It takes a confident mayor to stand up to the fire chief and the police department. More than a little backbone is also required to oppose the self-interested demands of hundreds of well-off homeowners, and to defend a sensible, if easily-criticized, attempt to make downtown safer and more inviting.
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran scored high marks for his handling of several city issues this year.
He showed he’s not a guy given to scoring cheap political points by appeasing some narrow constituency, and instead genuinely seems to consider the broader public interest on difficult issues.
On the other hand, he was a little too cavalier about dismissing the importance of a major building project running seriously afoul of city rules. And there’s no getting around the fact city taxes have soared 12 per cent in the three municipal budgets delivered on his watch.
As befits a former journalist, Basran has the ability to distill the essence of issues into simple but not inaccurate summations.
Often, after several meandering council discussions, in which he lets his colleagues go up, down, and all around an issue, Basran weighs in with a concise assessment of the central point and a well-expressed opinion of the best action for council to take.
Here’s a look back at a few times this year when Basran showed his mettle and acted in the best interests of all taxpayers, rather than special interest groups.
Earlier this month during 2017 budget deliberations, he joined a majority of councillors in opposing the RCMP’s request for two additional officers. The force has already been expanded by 23 members over the past five years, and will move into a new $48 million detachment next year, Basran noted.
“Anybody who thinks we aren’t supportive of the RCMP because we’re not adding these two officers is living in a dream world,” Basran said.
At the same meeting, fire chief Jeff Carlisle asked for a fully-staffed firehall in Glenmore, at enormous expense, in 2017. Some councillors, who never miss a chance to micro-manage other city departments, were eager to roll over for the chief and style themselves protectors of public safety.
But Basran noted original city plans hadn’t called for the Glenmore firehall until 2022. So putting it on the horizon for 2018 still represented a win for Glenmore, Basran said.
“Delaying this one year still delivers a new firehall in Glenmore well before it was expected,” Basran said.
Throughout 2016, the challenges of homelessness and the rise in troublesome street behaviours presented themselves at council. Such issues were council’s top priority, Basran said in January, and the year ended with City Hall passing a bylaw prohibiting people from sleeping on sidewalks at night.
Predictably, council was denounced by a relative handful of people, most of whom would certainly call the cops if they found a hobo sleeping on the sidewalk outside their own home.
Basran reasonably articulated the city’s desire to help the homeless with a range of strategies, but also to ensure sidewalks are for walking.
“This isn’t about having bylaw enforcement out at three and four o’clock in the morning and chasing and harassing people who have nowhere else to go,” he said. “We’re talking about the people who are congregating on sidewalks, forcing people to walk into traffic, intimidating people from coming downtown, and who are generally being a nuisance.”
There’s going to be a noisy public hearing in January when Kettle Valley homeowners denounce plans for 82 more homes in their upscale community. The site was once planned as a school, but the school district no longer wants it.
The council vote hasn’t happened yet, but Basran has indicated he won’t shy away from upsetting the well-organized and politically connected Kettle Valleyians: “We know we need housing in Kelowna, and what better place to put it than in areas that already have services,” he said.
Less admirably, Basran is a big fan of high-tech and he didn’t seem to think it was a big deal that the developers of the Innovation Centre went about developing a nightclub on the roof of the downtown building without getting any of the necessary city approvals.
Even after the reaching of a compromise, which will see a rooftop restaurant rather than nightclub, Basran was pretty blase about his pals’ departure from established processes: “Regardless of how we got here, it is in my mind a minor amendment,” he said.
Former Mayor Walter Gray once told me that, however much media and letter writers might rail against municipal tax hikes that outstrip inflation, the issue never really came up that often in his conversations with ordinary voters.
Maybe that’s been Basran’s experience as well, because he certainly doesn’t offer any apologies for having raised taxes 12 per cent in less than three years.
“The issues that we’re dealing with aren’t getting any smaller. The demands from our residents aren’t getting any smaller,” he said at the year’s last council meeting. “This is about trying to run a great city.”
Ron Seymour is a Daily Courier reporter. Phone: 250-470-0750. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org