Next month brings an event that is extremely important in many respects and yet is ignored by a large portion of RDOS residents. I refer of course to the municipal elections. Many issues that affect the quality of our everyday life are determined at the local level, and even those which are ultimately decided by provincial officials can often be influenced by pressure from the local level. I think it is very important that we all participate in choosing our local leaders.
One of the most important issues that face all communities is the matter of land use — usually determined by zoning bylaws that are supposed to reflect the communities’ aspirations as expressed in the Official Community Plan. OCPs and zoning bylaws determine what a community will look like — what the housing density will be, how much park land we’ll have, what is important to the community, etc. OCPs generally take a significant amount of time to complete (18-24 months) and cost tens of thousands of dollars. One might assume then that OCPs would be subject to change only after considerable public debate, but that has not always been the case here in the South Okanagan. Ask your candidates — whether they are running for a city council or an RDOS electoral region — if they support the current OCP for your region. Basically everything that happens in a region is determined by the uses made of the land, and that is determined by the OCP and the zoning bylaws, so don’t let your candidates off the hook with wishy-washy answers.
About 18 months ago the RDOS adopted a regional growth strategy — a forward-looking plan designed to achieve many things, including stopping rural sprawl and enhancing environmental protection. This plan was approved by all of the major communities within the RDOS and adopted by the RDOS board after much research and discussion, many public hearings and numerous redrafts and amendments. Already some developers as well as ordinary land owners have tried to thwart the intent of this strategy. Ask your candidates where they stand on the regional growth strategy?
Water is another major issue for much of the Okanagan, although with Okanagan Lake and Skaha Lake at our doorsteps, one might think water would be a non-issue for us. Not so. Many smaller communities in the Okanagan (Faulder and Twin Lakes come to mind) as well as rural developments get their water from wells. Ground water is unfortunately in B.C. a provincial matter, but local communities can have input into the matter of water supply for proposed developments. Another good question for candidates is how they view the issue of water in our area?
Professional public opinion surveys were carried out in the South Okanagan in 2004 and again in 2008 to determine how the residents felt about various environmental issues. The results were very similar in both years but I’ll just summarize some of the 2008 findings here:
An overwhelming 91 per cent of residents agreed that protecting natural ecosystems and wildlife is needed to maintain the quality of life in the South Okanagan and Similkameen.
Eighty-seven per cent of residents felt regional and local governments should do more to protect the environment and conserve regional habitats and wildlife.
Seventy-seven per cent of residents believe we need stricter regulations to protect the environment in the South Okanagan and Similkameen.
Seventy-five per cent believe it is important to protect endangered species and their habitats in the long-term, even if that means putting restrictions on economic development.
Seventy-nine per cent are concerned about urban sprawl and poorly planned growth and the loss of agricultural land to housing.
Eighty-six per cent of those polled support establishing a conservation fund.
These are all overwhelming majorities, and yet to my mind, many of our local politicians do not seem to be on board with these ideas. Ask your candidates where they stand on these issues. Of course not everybody will agree on every issue, but press for answers before you vote, not after.
The South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club is presenting a fabulous opportunity to hear award winning authors and researchers John and Mary Theberge at our next meeting, Oct. 28. Meetings are held at the Penticton United Church on Main Street and start at 7:30 p.m. There is no charge. More details can be found at: www.southokanagannature.com.
Robert Handfield is past-president of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club.