BEYOND THE HEADLINES: The sound of silence

Columnist Richard Rolke looks at why elected officials weren't asked about Greater Vernon amalgamation

The elephant in the room was silent.

A week ago today, a capacity crowd of the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce gathered to hear from the mayors of Coldstream and Vernon and the chairperson of the Regional District of North Okanagan.

During their presentations, the politicians provided an update on their jurisdictions, with particular emphasis on the economy and trying to meet the needs of the public.

Now as someone who has lost count of how many chamber events I have covered, I know the real action at these events is not the speeches but the question and answer period. Generally, someone in the audience throws out an issue that can cause discomfort for the VIP.

However, this time around I was proven wrong. Except for an inquiry about the future of the Welcome to Greater Vernon signs, there wasn’t a peep out of those present.

The lack of interaction with the elected officials was surprising given that the chamber of commerce has been a vocal critic of the current governance structure in Greater Vernon.

The organization’s executive enthusiastically endorsed a citizens’ campaign last year to have amalgamation of the jurisdictions studied, and more recently, the Greater Vernon chamber had a motion regarding governance supported by the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.

The GVCC policy resolution calls for changes that would enable the provincial government to initiate a study even if only one jurisdiction is interested in exploring the business case for changes in regional governance.

“We appreciate that there are pros and cons related to different governance models but those can’t be examined if there is unwillingness by local governments to explore those ideas or if there is a lack of financial resources from the province to undertake such reviews,” said Matt Davidson, chairperson of GVCC’s policy advisory committee, in a media release in late May.

So if governance is so important to the chamber, why didn’t the issue surface during last week’s breakfast meeting?

They had the three most senior politicians for the area in the room and they could have put them on the spot, or at least heard from them first-hand as to why the officials believe the current structure is the most effective.

But instead of championing the cause, the chamber’s executive and rank-and-file members didn’t take advantage of the opportunity.

“That’s not the only thing we’re dealing with,” said Dan Rogers, chamber manager, when asked why the elected officials weren’t challenged about amalgamation.

And that’s obviously the case as the chamber is multi-pronged and is focused on a broad range of issues critical to its membership and the community at large.

However, it was just surprising that an organization that has made so much fuss about governance and is lobbying the provincial government over the matter wouldn’t corner local politicians when they are present in the same room.

But then again, perhaps the reason the amalgamation debate didn’t erupt is because the civic leaders were in the room.

Mayors Akbal Mund and Jim Garlick and Rick Fairbairn, Regional District of North Okanagan chairperson, presented themselves as team players who are willing to look beyond boundaries if it’s in the best interest of their residents.

“We will continue to work with our partners for the betterment of the region and its citizens and businesses,” said Fairbairn.

Maybe the politicians provided the chamber with some perspective and new information to consider.