BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Very little wiggle room

It can only be described as a rapid-fire slap-down.

Not even half-a-day after Vernon council voted unanimously to ask the provincial government for a governance study, officials in Victoria took a firm stand Tuesday.

“We will not fund a study unless all parties involved want to do it,” said MLA Eric Foster, just moments after getting off the phone with Community Development Minister Coralee Oakes.

And given that Coldstream and Areas B and C recently thumbed their noses at a petition request for a governance study, Foster’s comments are the final kiss of death.

“Unless Vernon is able to convince the other parties to participate, that’s it for us,” said Foster of the provincial government.

Now, it should be pointed out that the City of Vernon wasn’t being heavy handed Monday.

It was responding directly to a request from the Greater Vernon Governance Society to pursue a study. The society collected 3,160 names on a petition.

Mayor Rob Sawatzky cautioned that the city isn’t trying to bully Coldstream and the electoral areas to reverse their stances.

“They should do what they believe is best for their constituents,” he said.

Council members were also quick to indicate they neither favour or oppose the concept of amalgamation but there is a need to address this reoccurring debate once and for all.

Within minutes of the motions being adopted, the other jurisdictions were standing their ground.

“I’m in total disagreement with them,” said Maria Besso, a Coldstream councillor.

“Vernon can do what it wants but it can’t drag in the other jurisdictions,” added Mike Macnabb, BX-Silver Star director.

Now consider that in the last three years, there has largely been peace in the valley.

Simmering disputes over parks, recreation and water have been resolved and officials from Vernon, Coldstream and the electoral areas have fostered an environment of mutual respect.

It’s possible the provincial government, which has previously played referee in Greater Vernon spats, is thrilled with the era of co-operation, and realizes that even the slightest push for amalgamation could reignite the bad old days. Turf wars consume significant resources as ministry staff try to calm all of the parties down.

Victoria may also have looked at the 3,160 names on the petition, and while extremely impressive given growing public cynicism and apathy, it’s only seven per cent of the total 45,000 eligible voters in Greater Vernon.

Is that worth the ministry being possibly perceived as dictatorial and forcing a governance study when three of the four jurisdictions clearly aren’t interested. There haven’t been any forced amalgamations in B.C. since the early 1970s (Kelowna and Kamloops) and that’s because stripping a community of  the right to determine its own destiny creates baggage.

Of course the issue of governance may not be completely over.

Foster has suggested the City of Vernon could pay for a review on its own. Council could also still use this November’s election to ask residents if they support the creation of a restructure committee.

But at a time when the city is riding budgets tight and crying poor when it comes to infrastructure, would a governance study be an effective use of cash? And even if Vernon residents overwhelmingly voted for a study, it would prove nothing if there’s no willing dance partner.

Some officials and residents will be unhappy with what’s occurred, but Victoria has spoken.


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