The District of Lake Country found itself with a new mayor in October for the first time in 17 years.
Former district councillor Blair Ireland was acclaimed to the position after the only other candidate, Barry Rhodes, withdrew from the race.
“Barry has some issues he’d like to bring forward and it’s always best to air those in the public and talk about them,” said Ireland. “And to that point, Barry called me when he put in his papers to withdraw and we had a long conversation.”
He added it’s not easy to run for local government.
“It’s a commitment and people do it to better their community. I think that Barry would be doing it for the same reasons.”
Ireland was on council for the past eight years, representing Okanagan Centre.
Former mayor James Baker announced in April that he would not run again. He said the issues Lake Country is facing are the same ones other communities in B.C. are dealing with.
“Roads, drinking water, infrastructure and local government keeping up with the pace of growth. For local government to keep up with growth it’s going to cost taxpayers money. We have to be very cognizant of that.”
Ireland added there may be some residents who, given his time on council, might think things will be the same as they were.
“Whilst I would not want to criticize mayor Baker, he’s been mayor for a long time, and did a great job for this community over the years. But I’m not him, so absolutely there will be changes.”
Following the election a small gathering was held at the Lake Country Museum to pay tribute to Baker.
Ireland took the time to congratulate his former colleague on his retirement.
“I think it’s been said before about his steady hand. I get a little hot under the collar sometimes, that’s no surprise to anybody, but James is up there and he just, it always seems to come back together and it’s smooth and everybody gets along. I don’t have great experience, but looking out and seeing a lot of the other councils around, our council although we sometimes disagree we can get back in the room together and enjoy each other’s company and be respectful. I think respect is a thing that James really created around that table.”
Ireland said he has some really big shoes to fill and hopes Baker will still offer a guiding hand when called upon. Baker sat next to his wife, Anita, while several people spoke to the crowd on the many years of service the couple has put into the community.
Baker is originally from Lytton. He studied at Simon Fraser University, earning a Masters Degree in archeology. In 1974, Baker moved his family to the Okanagan.
Baker has an extensive teaching background, has sat on the regional district board, and played a vital role in the incorporation of Lake Country.
He served as a councillor on the inaugural Lake Country council. Baker is also well recognized for his support in Indigenous reconciliation.
“I’ve also been asked to stay on the committee that is working with the elders in collaboration with the municipality on the interpretive centre that is going to be built on…Woodsdale Road.”
Baker has said he will look to get back into the field of education in his retirement like volunteering with secondary and post-secondary field trips.