Avoiding the Elephant in the Room

Last week I spoke to grade 2 classes at Uplands Elementary School about municipal government and what it’s like to be the Mayor. One of the questions asked was, “what does it mean to be a leader?” 

I told them it means having the courage to follow your heart and stand up for what you believe is right or what you’ve been brought up to believe is good;  despite what others may be whispering in your ear, despite people teasing you, and despite anyone who may be trying to pressure you.  Later that week as I deliberated about how to proceed with Skaha Park I reflected on that thought.

The hardest part of being on council is realizing that you can’t please everyone. Despite wanting to make people happy or like you, it’s inevitable that sooner or later a decision will disappoint someone.  We often avoid talking about sex, politics, or religion in public because people have such varied and passionate views on these topics. In Penticton, past councils have avoided talking about parks, taxes, parking, or social issues because everyone has different opinions and emotions can run high. 

If I spoke to a room of 100 people and asked what their favorite color was, I wouldn’t expect people to disrespect one another for choosing a different color. Yet, when someone offers a different perspective on a City service or amenity, the gloves quickly come off and we often resort to personalized attacks or close our minds to other’s ideas, concerns or solutions.  Decisions made by council can affect our daily lives so it is easy to understand how it can get personal.

The proposed waterslide in Skaha Park has been a polarizing issue, while it wasn’t a proposal for a pipeline or a factory, it was divisive and there were no winners or losers in this dispute.  I can appreciate that after months of animosity directed at City Hall and/or Trio marine Group it isn’t easy for everyone to move on from the decision, but that is what we need to do. The waterslide is now off the table and we have also guaranteed the preservation of green space. Had these two conditions been part of an agreement executed a year ago, moving on would probably be a lot easier.  Hindsight is always 20-20, but it is clear that there were several lessons learned and the experience will help ensure better decision making processes.

It is unfortunate that the passion focused on what might or might not happen in a park (700 people attended a public meeting on the Skaha Marina) does not extend to other civic issues - information sessions on the City’s infrastructure problems drew only a handful of people. 

The economic growth, greater level of prosperity, and confidence in Penticton over the last eighteen months have been overshadowed by this controversy. In 2016, the City will set an all-time record for building projects with construction value expected to approach $180 million and a booming real estate market.  Social issues such as implementing the Youth Esteem Strategy (YES), fentanyl epidemic, homelessness, mental health,  working poor and healthy living  have also suffered from neglect due to the focus we’ve all had on the Skaha debate.

As we approach Christmas it is my sincerest hope that collectively as a community we can let the animosity and negativity subside, be respectful towards opinions different than our own, and most importantly, move forward.