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Waters: Too soon to pass judgement on Kelowna’s 'new' council
Municipal politicians in B.C. have long said the three-year terms they are elected to are more like two-years when it comes to getting things done.
That’s because for many newly-elected mayors and councillors, the first year is taken up with a steep learning curve.
Next week marks the one-year anniversary of Kelowna’s current city council, a group made up of just three returnees from the previous council.
Sure, Mayor Walter Gray has plenty of local government experience, having served in the job for nine years prior to losing the 2005 election to Sharon Shepherd. But he was out of the picture for six years. And five of the eight current councillors who serve with him are rookies—Coun. Colin Basran, Mohini Singh, Maxine DeHart, Gail Given and Gerry Zimmermann. The only incumbents—Robert Hobson, Luke Stack and Andre Blanleil—won re-election. And when it comes to acting, it seems the five rookies take their lead from them.
So, after a year on the job, how is this “new” council doing?
Given the close results in voting and the acrimonious tone of the election, chances are the answer will differ depending on who you ask.
The current council came into power riding what appeared to be desire by many for change at city hall.
For many voters unhappy with what they perceived as a council that talked more than it acted, the change was needed to kick-start a sputtering local economy. Aided by a privately funded push that targeted four incumbent councillors for defeat, the election, especially for mayor, took on a nasty tone not seen here before. And, in the end, residents received a re-made council.
But in many ways it has yet to live up to the promise.
In fairness, the first term for any council is a tough one. Like it or not, it rides on the coattails of its predecessor when it comes to completing projects. Most of the photo-ops celebrating the completion of work—or the groundbreaking of projects—are thanks to plans hatched and finalized by the previous council.
Projects like the start of the Bernard Avenue revitalization, the completion of the new seniors’ centre, downtown development plans, an expansion of transit, road and bridge work and the addition of a new international arrival hall at the airport were all on the drawing board when the current council came to power one year ago. The big exception is the planned downtown Interior Health office tower project, along with its associated parkade.
But you can’t fault a council for continuity—or give it the credit either. Showing up to smile for the camera at a ribbon-cutting is not the same as planning the project. The real test for the current council will be in a year’s time when the plans it is working on now start to materialize.
Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.