BEYOND THE HEADLINES: North Westside fights back

Many residents are increasingly fed up with the Regional District of Central Okanagan

Civil unrest is breaking out in the North Westside area.

Many residents are increasingly fed up with the Regional District of Central Okanagan and the perception that their interests aren’t taken seriously.

“They say we have lost our voice in local government and there is no say over their tax dollars,” said director Wayne Carson of his constituents.

Now to understand the current situation, you need to look at RDCO’s history.

When the district formed in 1967, it had eight electoral areas and the municipalities of Kelowna and Peachland. But through annexations and incorporations, there are only two electoral areas now and four municipalities.

RDCO’s population in 2011 was 179,830. The two electoral areas only make up about 5,700 people (not including the Westbank First Nation), with Westside Road from Trader’s Cove to Westshore Estates consisting of between 1,500 and 2,000 people.

Quite simply, the North Westside has been negatively impacted by demographics, urbanization and political trends.

On top of this, the area is geographically some distance from the rest of RDCO and is more closely associated with Vernon for mailing addresses, schools and shopping.

Carson insists he is increasingly outvoted by the municipally dominated board.

“I got 71 per cent of the vote (in the last election) but it means nothing to them.”

This is the exact opposite of the Regional District of North Okanagan where the five electoral areas have often been accused of having too much influence compared to their municipal counterparts.

Part of the difference is that RDNO, unlike  RDCO, has an advisory committee that handles issues of concern in the rural areas. All decisions must still be ratified by the RDNO board, but the committee gives the electoral areas a sense of ownership.

As an example, the full RDNO board votes on how federal gas tax funds will be dispersed in electoral areas, but it’s a rubber-stamp. The municipal directors generally respect the concept of rural directors knowing what is best for their area.

Carson says he has no control over gas tax money and RDCO administration determines that it should primarily go to water projects instead of parks.

“There’s a lack of true governance for the electoral area.”

Now it should be pointed out that RDCO is full of a lot of good people who work hard and have the best of intentions. That aside, a very real perception exists that the North Westside is taken for granted and not considered a priority.

Adding to the conflict is the strained relationship Carson had with many RDCO officials when he was on the payroll as fire chief. There’s no question that has coloured the current situation and the inability of both sides to work together.

It’s difficult to know what the answer is but it’s obvious that a more constructive relationship between RDCO, Carson and North Westside residents needs to develop.

That may mean RDCO embracing an electoral area committee structure similar to RDNO’s, or Westside Road considering governance options like forming a municipality and sitting at the regional table as an equal.

And for  those who say the North Westside is too small to go it alone, consider that Lumby has 1,731 people, Enderby’s at 2,932 and Nakusp’s population is 1,574. Anything is possible if you are willing to take the chance and, of course, pay for it.