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Kelowna mayor says Russia is violating the spirit of the Olympics

Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray speaks at the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday.  - Alistair Waters/Capital News
Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray speaks at the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday.
— image credit: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray says while he hasn’t made up his mind about running for re-election, if Thursday’s annual State of the City address to the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce was to be his last, he would be happy to exit on what he considers a high note.

Gray has said he will make a decision about his political future before the end of March.

He has said he is leaning to not seeking another term as mayor, and reiterated that again yesterday.

But following his speech to the chamber, Gray said he believes the city is in better shape than it was when he returned to office 26 months ago. He previously served as mayor from 1996 to 2005.

In 2011, he said, the city was mired in the same “tough economic time” that was affecting communities not only in this province and across Canada, but around the world.

“It didn’t matter who the mayor or council was,” he said.

But, he added, his new council did start to do things to sent a message that the city was now less bureaucratic. And that, he added, attracted developers.

“Kelowna is in a better position (now), the economy is growing,” said Gray.

His speech was a veritable greatest hits package of the nearly 2 1/2 years since the current council came to power, listing a myriad of projects ranging from the city’s $14-million revitalization of its main downtown street, Bernard Avenue, to transportation improvements and development projects realized and planned, and the Interior Health office tower downtown which  will consolidate the health authority’s nearly 1,000 workers in a single office building.

“That is an absolute highlight,” said Gray of the IH project, calling it potentially transformative for the downtown core because of the impact having so many more workers in the area will have for other area businesses.

During his speech, Gray hearkened back to the phrase he used during the last municipal election—Kelowna is open for business—but this time he added city hall has removed the red tape.

One of the first acts the new council carried out when it took office in 2011 was to kill the advisory planning commission, which used to vet new development proposals.

In addition to listing projects like plans for a new $42-million police building on Clement, adding 22 new police officers in the last few years, expanding the Rails With Trails off-road multi-use path to complete a 19-kilometre off-road path network encircling the city, using millions from the federal gas tax to help with environmental projects, road and bridge work and $25 million in new infrastructure in the Rutland area alone, Gray also pointed to partnerships as important for the city in recent years.

Whether funding support came from the province, federal government or private business, he said it all was important to getting local projects completed here.

He pointed to the city’s public pier that was paid for by a private developer but is a public amenity as an example.

Edmonton-based Westcorp, which is planning to build a 24-storey tall hotel on the former site of the Willow Inn at the foot of Queensway, paid $5 million to build the pier and a nearby commercial dock, which it operates.

Gray said projects coming up include the very expensive plan to fix up Lakeshore Drive and rebuild the Lakeshore Drive bridge, expand the Queensway transit exchange, and add left-turn signals on Highway 97 at Gordon, Burtch and Cooper.

The twin tower residential Monaco development at Doyle and St. Paul is also close to breaking ground, and Gray said he has been told a hotel will go into one of the towers.

Gray also defended some of council’s actions, saying controversial moves like the recent hike in parking rates was something that was needed, not only to raise revenue but more importantly to create a better turnover of parking for business in the areas affected.

The mayor also pointed to the city’s increasing reliance on the Internet to gather public feedback, saying more people respond to city initiatives and requests for input now via the web than turn up at public open houses.

He said public consultation is more important now than ever and the city has made a concerted effort to do more of it when it comes to projects like area plans such as the upcoming work it wants to do along the south Pandosy  waterfront.

•••

Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray has joined the international chorus of politicians speaking out against Russia’s anti-gay law.

Starting his annual  State of the City address to the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce Thursday, Gray praised Canadian Olympic athletes, particularly local freestyle skier Kelsey Serwa and skeleton racer Eric Neilson who are both currently in Sochi competing for Canada.

But he did not stop at simply wishing the athletes well.

Gray also slammed Russia for introducing a law that it says simply bans “gay propaganda” but is seen by those outside of Russia as state-sanctioned homophobia.

“One aspect of the games is that the Russian government has moved away from tolerance, away from celebrating diversity by introducing Draconian laws,” said Gray.

“Governments around the world have taken a leadership role by speaking out against this discrimination and I want to take this opportunity to say that the City of Kelowna unreservedly joins those jurisdictions than admonish Russia and (Russian President Vladamir) Putin.”

Gray said the international Olympic Committee’s own statement on Olympic spirit says “to build a peaceful and better world which requires a mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

“It must be noted that those ideals are not being met during these Games and that is most regrettable, in fact intolerant,” he added.

Russia has angered many around the world with its lack of legal protection for gays lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people.

As a result of the law, many world leaders including Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, U.S. President Barak Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron refused to attend the opening ceremonies, sending representatives instead.

Gray, who made headlines across B.C. for arbitrarily dropping the word Pride from a requested Gay Pride Day proclamation during his first tenure as mayor, has since forged what he and representatives of the local LGBT community have described as a good and supportive working relationship.

Gray has spoken at the city’s annual gay pride festival opening ceremonies each year since being re-elected mayor in 2012.

Since returning to the mayor’s office, Gray has spoken of the need for the city to celebrate diversity on several occasions.

He points not only to the work he and the city have done to help the local gay pride festival grow into the popular multi-day event it has become, but also reaching out to other ethic groups in the city.

awaters@kelownacapnews.com

 

awaters@kelownacapnews.com

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