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McDONALD: A year in politics is a long time, Mayor Basran, just don't shoot yourself in the foot

October 20, 2017 - 2:36 PM

 


OPINION


Municipal elections across B.C. are a year away but if the change to four-year terms last time around had never happened, we would have been going to the polls this weekend.

Some argue three years doesn’t allow enough time for a council to truly put its stamp on the direction of a community. Others will say that’s exactly the point — keep the terms short so a bad council or councillors can be turfed before they do too much damage.

The built-in incumbent’s advantage makes that less likely but an incumbent’s disadvantage is they are now a known quantity, with a visible track record that cannot be denied.

Development applications, environmental initiatives, heritage preservation, affordable housing, homelessness and crime, the vote each mayor and councillor cast over the last three years is a clear trail of crumbs leading to their true political selves regardless of what they might have said on the campaign trail.

With all due respect to the rest of Kelowna council, I will say if an election had actually been held this weekend, it would have been largely a referendum on first-term Mayor Colin Basran and the way the city has handled startling growth and its attendant problems in the last four years.

First elected to council in 2011, Basran ran for mayor with the endorsement of then-sitting mayor Walter Gray and won handily, backed as he also was by the pro-business political group ForKelowna.

(You can argue whether or not a group like ForKelowna just got lucky or does really influence local politics but you can’t argue with the results. Of the current councillors, Coun. Charlie Hodge is the only one who managed to win a seat on council without its endorsement.)

Shortly after the 2014 civic election, Basran and council released its list of priorities, a manifesto of sorts that promised amongst other things, clean drinking water, a balanced transportation network and strong financial management. Last year, they added housing diversity, homelessness, public safety and the preservation of agricultural land to the list.

The first was decidedly fuzzy, mostly made up of the same vague promises one might hear on the campaign trail (How the hell do you ensure a healthy, safe, active and inclusive community and what does that really mean anyway?).

The second list was a lot more focused as Basran and council collided with the realities of governing a fast growing city — seemingly overnight the number of visible homeless people killing time on Leon Avenue seemed to surge along with the perception that street crime was out of control.

It didn’t help that soaring rents and a miniscule vacancy rate were threatening to turn regular folks (read people who are more likely to vote) into homeless people.

The last election more or less coincided with a big jump in the local economy. Now real estate is red hot, employment is robust and new construction is popping up everywhere.

To his credit, Basran and council haven't just rolled over when big developers come calling, for the most part recognizing that Kelowna has much to offer and shouldn’t be sold cheaply. Some, who have threatened to walk away, have been invited to do just that.

They’ve also held in check those who would love to see property tax increases permanently frozen as close to zero as possible, a short-sighted position that may lower your tax bill today but only burdens future generations with huge bills for infrastructure upgrades.

Have they stumbled? Of course, most notably in my view with the mean-spirited and poorly timed decision to introduced the move-em-along sidewalk loitering bylaw aimed directly at the homeless.

But that is more than offset by Kelowna council finally taking the lead on the persistent homelessness file with the hiring of a social development coordinator and the creation of the Journey Home task force. It's the type of move that actually requires Basran and his colleagues to spend some political capital.

Former Mayor Walter Gray may have endorsed Basran but is his polar opposite in many ways. Young and smart with a flair for social media, Basran checks a lot of the right boxes for the position of mayor for a modern, progressive city.

Beyond that, Basran seems to have the political instincts to pick the right side of touchy subjects.

A year is a long time in politics, and there are still plenty of opportunities for him to shoot himself in the foot. And Mayor Basran hasn’t even said yet if he still wants the job.

But I haven’t heard of any concrete opposition to Basran, either from within council or without, so short of him in the next 365 days committing some kind of political self-immolation (an actual criminal act or maybe a badly thought out tweet?) I think the contest is his to lose.

— John McDonald is a long-time reporter, editor and photographer from the Central Okanagan with a strong curiosity about local affairs. You can reach him at jmcdonald@infonews.ca.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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