Hodge: Looking ahead to Kelowna municipal election

Filling the leadership role at City Hall with Mayor Walter Gray opting to retire from politics rather than seek re-election in November.

As a former Kelowna and Parksville city councillor I admit to some personal amusement in the swirl of guessing and questions being thrown out by media and public regarding the upcoming municipal election.

Even though the election won’t happen until Nov. 15, now the debate has kicked into full gear since Wednesday`s announcement that Mayor Walter Gray will not seek re-election.

The minute that Walter made the announcement,  speculation began on which current council members might attempt to win the sceptre and crown, and what characters from outside the current council might also seek the throne.

Long, long ago as an ink-stained journalist, I learned that nothing I saw or heard should surprise me, however, I admit to some minor head-shaking at the suggestion of the first horse or two ready to jump out of the gate.

Media reports of late have indicated that both current Kelowna councillors Colin Basran and Gail Given are considering becoming mayoral candidates.  If those two remain the only candidates, I would chose Given—but not with a tremendous amount of confidence.

Given and Basran were among those anointed by the controversial Four Change group that attempted to elect their slate of candidates for council in the last election, although Given did attempt to distance herself from that group.

Many speculated that she was elected largely due to the name recognition of being married to popular former city councillor Brian Given, who passed away while we were on council together the previous term. Brian was well loved by the community, and while he and I did not always agree on issues, he loved Kelowna and gave his everything for this town.

It’s difficult to say whether that husband-wife name association made a difference at the polls, but I think it would be folly to rule out the thought.

That aside, on the current council Given and Mohini Singh are really the only two councillors willing to occasionally lift their head and have the audacity to not vote with the other bouncing bobble heads on council. If the previous council was guilty of debating issues too much, the current one is guilty of having little backbone and simply going along with the desires of the mayor and other influential veteran councillors such as Andre Blanleil.

While Given has never done me any wrong  that I know of, and is a sweet, pleasant and smart person, I am not convinced she is ready yet for the role of mayor.

As for Basran, he has been one of the most invisible members of the new council. Though speculation has long suggested that he is Walter`s chosen one to ascend the mayoral throne, most local political pundits fail to understand why. I can’t really recall any particular issue where he has stood out or taken a stand.

I have long suggested that anyone running for mayor should have served at least one term if not two as a councillor before moving up the ladder. Anyone who runs for mayor with no council experience is either incredibly arrogant or naively ignorant of the job at hand. It is tough enough to learn the rules and regulations of municipal governance, let alone to run the show.

In Kelowna, where some key city staff tend to (or at least try to)  run the show, it is imperative that a strong, confident mayor be in the chair.

Speculation is that former mayor Sharon Shepherd may once again throw her name in the hat —and I for one hope she does. Having served under Sharon, I can attest she is a good, solid, (though non-flashy) leader and truly has the community`s best interest at heart.

But considering how ugly the last election was run, I would not be shocked if she decides to pass.

While II was disappointed and dismayed at the manipulative role played by Four Change in the campaign, I do not question the results as they pertained to me. However, for Shepherd to go from leading the mayor`s race by around 400 votes prior to the last poll tallied (apparently the advance poll at that), for the polls to then crash for half an hour, and then for her to eventually lose by around 400 points after the polls came back to life, I’ve always found to be disconcerting if not highly suspicious.

But now three years later,  it will be interesting to see who is willing to put their heads out on the public chopping block and commit to a four-year term rather than three on city council.

I hope for Kelowna`s sake, some honest, caring and bold individuals step up to the plate. Kelowna needs them.

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