J. Smith: Park donation raises questions

Watching the bizarre ends to which the parade of park proponents will go to try to save a small strip of waterfront property in the South Pandosy area this week, I think we have to ask ourselves one big question: Is it really democracy if you can buy your own way?

Watching the bizarre ends to which the parade of park proponents will go to try to save a small strip of waterfront property in the South Pandosy area this week, I think we have to ask ourselves one big question: Is it really democracy if you can buy your own way?

If you follow current events of any kind these days, you probably understand that the fight for democracy and democratic freedom has turned much of our world on end at the moment. In a very real sense, we are all paying far more for this value.

Upheaval in the Middle East, where various dictators have kept tight rein on wealth and power, has every one of us paying higher gas prices, food prices and experiencing a serious spike in inflation.

And while the $1.40-a-litre gas price heading our way is a lot to take in, not to mention the cost of red peppers and milk, anyone who takes the time to listen to the story of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young produce vendor who burned himself outside a municipal office igniting revolt in Tunisia and several surrounding countries, knows we aren’t paying anything by comparison.

In Bahrain, a prominent human rights activist has been arrested and beaten along with his sons-in-law, leaving one daughter to stage a hunger strike in hopes of catching U.S. President Barack Obama’s attention.

In Egypt, women spent International Women’s Day last month lamenting the stranglehold men still have on power in their country, despite unprecedented female participation in the recent revolution. Only one women was sworn into office in the new government.

Then you look at Kelowna’s city council, where it appears logical arguments, careful planning, listening to the public and democratic decision-making by elected officials can all be trumped by a very small pay-off.

Late last week, an “anonymous donor” told city officials he or she would pay $2.3 million to see a property originally slated for park, which city planners want to see turned into a linear park and mixed-use development, stay a park.

That was all it took to send the city planning department’s recommendations backwards.

While a decision on the matter was due this week, council instead decided to roll the public process back and reopened the public hearing to consider the fact someone is now willing to pay to get their way.

In other words, from this point forward, if it looks like a development decision won’t swing in a given developer’s favour, the company or property owner can now feel free to pay someone off—provided it’s done publicly.

While democracy may have a huge human cost around the world, at the moment, here in Kelowna, we hand it over for a couple of million.

I mean, if you were a developer in the area whose finances were tied in knots because you couldn’t sell your own building or planned building due to this new proposal, wouldn’t you finagle the cash to make it all go away?

If you had a view from your property that renders it worth millions more, wouldn’t you too trump up a little stumping fund to ensure others don’t block your lakescape?

It may sound a little conspiracy theory-ish, but honestly, you’re talking about a group who are literally willing to beat one another over the head with their messaging.

On the surface it may look like Michael Neill was the only one felled for a cause this week when a piece of a sign fell on him at last Saturday’s rally, but from a realistic point of view, I think it’s really the average Kelowna taxpayer who really got kicked in the head with this latest move.

jsmith@kelownacapnews.com