Rusty Ensign is taking another shot at municipal politics.
The well-known West Kelowna businessman, who ran unsuccessfully for the job of first mayor of the fledgling municipality in 2007, and then again unsuccessfully three years ago for a councillor position, announced Thursday he will seek a seat on council once again. Ensign also unsuccessfully sought the federal Conservative nomination to succeed former Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Stockwell Day in 2011.
In making his announcement about the upcoming civic election in West Kelowna Thursday, Ensign became the first non-incumbent to publicly say he is running.
“A wise politician once told me you can always enter a race too late but its never to early to announce,” said Ensign, when asked about his timing.
Typically, council candidates wait until late summer or early fall to announce they are running. However, in Kelowna in recent weeks, a mayoral candidate and a councillor candidate have both announced election bids for this November’s civic election
Ensign said he learned from his last two council campaigns, where he felt he entered both races too late and it cost him.
Three years ago in the civic election, Ensign finished seventh in a 13-person race for the six available councillor seats.
“I was the first runner-up and I was short just 625 votes,” he said. “I’m going to make sure I get 650 more this time.”
The West Kelowna born and raised businessman, who broke his neck playing rugby in 1983, is a quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair. But he has not let his physical condition get in the way of an extensive community-service background.
He said running his trucking and gravel business has given him valuable business experience and sitting the board of the former Lakeview Irrigation District helped teach him about administration.
He said he has also been to every district budget meeting open to the public during the last three years and is well-versed in the district’s finances.
In fact, he said, West Kelonwa has done better since it incorporated than the committee that studied different governance models prior to the incorporation vote predicted it would by this time.
An active volunteer in the community, Ensign is also a former president of the Westbank District Chamber of Commerce (as it was then known). He said his experience on numerous boards and with local organizations will help him at the council table.
“I don’t want to be a critic of council, I want to complement it,” he said when asked about his feelings towards the job the existing council is doing.
But he said he enters the campaign with five major priorities he wants to see addressed—road maintenance and snow removal, illegal dumping and cleaning, sidewalks, professional development planning and providing more opportunities for youth in the district.
When asked about West Kelowna’s plans to build a new municipal hall two blocks north of the Westbank town centre, on Elliott Road, Ensign said he likes the idea of new hall but feels it’s being proposed in the wrong location.
He wants to see it build right in the middle of the town centre, between the two stretches of the Highway 97 couplet, on land between Elliott and Brown Roads
He said there is land there as the municipality already owns the former Westbank Irrigation District office, and could buy the nearby former Willis Harding Insurance building and a vacant lot that used to house a gas station.
Ensign said incentives could be offered to a developer such as higher density, reduced development cost charges and tax breaks for up to five years to help bring down the cost of the new hall.
While it has not been confirmed, Ensign said he has learned the district is considering using the alternative approval process for an $8.9 million building.
The AAP puts the onus on the public to oppose a spending plan by a municipality rather than the municipality putting the issue to a vote. Residents have 30 days to collect the signatures of 10 per cent of eligible voters in order to make a council reconsider their proposal under the AAP rules, as a result few proposal using the alternative approval process are reconsidered.
Ensign added that putting the building between the couplet could put more pressure on the province to do something the road that splits downtown Westbank in two.