As novel as it sounds, Jim Garlick and Rob Sawatzky aren’t the first politicians to try and cease hostilities between Vernon and Coldstream.
Back on Nov. 22, 1999, mayors-elect Brian Postill and Sean Harvey met at the border crossing on Middleton Way, shook hands and declared a new era of co-operation between the two municipalities.
“There has been some bad blood in the past between Vernon and Coldstream and I will be the first to apologize for what has happened but it’s time to turn a new leaf,” Harvey told the media, which was tired, like most residents were, of the constant squabbling between the two outgoing mayors of the time.
Postill vowed his council was dedicated to open dialogue.
“We don’t have to have official meetings. We can just get together and express our feelings,” he said.
Flash forward 12 years and Sawatzky, Vernon’s mayor-elect, and Garlick, Coldstream’s re-elected mayor, are pursuing a similar peace deal, although behind closed doors and not through a cheesy photo-op.
“There was a general consensus to keep talking. We didn’t get into solving anything right there,” said Garlick of a recent meeting with Sawatzky.
Sawatzky is cautiously optimistic about finding common ground.
“Time will tell but I have great hope. Both sides have expressed an interest in moving forward,” he said.
There was also a sense of optimism back in 1999 and initially, a lasting peace seemed possible. An agreement was hammered out to bring all water utilities under one roof, the performing arts centre and Wesbild Centre were constructed on time and on budget and Greater Vernon gained some decision-making authority away from the Regional District of North Okanagan.
But some strong personalities began to clash, particularly because the Area B and C directors felt like they were the forgotten partners. Ultimately, there was a power struggle and RDNO went back to calling the shots over Greater Vernon.
New politicians appeared on the scene as elections came and went, but the situation only appeared to get worse.
The Aberdeen Road sports complex fiasco undermined the credibility of the Greater Vernon parks board and the then-Coldstream council, while Vernon earned the dubious distinction of a trouble-maker because it was questioning virtually every function the regional district offered.
Possible restructuring of parks and recreation helped reveal further divisions among the parties.
In recent years, relations have been strained between Garlick and Wayne Lippert, Vernon’s outgoing mayor. And it hasn’t been uncommon to see Lippert and RDNO chairperson Herman Halvorson at loggerheads during meetings.
Sawatzky and Garlick deserve credit for trying to resolve the current impasse, particularly given that Sawatzky won’t be sworn in as mayor until Monday and has no official role yet.
But for progress to occur, there must be give-and-take on all sides.
It may mean Coldstream relinquishes its demand to maintain parks on its own. Vernon may have to back off on an extra vote based on population and agree to a model where there is a so-called balance of power between all jurisdictions.
The bottom line is few in the general public care about the inner-workings of governance as long as the parks remain open and the water flows.
Time will only tell if Sawatzky and Garlick, and their RDNO counterparts, become the visionaries who finally ended the cold war, or if this period of open dialogue is simply the calm before the storm.
—Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star