BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Working the numbers

Richard Rolke looks at the pro-amalgamation petition and the response

How much is enough? That is the question many residents and politicians are debating after the Greater Vernon Governance Society released the final results of its petition campaign.

Are 2,930 signatures sufficient to trigger a study into a potential merger of Vernon, Coldstream and the two electoral areas?

Proponents seem to think so.

“We believe this is a significant and credible survey of the entire community,” said Bruce Shepherd, society president.

And Shepherd has a point as 2,930 people taking the time to get directly involved in an issue is significant given the increasingly apathetic nature of the electorate.

It should also be pointed out that the number of signatures compared to the 2011 civic election participation rate is 25.3 per cent in Coldstream and 22.9 per cent in Vernon.

The turnout for April’s sports complex referendum was a dismal 19.5 per cent.

So the petition architects can easily make a strong case that there is sufficient public interest in reviewing Greater Vernon governance and the politicians should create an atmosphere that allows such a process to proceed.

That view is supported by Eric Foster, Vernon-Monashee MLA.

“The numbers warrant a good look by everyone. I’m glad that enough people are interested to see what the next steps are,” he said.

However, those individuals less keen on the idea of amalgamation challenge the numbers.

“It’s uninspiring. They spent that much time and got 2,930 names,” said Bob Fleming, BX-Swan Lake director.

Yes, the signatures compare well to the 2011 civic election results, but it’s only  about seven per cent of the total 45,000 eligible voters in Greater Vernon. That reality could become a stumbling block when trying to sway civic and provincial leaders to spend time and money on a restructuring study.

It will also be pointed out by some that municipalities and regional districts receive petitions all of the time.

As an example, Vernon council was recently handed a 3,191-name petition pushing for expanded transit. It was denied. In another case, 1,670 signatures regarding Okanagan Landing firefighters was ignored.

Just because a lot of people put pen to paper doesn’t mean politicians will lend their support or that the item is necessarily the best for the public as a whole given other factors.

Mike Macnabb, BX-Silver Star director, is quick to dismiss the governance petition because 2,032 of the 2,930 names are from Vernon.

“It’s not overwhelming support from the other jurisdictions to join Vernon,” he said.

The problem with numbers is you can turn them into anything you want them to be.

For the petition organizers, they are confident the numbers clearly work in their favour and there is grassroots demand for change. But on the other side, the numbers can indicate that a majority of Greater Vernon voters are either satisfied with the current governance structure or are ambivalent.

The next step is for society members to lobby Vernon, Coldstream and regional district politicians to investigate the pros and cons of possible amalgamation. Will some of the officials stick to their interpretation of the numbers or will they see 2,930 names as democracy in action?

It’s difficult to know what will happen, but there is one guarantee. The debate is far from over.


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