Ronald Johnson (left) takes notes as Michael Brydon answers a question Thursday during an all-candidates forum for Area F of the RDOS.

Election 2014: West Bench candidates spar over fences

Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen: Feral horses and relationship with Penticton among themes at all-candidates meeting

Mending fences with Penticton and building fences to keep out feral horses were among the themes Thursday at an all-candidates forum on the West Bench.

Incumbent Michael Brydon and challenger Ronald Johnson, who are running to represent Area F on the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, squared off in front of about 50 people inside the community’s school library

Brydon, a university professor seeking a third term as director, told the crowd he’s running on his track record and will take direction from voters about what his priorities should be.

Johnson, a semi-retired dentist, outlined a platform with three planks: fencing out feral horses, ending mock water bills and creating an oversight committee to keep tabs on the director.

On the issue of horses, Johnson said he would immediately get to work drawing up a plan to repair and install the necessary fences, gates and cattle guards to keep the animals out of Area F neighbourhoods, then let voters decide if they want to go ahead with it.

“Every community on their own should be able to talk about it, we should have a plan that says this is going to cost you this much, this is what it’s going to look like, and we have either a petition or a referendum to say: Do you approve this?” Johnson said.

“Right now, the status quo is terrible,” he continued. “I want to fence out those horses, and I want a plan, and I want you to approve that plan.”

Brydon countered that such a plan already exists, but it hit a snag after some residents reported seeing horses getting across cattle guards, which, if proven true, would limit effectiveness of the fencing.

“We keep quiet about it, because we’re not sure cattle guards will solve the problem,” he said. “What will solve the problem is active horse management by the band, and we’re getting there.”

Brydon also called for a new deal with the City of Penticton to permanently eliminate the perception that West Bench residents are getting a free ride on public amenities in the larger neighbouring community.

He said the West Bench got “extremely lucky” with the deal to purchase water from the city, and a similar pact could soon be sought for other services, such as sewer, which would require both sides to  “renegotiate our relationship.”

“We can’t be out here on the cusp of Penticton forever. The idea, though, is can we do it without paying city taxes?” Brydon said.

Johnson indicted he’d favour a more hard-line approach with the city.

“As West Benchers, we have to stand up to Penticton,” he said.