Local officials could hardly contain their enthusiasm after hearing that WestJet will begin offering direct flights between the Okanagan and Fort McMurray, Alta. in the spring.
“We have a lot of buyers in Fort McMurray looking at Vernon’s residential market to live here for the lifestyle,” said Kevin Poole, Vernon’s economic development manager.
And there is logic to that excitement.
After all, oil patch workers and executives could bolster a lagging construction industry by placing orders for new homes. Through their sizable incomes, they will support families and that means groceries, new vehicles, trips to restaurants and signing kids up for sports and cultural activities.
Those children will also take up spots in schools that struggle with enrolment.
However, becoming the suburbs for Fort McMurray isn’t the ideal answer to the North Okanagan’s economic challenges.
What we need is a concerted focus by government leaders to encourage a strong financial climate that creates jobs here, instead of sending spouses and children north.
That is not only better for the overall health and well-being of individual families, but for the community as a whole.
There is a lot of talk about establishing industrial land, whether it is in Spallumcheen, Lumby, Coldstream or parts of Vernon, but the time for talk is over.
There needs to be an effort to reverse the career options of leaving town or accepting a minimum wage position.
There’s no question that some benefits will spin-off from direct flights between the Okanagan and northern Alberta, but there has to be more to the valley’s long-term survival, and that means keeping parents and young people here so they can establish positive futures.
-Vernon Morning Star