There’s been all kinds of discontent over the past three years across the Valley with its municipal politicians from controversial high rise developments, to school closures, to a proposed waterslide at Skaha Lake Park.
For this top 10 list, we want to dwell on the positive and our editorial team, based on our coverage of meetings, has compiled a list of the 10 best municipal politicians for the South and Central Okanagan.
Note that Vernon and the North Okanagan were not included on this list as we have not staffed enough meetings to offer an educated opinion.
Mayor of Kelowna
With his youthful energy and impressive command of local issues, the mayor brings a modern and engaging face to city business. A former journalist and realtor, Basran is well-connected to the emerging high-tech sector, a good communicator, and tempers his obvious support for development with a social conscience. He’s not afraid to take unpopular positions. As well, he voted with a majority of council to allow a 51-suite complex for recovering alcoholics and drug users in a Rutland neighbourhood. “These men are the fathers, brothers, and sons of people in our community,” Basran said. “To label them as people who want to do harm to others, as monsters, is not justified.”
Mayor of West Kelowna
The mayor’s involvement in Westside civic affairs long predates the city’s incorporation in 2007. That expertise, coupled with an affability and a plain-speaking but thoughtful manner, is a winning combination in a politician. He easily manages the dual responsibilities of representing both voters and the municipality itself. “It’s mostly civil servants from Interior Health and various municipal people as well as people who have a corporate interest in this. Out of 30, I see three that are listed as bona fide residents,” he said after closely studying the long list of people in a staff report said to support a move to pick-up trash only every two weeks, instead of weekly.
With experience as a business and marketing executive for Microsoft, international journalist and author of an e-book on government, Holmes brings a global perspective to small-town politics. “We need to decide if this development is appropriate for our town,” Holmes told council early in its consideration of the proposed Vancouver-sized Banks Crescent project. Council rejected his advice and now faces an angry, divided community. Responding to the November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris, he said, “I believe the best reply to the terrorists is to resolutely stand by our values.” With a Parisian wife and two children born there, Holmes spearheaded a community group that has welcomed two Syrian families.
Okanagan Skaha School District 67 (representing Penticton)
The lone school trustee to make this list, the retired principal is not afraid to speak up against the others, evident by the many times he’s shot down 6-1. Other than the chair and Bill Bidlake, he was the only one who offered comment on the obscene pay raise for the superintendent. He also fought to keep Trout Creek and West Bench Schools open, all this while receiving chemotherapy treatments. And he was the only trustee who voted to accept the B.C. government’s offer to send a special adviser to review the need to close schools. Johnson, who also supports local events, always has the kids at heart whenever he votes. He bravely battled cancer before the public eye and remains extremely positive, even in the face of adversity.
Mayor of Oliver
The three-term mayor is a study in professionalism. Always informed and accessible, Hovanes was the picture of calm in 2015 when hundreds of homes were evacuated due to a pair of wildfires burning on the western flank of the community. A social worker by trade, he has fostered good relations with the Osoyoos Indian Band and was also able to secure a $5.5-million commitment from the B.C. government to repair the town’s agricultural water supply. Hovanes was spurned by the BC Liberals in 2009 in his first bid at jumping to the provincial scene. The Town of Oliver benefitted immensely from the BC Liberals’ decision to go with others candidates in 2009 and again in 2013.
Mayor of Osoyoos
Her battle with the school board and the provincial government to keep Osoyoos Secondary School open was one for the ages. She did what was best for the community, and not her own political gain. McKortoff attended every public meeting on the issue, cancelling her vacation and going toe-to-toe with Liberal MLA Linda Larson. She was tough and assertive, but also respectful. The retired grade school teacher also stood her ground when the province tried to foist new policing costs on the town, and she has been open and up front on other touchy issues, like adding extra members to council, and is on board with efforts to bring new doctors to the community. McKortoff would make an excellent MLA.
West Kelowna councillor
A small business owner and no-nonsense politician, Ophus is not likely to be seduced by sweet words of bureaucrats, especially when the verbiage is being used to explain lengthy delays or costly over-runs. He’s always got an eye on the bottom line, a frugality that’s a relative rarity in local politicians and a welcome relief for taxpayers. Like many he represents, Ophus is often frustrated by the seemingly glacial pace of municipal business. “Either we make a deal and get this project off the ground or move on,” he said in December, expressing frustration at the length of time it was taking to build a soccer dome.
Siddon is by far the most effective politician in the South Okanagan with an incredible understanding of local issues. He’s not afraid to question senior staff when necessary. As a former federal cabinet minister, his desire to serve the community is obvious by twice being elected to the regional district and another time to the school board. The veteran politician is acutely aware of how his decisions affect his constituents and knows how to work the media and senior levels of government. He once took former B.C. transportation minister Todd Stone for a drive around Kaleden to underscore the dismal state of the community’s roads. Academically, Siddon holds a doctorate from UBC in acoustical engineering.
Amid a council with plenty of rookies, some of whom appear to think they’re part of the bureaucracy and must educate Kelowna residents on the workings of City Hall, Stack is somewhat of an elder statesman. He has a strong background in affordable housing and social issues, yet realizes properly-done development is both necessary and desirable. Stack speaks with common sense and realizes he’s on council to represent the citizens to City Hall, not the other way around. “It’ll look like a barn in the middle of the lake,” Stack warned when council approved a 1,500 square foot structure at the end of a dock, 200 metres into the lake.
West Kelowna councillor
Long ago, Winsby led an ill-fated effort to incorporate Westbank, realizing the area needed better local government. An old newspaperman, Winsby can see through guff and obfuscation to cut to the heart of the matter. He managed the impressive feat of making a lawyer admit that his client was actually breaking the law by selling marijuana in a store. And when the politically-correct thing for a politician to do is support endless transit expansion, Winsby pointed out the reality of what we all see on many buses: “It’s damn near empty pretty much al of the time,” he said. of the particularly under-performing No. 20 bus.
—Selected by Okanagan Weekend editorial department