Waters: New Kelowna council a case of inexperienced leading the…well…inexperienced

Most senior member of the new city council has just two terms under his belt. The rest are newcomers or one-term incumbents.

Kelowna voters have delivered the city a council that’s a whole lot younger and whole a lot less experienced than any seen in recent years.

So for the city’s sake, residents need to hope mayor-elect Colin Basran’s take on his lack of political experience during the campaign—that it’s the quality of the experience he’s had in the last three years, not the quantity—holds true. If not, the next four years could be a long time at city hall.

Between the four incumbents re-elected as councillors—Luke Stack, Gail Given, Maxine DeHart and Mohini Singh, Basran, the three councillor newcomers—Brad Seiben Tracy Gray, and Ryan Donn—and former councillor Charlie Hodge, only Stack has more than one term under his or her belt.

Gone are the days of the continuity provided by the likes of now retired councillors Robert Hobson (26 years) and Andre Blanleil (21 years).

So maybe defeated mayoral candidate Sharon Shepherd, who sat as a councillor for three terms before winning the mayor’s chair in 2005 and holding it for two terms was right on election night when she offered this advice to Basran: “Learn quick.”

Of course every political career has to start somewhere and that’s what we are seeing in Kelowna right now.

At age 37, Basran has shown he’s ambitious, can put together a campaign that connects with voters and may parlay Saturday night’s win into a long political career. Time will tell.

He and his council do get a bit of a break in that the city budget they will be asked to approve next month, just weeks after being sworn in, has already been set out by the current council. The new council, with the five aforementioned returnees, just has to rubber stamp it.

And like every council before it, the new council will also inherit a number of projects approved, in the works or ready to go that it will get to cut the ribbons on.

But time doesn’t stand still and the new council will also have to do its part in finding and approving new and needed projects for the city.

On election night, and in the days following, the new council’s lack of political experience was sloughed off by some saying the city has a proven and capable staff and they are the ones that do the day-to-day heavy lifting. That’s true. But they lift what council tells them to lift. Council sets the direction, city staff, in the words of former Star Trek captain Jean-Luc Picard “make it so.” Allowing staff to set the direction is not what the city wants or needs. We elect councils to take on that responsibility. They are accountable to residents and the job they do will get critiqued in four years at the next election.

With a decisive win in the mayor’s race over a proven challenger, and following in the footsteps of a popular predecessor, Basran knows he has a weight of expectation on his shoulders. And he has big shoes to fill.

How he delivers on his desire to see Kelowna “open for opportunity” and not just for business remains to be seen.

In Kelowna, the mayor is one voice of nine at the council table and without showing some leadership skill, he or she cannot get things done single-handedly.

But with at least seven of the nine councillors appearing to be like-minded, pro-business types, herding them in the same direction should not be that hard for Basran. Sure, there will be dissent—there always is—but in the end the new council, like the current one, is likely to fall into line once the talking’s done and the vote has been taken.

Well, maybe with the exception of Hodge, who showed during his past stint on council he’s not afraid to speak out even after all has been said and done.

But unless he can change a lot of minds at the council table, he could find himself a voice in the (council) wilderness on some issues.

Like the wine this region is famous for, the new council will take time to mature. With four years  instead of three in its mandate, it means council doesn’t have to hit the ground running.

In fact, the newcomers to council expressed no criticism of the current council in their respective campaigns. So business as usual should be expected.

Given that voters returned all the incumbents who were running for another term, it would appear the electorate—or at least the small portion of it that bothered to vote—is just fine with that too.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.


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