Divisions erupt over one district

The prospect of a single governance structure for the Okanagan is dividing local politicians.

Community Services Minister Ida Chong and Premier Gordon Campbell told elected officials last week that they want a working group established to consider folding the valley’s three regional districts into one entity.

“They’ve said the status quo is not an option,” said Wayne Lippert, Vernon mayor.

The goal is to have the working group established by mid-November, with a draft plan completed in the spring.

“They want to have it in place before the next election. They have an agenda,” said Herman Halvorson, rural Enderby director.

Jerry Oglow, North Okanagan Regional District chairman and Armstrong mayor, is willing to be part of the process.

“Our fear was if we didn’t take part in the discussion and we put our head in the sand, something would be imposed on us,” he said.

Oglow believes there may be a need to restructure how issues, such as water and transit, are pursued.

“The issue is delivering services to people and is there a better way to do it?” he said.

That view is supported by Rick Fairbairn, rural Lumby director.

“Realistically the Okanagan is growing and we need to look at the future,” he said.

Lippert admits he has mixed feelings about a single regional district for the entire Okanagan Valley.

“If it looks at high-level issues that is OK, but we still want to be able to work on local issues,” he said.

Beyond one regional district for the valley, Lippert says the working group will also look at structural changes of the existing regional districts.

“A district municipality (for the electoral areas) is one option and another option floated out there is possible amalgamations,” he said.

Halvorson is unwilling to say if he supports a single regional district, pointing out that any change would have to benefit his constituents.

“I want to see what the financial numbers are,” he said.

Other politicians question how manageable a regional district would be if it covers from Enderby to Princeton.

“We can’t get NORD working so how well does it bode for one covering the entire Okanagan?” said Barry Beardsell, a Vernon councillor.

Earl Shipmaker, an Enderby councillor, also questions the practicality of what Chong wants considered.

“We have such a convenient geographical unit in the North Okanagan now and we (Enderby) are part of the Shuswap drainage system not the Okanagan,” he said.

Shipmaker believes it would be more efficient to allow existing agencies, such as the Okanagan Basin Water Board, to handle valley-wide issues so the three regional districts can deal with community-based matters.

Chong could not be reached for comment.