BEYOND THE HEADLINES: A non-issue

Columnist Richard Rolke provides some thoughts on Vernon candidates, the chamber and the A-word

The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce issued a press release last week indicating that a majority of Vernon’s mayoralty and councillor candidates back a study into governance of Greater Vernon.

“Our members have long supported a move towards amalgamation as a means to streamline local government and make the region`s many local governments more efficient in responding to the opportunities for economic development, said Dan Rogers, chamber general manager.

Now the results of the chamber survey come as no surprise. First off, it’s obvious that most of the Vernon candidates believe the pros and cons of amalgamation should be pursued further. But one can also make the case that it’s politically expedient for those seeking votes to provide the answer they know a specific group wants to hear.

The chamber states that its membership supports a move towards amalgamation, but are they reflective of the broader community?

Yes about 2,000 Vernon residents signed a pro-governance study petition last year, but consider that Vernon has a population of 38,150. On top of this, the issue of amalgamation was not raised by a member of the public during any of the forums leading up to Saturday’s election and it hasn’t dominated the campaign platform of any individual candidates.

Also consider that while the Greater Vernon Governance Society garnered a lot of publicity during its petition drive, none of the society’s executive put their name forward as a candidate to promote the issue further. Partly, as a result, staunch opponents to amalgamation, the mayor of Coldstream and the directors for Areas B and C, were acclaimed.

And when you go to www.greatervernongovernance. ca, you get the following message: “this account has been suspended.”

Now it should be pointed out that while amalgamation hasn’t surfaced as a burning issue in Vernon, it was put before Coldstream councillor candidates at last week’s forum. All seven dismissed the concept, which wasn’t a surprise given that anything other than a no response wouldn’t have gone over very well with the Coldstream Ratepayers Association crowd.

Given the Vernon candidates’ willingness to line up behind a governance review, outgoing mayor Rob Sawatzky is concerned what a new crop of politicians could mean for the city’s relationship with the neighbours.

“Be responsible about your statements. You must deal with the realities of the day and the reality is there are no willing partners at this point,” he said, adding that beyond Coldstream and the electoral areas, the provincial government will not sanction a study unless there are at least two jurisdictions participating.

If a new Vernon council keeps hammering at the issue, how will Coldstream and electoral area officials react, and will a war of words stall any co-operative efforts over water, a new ice sheet and cultural facilities like an art gallery and museum? Vernon taxpayers require financial support from the other jurisdictions for those projects to proceed. Coldstream and the electoral areas also have land available for economic development, something Vernon doesn’t.

In the chamber’s press release, Rogers says, “We’re pleased to see the overwhelming majority candidates in Vernon are willing to keep an open mind on the topic and we hope other jurisdictions will follow suit.”

Fair enough, but the Vernon candidates should equally keep an open mind that amalgamation doesn’t have buy-in from officials in the other jurisdictions nor are a majority of residents throughout the region demanding immediate change. Without that, the provincial government will stay on the sidelines.

On Nov. 15, a new Vernon council will be elected to represent the best interests of its constituents. Those duties should include checking personal views at the door and making nice with the neighbours.