Kelowna’s Colin Basran says it’s great to be a city councillor in the city where he was born and raised.
And now the 37-year-old, with just one three-year term on council under his belt, wants to take it a step further—he wants to be the mayor.
While some would consider the jump audacious with so little elected office experience, Basran doesn’t see it that way.
He’s up against a challenger in Sharon Shepherd who served nine years as a city councillor and another six as mayor and if Basran considers himself the underdog, he’s not showing it.
For him, it’s not the length of political experience that counts in this race, it’s the quality. He says he has learned a great deal in the last three years from outgoing Mayor Walter Gray and the two veteran city councillors, Robert Hobson and Andre Blanleil, who are each calling it a political career after a respective 26 years and 21 years on council.
Gray and Blanleil have both publicly endorsed Basran.
“Given all that this council has accomplished, it’s provided me with an opportunity to learn a lot and given me a great deal of experience in a short length of time,” says the married father of two young children who lives in the south Pandosy area of the city. Basran’s wife Leanne is a rehab assistant at KGH.
The candidate—one of the youngest in any of the municipal races in the Central Okanagan—has been a realtor for the last seven years but first came to local attention as a television reporter for CHBC, now Global Okanagan, from 2002 to 2007.
“We’ve seen the next generation of leadership emerge in other cities,” says Basran pointing to the likes of Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver. “I believe Kelowna is ready for a similar change.”
For Basran, who admits his platform is similar to Shepherd’s, the ultimate issue in this race is leadership.
Careful not to directly attack Shepherd for her time as mayor—seen by some of her critics as indecisive—Basan vowed that would not be the case with him at the helm.
“I won’t rule by committee,” he says, a thinly veiled reference to the belief by Shepherd’s critics that her councils spent too much time consulting and not enough time acting. It’s a contention Shepherd staunchly dismisses, pointing to a long list of city projects undertaken by her two council’s spanning many areas including social issues, development, economic activity and infrastructure. But in the last election her council was seen by many as one that did not get much done and Shepherd lost a very close election to Gray as a result.
It’s a view Basran does not share. He agrees that just as the current council has completed many projects started by Shepherd’s last council, the next council will complete some very large projects started by the current council, such as building a new police building, and overseeing development of Central Green, the addition of a new parkade downtown and the addition to another and the completion of the Interior Health office building and the Innovation Centre.
But, this being an election campaign, he’s also not afraid to get a few digs in, albeit softly.
Basran says he’s not afraid to make the “tough” decisions. As an example, he points to his recent vote to approve a controversial office/commercial building behind Kelowna General Hospital that many residents in the area, including some of his own friends, opposed. He realizes that decision could cost him votes.
“Consistency is important if you want to attract new business to the city. If the vision isn’t clear, if there is any doubt, people will go to other communities where that’s not the case.”
That’s welcome news for the current head of the organization that represents developers in the city. Andrew Bruce of the Urban Development Institute, while quick to caution UDI is non-political and does not, as a group, support or endorse candidates, says while developers have to deal with whomever gets in, he believes the current council is much better for his industry than the prior council was. Still, he adds, it has not been all clear sailing.
“There have been times that this council has rejected applications ,” said Bruce.
Stressing he feels Shepherd did a lot of good things as mayor, Bruce says it appeared she led a council that was divided on many issues.
“As a leader, the mayor is ultimately responsible for the people he or she is leading and it’s the mayor’s job to get council moving in a set direction.”
While he won’t endorse a candidate, Bruce says he feels Basran is capable of doing that.
Other supporters are more effusive in their take of Basran. During the recent ground-breaking for the Okanagan Innovation Centre, centre principles Lane Merrifield and Jeff Keen singled out Basran for praise as the public official who championed the building in its early stages and convinced his fellow councillors to get on board.
Basran said he supports technology as an industry for the city because it provides good-paying, clean, green jobs that attract younger people who tend to be environmentally conscious, who are into the arts and sustainable transportation and who like to support and get involved with social issues.
But there are some in the community who question Basran’s stated commitment to the arts and to social issues, two areas Shepherd has shown in the past she has an affinity for.
Some in the community have grumbled that a Basran-led council will be just like the current one under Gray—perceived as development at all costs.
But Basran doesn’t think has been the case emulating the success of the current council for the next four years would not be such a bad thing, He points to a list of social housing projects approved by the current council, including a portion of the yet-to-be-built Central Green development on the grounds of the old KSS high school for affordable housing , the Pleasantvale development, purpose-built rental housing and the city’s recent award of $300,000 in grants to two developments that will include a total of 76 rental units.
The current council legalized secondary suites in the city and approved the first purpose-built rental housing development in Kelowna built in the last 10 years.
“I’m for responsible growth, especially densification of our town centres,” says Basran, a third generation Canadian who hails from Rutland and whose parents met in high school there.
“It’s not a case of development at all costs,” he adds, using a term popularized by Shepherd during her time as mayor: “It must be done sustainably and in the right areas.”
With two young children and parents nearing retirement, Basran said he does not have to look far to see who he is running for. Kelowna may has lost its title of the oldest city in Canada (by age of resident) but it still needs to cater to seniors as they are a large portion of the population. But, he says, it also needs to cater to young families, the people who will build the city as it moves forward.
So Basran says his campaign has been open to all.
Unlike Shepherd, who has said in the past she would not accept donations from developers, Basran says he’ll accept support from everyone.
“Endorsements and donations are nice, but I won’t be beholden to make decisions for anyone who supports my campaign,” he said.