WEST KELOWNA - Some say voters are telling West Kelowna city council that it’s time for a change, while others simply say it was all about knocking on doors.
Three of the six incumbents running for councillor positions – counting outgoing Mayor Doug Findlater – were re-elected on municipal election day Saturday, Oct. 20, while the other three were given the boot.
“They (the losers) don’t really knock on doors,” said Coun. Carol Zanon, who was re-elected. “The incumbents that got in knocked on doors. I talked to real people."
Zanon was the chair of the Westbank Irrigation District before West Kelowna amalgamated in 2007, at which time she was elected to city council and re-elected each time since.
But it was newcomers Stephen Johnston and Jayson Zilkie who topped the polls ahead of Rick de Jong, Findlater and Zanon (who finished fifth). Newcomer Jason Friesen took the sixth and final seat.
Johnstone ran for mayor in 2014 then kept up his community involvement going with the intent to run again. He’s been vice-chair of the West Kelowna Economic Development Commission for the past three years, was appointed to the Central Okanagan Planning Study in 2015 and attends Board of Trade Business After Hours and other community events as much as possible.
But he and his team (mostly himself along with his wife and parents but sometimes with larger groups who did major blitzes) knocked on 6,800 doors in the six weeks following Labour Day Weekend.
“I knocked on so many doors where people said ‘you’re the only one who has come by. I really appreciate that’,” Johnston said.
But, he contends, it was more than just knocking on doors.
“Over the last four years there were some signals that people were looking for change,” he said. “For me, there are a few things that stand out like a sore thumb. We need to stop the 'closed for business on the westside’ attitude. Some corporate cultural issues we can address in City Hall to cut down on red tape and have more sustainable growth.”
That’s a process that may have already started.
“Over the last 18 months, there have been many changes implemented to enhance and streamline the process developers and businesses must worth trough,” West Kelowna Board of Trade executive director Karen Beaubier wrote in an email. “There is still room for better communication and customer service, which we encourage the new council to make a priority.”
Which it just might do since new mayor Gord Milsom is a Board of Trade director.
When asked about the other young men elected to council, Johnstone noted that, while he knew Zilkie and Friesen slightly going into the campaign, they did not form a slate or align themselves with each other, although some voters perceived it that way.
Zilkie, for one, has the same concern about being open for business.
“Really, why I wanted to get involved, is that I kept hearing from small businessmen and developers in Kelowna who said, I don’t want to deal with your city,” Zilkie said. “I heard that message over the past couple of years. I didn’t want West Kelowna to be known as a place where we’re not open for business.”
It wasn’t until September that he decided to run for council and went “head-on into it" joined by his wife and mother knocking on doors and attending council meetings.
“When I went to (council) meetings I could see this group of people didn’t function well,” Zilkie said. “They were dysfunctional. They didn’t really get along.”
“That’s bullshit,” said defeated Coun. Bryden Winsby. “We had disagreements occasionally, no one lost their tempers, except me.”
Winsby ran for mayor in 2007 and finished third then decided he really didn’t want that job. In the last three elections he finished 6th, 5th then 4th.
“I was moving up,” he said. “I do think you need a younger voter and do need younger people running for office, but it shouldn’t have been me. I was really surprised. I knew it would be tough but not that I would get smacked down that much.”
Winsby acknowledged that he has never been a doorknocker.
Everyone interviewed stressed there is a good balance between youth and veterans.
“There appears to have been a bit of a shift to youth and to the left province-wide,“ Winsby said “In this case, it’s a shift to youth and a shift to the right,” adding that the old council was already quite conservative.
“I think that would be unfair branding,” Johnston replied. “I’ve always seen myself as very balanced. I’m fiscally conservative but I’ve also been president of the West Kelowna shelter society for the last two years.”
While Johnston wants West Kelowna to be more welcoming to business and sustainable development, he also sees a need to help the homeless.
He’s joined in that by Zilkie who’s the treasurer of the Gospel Mission in Kelowna that has a long-established shelter operation.
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