced massive budget cuts and staff losses. In Canada, those losses were felt at media giants -- CTV, CBC and Canwest. Denver's Rocky Mountain News closed their doors on March 2, 2009 after 150 years of operation and the many others are struggling to stay afloat.

As budgets and staff are slashed, it's becoming increasingly difficult for the media to cover all the crucial news or to conduct investigative journalism. It's no surprise, that the average citizen is finding alternate ways to keep elected politicians on their toes.

Blogs are nothing new. They entered the media landscape over ten years ago. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary even declared "blog" the Word of the Year in 2004.

Wikipedia defines a blog as "a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video."

A blog is nothing more than a commentary on the news or a specific subject, written as a personal online diary. A blog uses text, images, and links to other blogs, and web pages.
Although bloggers usually react to material published by the mainstream media, I make
a point of attending council meetings and reading my share of staff reports, bylaws and land use policies.

What do you need to set up a blog? Well, you don't need the permission of the RMOW's Communications Department or even a TCUP (Temporary Commercial Use Permit.) You simply need a computer, the Internet connection and some valid opinions.

Not all elected officials are adverse to communicating with their constituents. Smart politicians are hopping on the social networking bandwagon with personal blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook profiles.

The mayor of Dawson City, Yukon, John Steins runs a blog. On his site, Stein writes, "I started this journal to allow citizens to take advantage of the Internet and interact with their Mayor and by extension, their council. This is a great way to communicate with constituents and for those who want to know something about me. It's important to point out that the content of this website is my own and in no way reflects the opinion of city council, unless it is expressly stated as such."

Libby Davies, the Member of Parliament for Vancouver East has a blog. Her March 4 entry discussed Vancouver's growing gang wars and link to prohibition. It appears Davies is not adverse to tackling the tough issues in her riding or sharing her thoughts with her constituents.

Linda Jackson, the mayor of Vaughan, ON has a blog at and a Facebook account, putting her in the company of U.S. President Barack Obama. Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper is tweeting.

I really think Whistler's top elected official should spend less time worrying about citizen blogs, and focus on the bigger issues at hand.

For instance, Fortress Investment Group LLC (FIG) - the hedge fund owners of Intrawest and Whistler Blackcomb, will release its fourth quarter and full-year results for the period ended December 31, 2008 on Monday, March 16, 2009 at 10 a.m. Things don't look good.

Depending on FIG's earnings or losses, we could see the demise of Fortress, with the province of B.C. stepping in to buy Whistler Blackcomb, or FIG could be taken private. Good times.

The April 2009 issue of Vanity Fair article by Bethany McLean, "Over the Hedge" profiles the five hotshots who took Fortress Investment Group public.

Times are changing for ski resorts. On March 4, 2009, America's newest all-season ski resort, Tamarack Resort in Idaho, shut its doors for good.  The Bank of America even threatened to remove two ski lifts.

Whistler residents are fuming over the RMOW's proposed 20 per cent tax increase over three years to cover the resort's $5.7 million deficit. I have to ask - why is someone from VANOC (Ken Dobell) sitting on Whistler's Blue Ribbon Panel, advising the Whistler's municipality on tax increases? Other financial advisors included Capital West Partners, BDO, Victoria Consulting Network Ltd, and Vancity.

Although local powers would like to stifle public opinion, the voices of independent bloggers and citizens are critical to retaining our democracy. The best part of a blog? If you don't like what a blogger has to say, you don't have to read it.

The time has come for Whistler's politicians to embrace blogs and Twitter, or at least consider having webcasts of council meetings. Openness and approachability would go a long way to connecting politicians with their constituents and making the ride a little less "bumpy!"

As the classic Alka-Selzer commercial goes, "Try it, you'll like it."

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