Waters: Mayors finally work themselves onto premier’s agenda

John Horgan says he’ll meet with mayors of Kelowna and West Kelowna to talk about speculation tax

Was it an honest commitment to meet? Or an off-the-cuff line intended to slough off criticism?

That’s the question following Premier John Horgan’s public pronouncement on a Kelowna radio show last week that he’ll finally meet with the mayors of Kelowna and West Kelowna to discuss their concerns about the impact of the impending speculation tax on their cities.

To hear West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater tell it, Horgan has been ducking him for weeks after the mayor crashed an event the premier attended in the South Okanagan earlier this year and won what Findlater thought at the time was an agreement to meet.

But, as the song goes, too many moonlight kisses seem to cool in the warmth of the sun. Like a spurned suitor, Findlater couldn’t get Horgan to return his calls to set a time and place for their rendezvous.

Now, not to be too cynical about the premier’s announcement he’ll meet with Findlater and Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran later this month here in the Okanagan, but when it comes to West Kelowna-related issues, saying and doing has not been in sync for Horgan since becoming premier.

Shortly after wrestling power from the Liberals last year, he was asked directly about calling a byelection to replace former Liberal premier and Kelowna-West MLA Christy Clark, who quit politics rather than sit in opposition. Horgan said he’d deal with that as soon as the legislature resumed sitting. He didn’t. Instead, he dragged the byelection call out as long as he could knowing his party would likely not win the riding and the numbers in the Legislature were so close.

The move left West Kelowna constituents without an elected representative in Victoria for nearly six months.

So, will Horgan make good on his promise to meet with Findlater and Basran? Everyone hopes so, including the two mayors, who seemed caught off guard by Horgan’s announcement when informed of it.

The two local government leaders have some real concerns about the impact of the tax on their respective cities.

Fear of the tax has already started to hurt development in their respective cities and the tax is not even in place yet. A planned 1,000-unit residential project is on hold in West Kelowna and the future of what would be Kelowna’s tallest building, a 36-storey hotel and condo tower on the downtown lakeshore, has been thrown into doubt.

West Kelowna council has been vociferous and publicly pro-active in its condemnation of the speculation tax. Kelowna on the other hand—at least publicly—has been a little more reserved. But both want the same thing—the tax axed. Or at least out from under it with an exemption.

It’s doubtful Horgan will agree to either if, or when, he sits down with Findlater and Basran, but it’s a safe bet both mayors will make the request.

Meanwhile the public rallying call against the tax continues, with disparate sections of the community jumping on the anti-tax bandwagon for a myriad of self-serving reasons—individual owners don’t want to be taxed more, developers don’t want to lose sales, contractors don’t want to lose work and workers don’t want lose jobs. The list goes on.

It’s the municipalities that are looking at the big picture—and worrying about its impact on the whole community. The speculation tax has a good aim but the way Victoria is going about it, it’s not likely to achieve what the government wants.

That’s the message Findlater and Basran need to get through to Horgan if they have any hope see a change in the province’s plan.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.

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