Elected officials must take a stance

Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen directors recuse themselves from votes on controversial issues

Taking political office is not about making everyone happy all the time. It’s about making hard decisions and acting in the interests of the community they were elected to represent, whether sitting in Parliament or around a city council table.

Recently, there have been two cases of area politicians stepping back from that responsibility at the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen board table.

The first occurred when Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton and Couns. Andrew Jakubeit and Garry Litke recused themselves from the discussion of a contract for Penticton to supply bulk treated water to West Bench. Since Penticton will be the seller and the RDOS the buyer, voting on the issue seemed to be a conflict of interest to the three directors, though they had supported it at city council.

Conflict is a tricky thing to define, but there is such a thing as being too careful. None of the Penticton representatives stood to gain personally from the water deal, so they were not truly in conflict. And since Penticton taxpayers invest in the RDOS, they should have a vote. Coun. John Vassilaki was left alone to represent Penticton, voting against the deal as he had at council.

With even less justification, it happened again at the RDOS with a motion urging the province to resume talks on the controversial establishment of a national park. In this case, Allan Patton and Angelique Wood, the Oliver and Keremeos rural directors, left the room to avoid voting.

They didn’t, however, describe any conflict of interest. Patton, instead, was concerned that asking the province to resume talks could be construed as support for the talks. “I don’t want to vote against that, and I don’t want to vote in favour of it,” he said.

Councils and boards of directors function on consensus. But when members absent themselves from the conversation, the interests of the people they represent are not being served.