It’s common, after an election, to hear, “People got what they voted for.”
But in the case of Greater Vernon’s failed water referendum Saturday, it’s difficult to know what residents voted for.
Were residents rejecting any upgrades made to the water utility or were there concerns only about specific aspects of the proposal, such as filtration or putting treated water on farm land? By voting no, were residents insisting that they want the plan pared back from the original $70 million price tag?
Were some hoping that a no vote would force the provincial government to step forward with grants as a way of easing the burden on local taxpayers?
But voters may soon learn that there is a difference between what they want and reality.
The next steps will largely be dictated by the Ministry of Health and the Interior Health Authority, which are insistent that regulations for drinking water be followed. There is the possibility the master water plan rejected by voters could be forced ahead with no commitment of government funds.
And even if IHA and the ministry accept a watered-down (pun intended) approach for upgrades, it’s not going to be cheap. All options considered by the Regional District of North Okanagan were generally higher than the $70 million plan on the ballot Saturday.
Most Vernon and Coldstream politicians elected Saturday voted against borrowing, even though many of them helped the master water plan get to the referendum stage. They helped influence voters’ actions and because of that, they must show leadership and resolve the uncertainty.
However, the final decision is largely out of local hands and that could leave voters paying the price.