When he ended a state-of-the-city speech at a Kelowna Chamber luncheon in March this year with “this could possibly be the last time I get to do this,” former mayor Colin Basran likely had no idea that his words would come to be.
At the time, he was also asked if he would run for re-election in October’s municipal elections.
“It’s a conversation I need to have with my kids and parents in particular,” said Basran. “But at this point, I have no announcement to let the public know in terms of my political future.”
It turned out to be a turbulent year for the two-term mayor.
One in which he dealt with pushback from residents on high-rise developments, homelessness and crime; lost his job as the city’s mayor; and was charged with sexual assault.
Basran, and city council, faced considerable criticism over two high-rise projects planned for the downtown core – a development proposed for 350 Doyle Ave., site of the former RCMP detachment, and the UBC Okanagan downtown campus.
Many residents were upset over the scope and height of the UBCO tower at 43 storeys, and the nearly doubling in size of the 350 Doyle Ave. project from 13 to 25 storeys. That change prompted the Legacy Project Group (LPG) to accuse council of falling for a ‘bait and switch’ and to question the city’s transparency on the project.
“This whole bait and switch perpetrated about this project is so factually inaccurate, there’s no conspiracy going on just a fully committed developer,” said Basran at a July 26 public hearing.
Homelessness and crime were not just issues Basran dealt with as Kelowna’s mayor in 2022, but also as co-chair of the BC Urban Mayor’s Caucus (BCUMC).
In January, he and co-chair, former Victoria mayor Lisa Helps, wrote a letter to the provincial government outlining the BCUMC’s concerns.
“Together each of our communities is on the front lines experiencing the same impact of gaps in the health, housing, and justice system,” said Basran. “Our most vulnerable are falling through the cracks. Municipalities have invested in supportive housing, funded more police and bylaw officers, and created policies to increase inclusion in our communities, and yet more needs to be done and for that, we need the province’s support.”
The letter also expressed frustration with “repeat offenders’ criminal activity and the catch-and-release justice cycle.” It noted the frustration of residents, police officers and municipal councils, and urged the province to find solutions to dealing with chronic offenders.
In May, the NDP government commissioned retired Vancouver police chief Doug LePard and Simon Fraser University criminologist Amanda Butler to explore solutions to prolific offenders. The report was delivered in September and made 28 recommendations including a greater focus on mental health and substance use supports, and more prosecutors and probation officers.
In August, Statistics Canada reported that the Central Okanagan (Lake Country to Peachland) had the highest crime rate in 2021 of census metropolitan areas (CMA) in Canada. It was an issue that would follow Basran through his re-election campaign.
Basran announced his bid for re-election on Sept. 8, just one day before the deadline for candidates to file. His opponents – Tom Dyas, David Habib, Glendon Charles Smedly, and Silverado Socrates – had filed weeks or months before.
Basran kicked off his election bid at the Red Bird Brewery, an event that was marred by an alleged incident involving now city councillor Ron Cannan. Other Kelowna media reported that Cannan had claimed Basran swore at him at some point during the event while telling him to leave.
Basran also addressed rumours about his interest in running for the provincial Liberals in a potential fourth provincial riding in Kelowna, but said he was committed to serving a third term as mayor.
During the election campaign, Basran faced criticism over appearances in sponsored ads on the city’s Facebook page. In a media release, Dyas said he was “concerned the City of Kelowna has used taxpayer dollars to promote the mayor in the lead-up to the municipal election.”
Basran responded with his own statement, saying “as a spokesperson for the city, the mayor will regularly be the face of its communications on social media.”
Dyas also took Basran to task over what he claimed was a lack of city support for Kelowna RCMP.
“As Kelowna’s RCMP continues to face mounting mental health-related calls, we need to ensure that the city takes a leadership role in demanding that our RCMP officers are partnered with nurses, who have the experience in helping those facing mental health,” Dyas said in an August news release.
On his personal Instagram account, Basran responded there will be plenty of finger-pointing as the municipal election gets closer. He disputed Dyas’ comments that little has been done to help RCMP with mental health supports. “Anyone who really wants the job of mayor should have been paying attention over the past four years, and if they had, they would have noticed a tremendous amount of work has been done locally and provincially,” Basran said.
There were no fireworks between Dyas and Basran at the first of two mayoral forums, hosted by UBC Okanagan and Okanagan College.
It was a different story at a second forum hosted by the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, at which allegations of misinformation and trying to mislead voters were levelled by Dyas and Basran. They clashed over the city’s crime rate, and further rumours Basran would run in the next provincial election.
“I get this question every time I run for office,” said Basran, adding he was committed to serving another term if he was elected. Dyas challenged Basran on that commitment.
“You can’t have one foot in and one foot out. You need to have two feet into this job and not be afraid to communicate to those levels to move the dial on things that are important to this community,” Dyas charged.
It was clear from the outset on election night that Basran would not return to the mayor’s chair.
Dyas opened an early lead and never looked back. He finished with 21,328 votes to Basran’s 10,905. In the wake of the stunning defeat, Basran took questions from the media about his future.
“The people have spoken and in light of the results, I am disappointed,” he said. “I have come to terms with what has happened and I respect what the wishes of our residents are.”
Basran was asked what his future political plans might be. “I have not given it one thought. There are going to be amazing things ahead for me and my family, and I’m looking forward to finding out what those are.”
He acknowledged those who voted may have taken issue with the rapid growth of Kelowna in the last few years, but said there isn’t anything he would change in regard to his time as mayor.
“I have slept very well at night as your mayor because I made decisions based on what I thought was best for everyone in our community.”
Basran added that he knew Rutland residents were angry over his stance on supportive housing.
“There is homelessness and people without homes in their neighbourhood and that would have happened whether there was supportive housing in their neighbourhood or not because we know people in our community and across the country need homes. So, to say it’s more prevalent because I helped people get a roof over their heads and the supports that they need that is the reason it’s worse?”
On Dec. 7, Basran was charged with sexual assault stemming from an alleged incident on May 11, 2022, while he was still mayor.
An investigation was conducted by the Kelowna RCMP Investigative Services Department and the findings were independently reviewed by the Nelson Police Department. The report was then handed to Crown counsel, which forwarded it to special prosecutor Brock Martland, who was appointed to the investigation on Oct. 13, two days before municipal elections.
Martland, a senior Vancouver lawyer in the private practice, was given the mandate to provide legal advice to the RCMP as necessary, as well as conduct any related charge assessment and assume conduct of the prosecution if charges were approved. The name of the alleged victim and details of the incident are protected under a publication ban. Basran’s first court appearance will be Jan. 24, 2023.