Liberal MLA for Kelowna-Lake Country Norm Letnick. Image Credit: Kelowna Capital News file

New government in Victoria presents challenges

Vancouver-centric NDP caucus a concern for Okanagan Basin Water Board

The provincial NDP caucus has only four MLAs from outside of the Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland regions.

That poses the question of how Interior civic levels of government influence Vancouver-centric politicians about issues facing their communities.

The Okanagan Basin Water Board discussed that issue at its Tuesday board meeting, about how to educate and work with the new government in a non-partisan way.

One upcoming key event promises to be the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention next month, when civic elected officials from across the province have the opportunity to meet the NDP cabinet ministers and Premier John Horgan.

“There will be all new ministers at this year’s convention, some we know from their time in opposition and some we don’t know,” said OBWB member Doug Findlater.

“It will be an opportunity to start building a relationship with some of these people because getting things done with the provincial government is all about building relationships.”

Anna Warwick Sears, executive director of the OBWB, noted she has been invited to attend the UBCM gathering as a guest of the Real Estate Foundation of B.C.

“I will be there to offer any support I can at the meetings that are going to happen,” she said.

The board discussion acknowledged that the new cabinet ministers will be overwhelmed by the challenges of inaugurating a new government and addressing concerns in regions of the province they may be unfamiliar with and lacking in local NDP representation.

All four MLAs from outside Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island were chosen for cabinet posts, two from the Kootenays and two from northern B.C.

A key cabinet portfolio for the water board will be Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson, who takes over the cabinet post of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural development, a ministry under the Liberals which was headed up by Kelowna-Mission MLA Steve Thomson.

Findlater, mayor of West Kelowna, said the water board will be at a disadvantage from the outset because of the geography base of the new NDP cabinet.

“They are going to have to work hard at this to get up to speed with what our local issues are but we also have to get in front of their noses to advocate on our own behalf,” Findlater said.

OBWB director Peter Waterman, mayor of Summerland, said a catastrophic flood or fire event has implications that cross many ministry portfolios.

“Our reservoir-based water system in Summerland could be severely compromised in the case of flooding or a fire leaving a coating of ash across a reservoir surface,” Waterman said.

Norm Letnick, the Liberal MLA for Kelowna-Lake Country and the agriculture minister in the Liberal government, said he and his Liberal MLA counterpart Thomson, are taking steps to keep lines of communication open with the new government.

“We have reached out to many groups ourselves, such as the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, Interior Health, City of Kelowna and Accelerate Okanagan among them, to discuss the current reality of us now being in opposition and how we can make sure the needs of our local constituents are addressed appropriately in Victoria moving forward,” Letnick said.

“Steven and I have good relationship with members of the NDP when they were in opposition and we will get to know the newly elected people we haven’t met yet.”

Letnick said beyond the theatrics of the question period in the legislature, most of the real policy work takes place in the ministry offices and hallways through direct communication and advocacy efforts.

“The issues that our constituents brought to us when we were in government will continue to be our priorities moving forward. Both Steven and I and whoever becomes the next MLA in Kelowna-West will want to be proactive in that way as we have in the past.

“The NDP has some challenges there with so few MLAs from rural B.C., but we’ll see how they do with those challenges moving forward.”