Last Monday was one of the most difficult situations that I’ve encountered while being on Council.
There was a well-intentioned rally planned to dispute City Council’s direction on public lands. The organizers of the rally wanted decisions involving public land to be decided by referendums, not by Council.
The focus was on a Skaha Park agreement with the City and the Trio Marine group to expand the marina, build and operate a restaurant, and create a water park. The water park was the sticking point for many.
At the rally there were also people supporting the water park. As the No side started to speak, the Yes side quickly chimed in creating animosity and
tension from the beginning. There were probably 400 – 500 people in front of City Hall; it was difficult to give an accurate account of how many supporters versus how many concerned citizens there was, but the No side were definitely the most vocal.
Everyone has a right to their opinion, should feel safe to voice it and be respected for having an opinion and showing an interest. That night, I felt democracy took a back seat and we didn’t have civilized or respectful dialogue.
As I and council went into the crowd, I quickly got swarmed and people’s emotions elevated from being very passionate to anger and frenzy. As I would begin to speak to answer a question someone else would demand an answer to something different. My message to anyone who asked was that we wouldn’t be making a decision fuelled by or based on emotions.
The following day I did canvas Council to see if any member wanted to revisit any element of the Skaha Park initiative. Council was united in their support to continue forward with the Trio Marine Group.
We continue to be told by our community that we are a tourist destination, so I found it odd that there would be unrest in creating another amenity for tourists and residents.
LocoLanding is a good example of commercial development that is leased parkland. The City was looking at utilizing 11 per cent of green space for this development at Skaha Lake Park.
Issues will arise that polarize or divide the community, and it’s puzzling that people get very entrenched in their opinion that, at times, is based on misinformation or not even taking the time to visit the area in question.
As time moves forward, some will see this development as a great thing, some who were initially opposed will change their mind, and some will continue to be disappointed.
This Council was very clear about being instruments of change and being bold. We were elected with a strong mandate from the community. This doesn’t mean we do whatever we want — it means that we are committed to making difficult decisions that we feel is in the best interest of the entire community.
Just because Council didn’t vote the way a person wanted them to vote, doesn’t mean their voice, concern or comments weren’t heard. We were elected by the people to make tough decisions, and no matter what decision we make, often someone is unhappy.
Although it was nice to see the community being engaged and showing interest in the future of the City, I believe democracy should be in the driver’s seat, steering respectful deliberation and discussion at all times.
Andrew Jakubeit is mayor of the City of Penticton. His blog, the Mayor’s Minute, can be read online at: www.penticton.ca/blog.