Editor’s note: This is the first of two instalments in which the Western News looks back at the news and events from 2013,
Challenging year for Penticton’s new triathlon
Local athlete Jeff Symonds in August won the first ever Challenge Penticton triathlon, which saw lower registration than in previous Ironman-branded events.
About 1,350 athletes registered for the race, roughly half the total in other years.
Since the event concluded, however, organizers have said little about Challenge Penticton’s finances or numbers for next year.
In October, the society that operates the race cut ties with its general manager and manager of race operations and replaced them in November.
Then in December, the Western News revealed the race lost $200,000 in 2013 and sought a new line of credit backed up by the City of Penticton.
“They’re not cutting us a cheque or anything,” said Paulette Rennie, president of the Penticton Triathlon Race Society.
“They’re not handing us over any money at all. All they’re doing is backing us. If things went sideways, they would be responsible.”
Mayor Garry Litke said the city expected the race would take up to five years to become profitable.
“History has shown that the (Challenge) race in Roth, (Germany), has grown way beyond what the Ironman format could accommodate, so we are expecting that same level of success here in Penticton, but we know it is not going to happen in the first or second or third year,” he said.
FortisBC customers shocked by new rate
A new rate structure for people who buy electricity from FortisBC sparked considerable debate.
The two-tiered conservation rate was implemented in July 2012, but its effects weren’t felt until the winter months in early 2013, when people who heat their homes with electricity noticed huge increases on their power bills.
Local politicians called on the provincial government and the B.C. Utilities Commission to address the situation and a report on the rate’s impact was ordered.
“The results show that customers with electric heat and without access to natural gas have higher than average annual consumption which leads to a higher than average impact due to the implementation,” the report concluded.
It noted, however, that “the group that is negatively affected is far smaller than is reflected by the publicity garnered by the rate.”
Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer, who led opposition to the new rate, said the report showed the B.C. government needs to act.
“The report didn’t bring anything new that we didn’t already know, that people who rely on electric heat only and the ones who don’t have the means to hook up to gas are the worst off,” he said.
The BCUC said in November it would review the report in the “near term,” before deciding if a rework of the rate is necessary.
Mounties tight-lipped about suspended Osoyoos officer
RCMP remain tight-lipped about an Osoyoos constable who is suspended with pay.
A former Osoyoos resident, Steve Condon, alleged he was set up to take the fall for two vehicles stolen last year that were owned, or on loan, to Amit Goyal, the suspended officer.
Condon, who complained of police harassment, said he was forced to flee Osoyoos and was later interviewed by other Mounties, whom he directed to take a closer look at Goyal.
RCMP confirmed Goyal was suspended in July with pay, but would not say why.
“If there was a criminal charge, we would pro-actively release that information,” said RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Rob Vermeulen.
The Western News also learned that court registries in the region were advised not to process any traffic ticket disputes involving Goyal, according to a document posted in courthouses.
“Furthermore, any new ticket disputes that come into your office for this member please do not process them and cancel the ticket as he will not be available to attend court,” the note read.
Attempts to contact Goyal for comment were unsuccessful.
Hospital expansion “notionally” approved
The proposed expansion at Penticton Regional Hospital generated lots of headlines and became an issue during the provincial election, but it’s still only “notionally” funded.
Following a noisy campaign by local doctors, Premier Christy Clark toured the 60-year-old hospital in February and promised to “kick down those barriers” that had stalled development of a business case for the proposed ambulatory care tower.
She returned in March to confirm her government had $2 million available for the business case and ordered it proceed immediately.
Interior Health got to work on the document, but Health Minister Terry Lake set tongues wagging in August when he told a CBC Radio interviewer the new tower wouldn’t be built in the next four years.
Janice Perrino, chair of the Okanagan Similkameen Regional Hospital District, quickly downplayed the minister’s remarks.
“What he’s saying is technically very true. It’s going to take five years just to get the building built, so it won’t be done during this term because it can’t physically be done,” Perrino said.
The business case, the cost of which has risen from $500,000 to $700,000, is well underway and expected to be complete in early 2014. It will likely be submitted after the B.C. government budget is complete, but Perrino is hopeful there will be cash available for PRH.
The four-storey tower is projected to cost $300-million and provide 37,000 square metres for outpatient services like an oncology department and surgical suites. The B.C. government has been asked to cover $160 million of the cost.
Hockey hero brings Stanley Cup to hometown
Duncan Keith’s face got quite a workout in early September as he smiled his way through hundreds of photos with fans in Penticton.
“It’s not hurting — I can’t feel it,” he said with a laugh after hosting a community event at Gyro Park, where he put the Stanley Cup on display and spent nearly an hour posing for pictures with the public.
The 30-year-old Chicago Blackhawks defenceman won his second cup three months earlier and shared part of his day with the trophy with the community, just as he did in 2010.
RCMP Const. Tim Wood was one of two local Mounties lucky enough to suit up in dress uniforms for the public event, at which the City of Penticton proclaimed Duncan Keith Day.
“They sent out an email to the whole detachment and I jumped on it when I heard about it, Wood said.
“It’s a boyhood dream for any Canadian kid to stand with the Stanley Cup, and to do it with red serge is an honour.”
Keith moved to the Okanagan with his family as a teenager and played two seasons with the Penticton Minor Hockey Association, then three seasons of junior A hockey with the Penticton Panthers before moving on to the college and professional ranks.
“I think it’s important to give back. Obviously there’s a lot of people who helped me along the way in this town, in this city, and it’s nice for the young kids to get a chance to see (the cup) and talk to them a little bit,” Keith said.
Pimp dad and johns sentenced
A man accused of pimping his teenaged daughter was handed a 9.5-year jail sentence, while four men accused of procuring the girls services received lesser sentences and fines.
“‘He destroyed my soul, my self-esteem and most of my dreams,” the girl said in her victim impact statement, which was read aloud at sentencing.
The man, who cannot be named due to a court publication ban in order to protect the girl’s identity was convicted in April following a trial.
The girl, then 18, testified she started being sexually abused when she was just 12 years old while she lived with her stepfather and mother in Osoyoos, and this carried on when they moved to Okanagan Falls and later Penticton.
She testified it was while they were living in Surrey, over a period of six months in 2011, that her stepfather forced her into prostitution. That activity continued from the bus stop at the Soupateria in Penticton when the family moved back to the city.
High school officials realized something was afoot with the girl and her family, and eventually an undercover RCMP operation led to the arrest of the man in July 2011.
The father, who was often belligerent in the court, has also had his named added to the national sex offender registry.
Four johns received penalties ranging from a $500 fine to seven months in jail.
RDOS struggles on safety audit
Outdated safety management systems at volunteer fire departments and lack of an organization-wide safety program cost the regional district $10,000 this year.
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen received $31,137 in rebates on its WorkSafeBC premiums over the previous three years, but lost the incentive when it scored 55 per cent on an external safety audit this spring.
The audit assessed nine areas, such as accident investigations, safety committees and worker training.
“We are a safe organization. Just because we had some infractions, or we’ve got some challenges in front of us… doesn’t mean we’re not safe,” said RDOS internal safety auditor Dale Kronebusch.
While it provided an executive summary, the RDOS initially refused to release the full audit report and instructed media to file freedom of information requests to obtain a copy.
Tom Siddon, the RDOS director for Okanagan Falls-Kaleden, later encouraged administration to release the report.
RDOS board chairman Mark Pendergraft acknowledged some staff and directors were upset by news articles stating the organization failed what was a voluntary audit.
“I guess it’s not totally inaccurate to say the RDOS failed the safety report, but it by no means portrays the regional district isn’t a safe place to work. It’s just that we haven’t met that extra standard is all,” he said.
Pendergraft said staff quickly got to work on a 58-point action plan to address shortcomings identified by the audit.
Two strikes you’re not out
Parents watched nervously this year as school support staff threatened to strike twice.
Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees were a contract without heading into the 2013-14 session and mused publicly about walking out shortly after the start of the school year.
“We feel we have no choice but to do job action,” said Jean Frolek, president of CUPE Local 523, which covers the Okanagan.
The union eventually came to terms with the B.C. government on a framework agreement in September that included wage increases of 3.5 per cent over two years.
That was expected to cost the Okanagan Skaha School District $510,500 over the term. Superintendent Wendy Hyer said the wage increase would be funded by staff reductions through attrition and an “aggressive budget review.”
Once the framework was in place, individual school boards were left to hammer out collective agreements with their CUPE locals. Negotiations broke down in three Okanagan districts in late November and CUPE filed 72-hour strike notice.
Last-ditch negotiations succeeded and CUPE ratified the new agreement in December.
Had support staff walked out, teachers would have stayed away from work too.
“They don’t cross our picket lines, we don’t cross theirs,” said Leslea Woodward, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union.
WestJet does a fly-by on Penticton
Even after organizing a community flash mob at the airport and having the former mayor travel to Calgary to personally ask WestJet to begin flying to Penticton, the city was left off the list of stops serviced by the airline’s new regional carrier.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t make the first round but I know their new airplane deliveries are being staggered,” Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton said in February.
“It appears WestJet has decided to open up Encore’s new routes to the west first before the east. That provides a good opportunity in the near future for Penticton as new airplanes arrive into their system.”
WestJet Encore president Ferio Pugliese confirmed the opportunity hadn’t passed.
“The communities that are not part of today’s announcement continue to be under consideration as we take delivery of additional aircraft later this year and in the years to come.”
Fort St. John and Nanaimo were the first cities to receive service from WestJet Encore. Terrace and Brandon were added later.
City officials have long sought a direct connection to Calgary and have also asked Air Canada to add it. That company, however, reduced service this fall when it eliminated its mid-day flight to Vancouver.
Retired police officer convicted of murder
It took a jury just six hours to convict retired Mountie Keith Wiens of second-degree murder in July connection with the death of his common-law wife Lynn Kalmring in their Penticton home.
Wiens, who worked at the Summerland RCMP detachment prior to his retirement in 2001, shot his wife in the head after an argument in the bedroom of their condo in the Sandbridge gated community.
He testified at trial that she was angry and came at him with a knife, so he shot her in self-defence. A pathologist testified, however, that the knife was likely placed in her hand after she was dead, which the Crown suggested gave the appearance that she’d been shot in self-defence.
Other evidence presented to the jury showed the couple had been arguing over money in the months leading up to the incident. A judge later set Wiens’ period of parole ineligibility at 13 years.
“It’s been two years (awaiting an outcome) and now I hope my sister gets to rest in peace. It’s been horrible,” said Shelly Pertelson, Kalmring’s sister.
Wiens in September filed for an appeal his conviction and sentence.
In a handwritten submission to the B.C. Court of Appeal, he said his “unblemished past” was not properly put to the court at sentencing, and the evidence of a blood spatter expert was not given enough weight by the jury.
His appeal hasn’t yet been heard.