James Baker has been Lake Country’s mayor for the last 13 years. (Carli Berry - Capital News)

James Baker has been Lake Country’s mayor for the last 13 years. (Carli Berry - Capital News)

Okanagan’s oldest mayor shows no sign of slowing down

Mayor James Baker has decades of history in his political career

James Baker, the oldest mayor in the Okanagan, is showing no signs of slowing down his career in politics.

While Baker, 77, was elected in 2005 to be Lake Country’s third mayor and is currently serving his fifth term, his political experience spans decades.

Following in the footsteps of Bob McCoubrey and Rolly Hein, who were also regional directors before becoming Lake Country mayors, Baker had an interest in politics in some form or another throughout his life.

Shortly after moving to the Okanagan in 1976 with his wife Anita and four sons, Baker was the executive of the Winfield and District Minor Hockey Association.

READ MORE: ELECTION NIGHT: Baker remains Lake Country’s mayor, fire hall upgrade approved

In 1981 he became the area’s the Central Okanagan Regional District director.

“But my first degree was in political science, sociology and anthropology. I read a lot of political philosophy and I liked the social contract philosophers, that you’re there to serve, you know (David Hume, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau),” he said.

He taught anthropology and archaeology at Langara Community College from 1970 to 1974 and at Okanagan College and Okanagan University College from 1974 until his retirement in 2000.

READ MORE: Lake Country votes 2018: James Baker is running for mayor

Upon retirement, he was named professor emeritus of anthropology at OUC.

In 2007, UBC Okanagan named Baker associate professor emeritus of anthropology.

He said one of his accomplishments is being able to “get things done at a reasonable tax rate,” despite the municipally not having a large tax base.

Not without its challenges, as Lake Country remains one of the fastest growing municipalities in B.C., Baker can relate to some who protest against the ongoing development in the district.

“Certainly a lot of people think we shouldn’t be (building to) the rate of growth we’re doing, but as long as you plan for growth, you can accommodate a lot more people and there are people in the community who have been here generations and have seen the growth and changes.

“I grew up in a small town too and I remember I used to ride my bike fearlessly on Highway 1 many years ago.

“A lot of Highway 1 was gravel when I was growing up and Highway 97 was hardly paved.”

READ MORE: Year in Review: New fire hall approved for Lake Country

Born and raised in the small Fraser Canyon community of Lytton, Baker said, “It is still a little incorporated village. They always had the local government and I was always interested in what the municipality was doing.”

And Baker has long continued his career in politics after being able to accept pension cheques.

For new individuals looking to get their feet wet, he recommends taking an interest in the community and to get involved associations before diving in.

“Whether it’s sports or museums, arts and culture, volunteer and show you’re here for the community and get to know people and learn what you can do and what you can’t do.”

As mayor, he’s proud of his involvement with Lake Country’s upgraded good water system, the upgrades to Pelmewash Parkway to prevent spillage into Wood Lake, making the Pelmewash stretch of road safer to drive on and the addition of a new fire hall, a point of public safety.

READ MORE: Lake Country candidates reflect on previous council

“Advocating for those kinds of things, we go after the province, the federal government,” he said.

“There are times where it’s difficult, like we may not get the money for what we’d like to have the money for but I think our community is quite patient.”

He continues to advocate for the Glenmore Road and Highway 97 improvements with the province, as statistics show it to be Lake Country’s most accident-prone intersection.

@carliberry_
carli.berry@kelownacapnews.com

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