Council to pack big suitcase for UBCM

Council to pack big suitcase for UBCM

Local concerns over the sustainability of South Okanagan General Hospital have prompted a couple of residents to plan a public meeting to see what can be done to improve services. (File photo)

By Lyonel Doherty

Oliver Mayor Martin Johansen hopes to talk to as many ministers as possible about the Town’s wish list at the UBCM convention this fall. (File photo)

Some crafty salesmanship, a little charisma and a lot of fast talking (literally) are what town council members will need at the Union of BC Municipalities convention this fall.

On Monday, councillors discussed several issues that will be the subject of important meetings with the powers that be in parliament.

Before they go, Mayor Martin Johansen has a meeting with RCMP Supt. Ted de Jager regarding some policing issues. For example, funding an officer for a drug enforcement unit.

The mayor noted that drug enforcement and victim services are the top two issues identified by the new Community Safety and Crime Prevention Committee in Oliver.

Johansen said Sgt. Jason Bayda from the Osoyoos RCMP brought up the idea of funding an additional RCMP officer who would be deployed in the drug enforcement unit in Penticton.

“On the surface that doesn’t sound like the right thing, but what you get when you do that is the unit will come down to the South Okanagan and go under cover in this area,” Johansen said.

The mayor said they feel that another general duty officer isn’t going to have much impact on crime in the community.

“We need to get deeper into the problem because a lot of property crime is driven by drug activity – people stealing to support their drug habit.”

Councillor Petra Veintimilla said they won’t have much time to pitch their requests to the ministers, noting that 2.5 minutes for each idea is the norm.

The other request is funding for full-time staff in the victim services program.

Nuisance property legislation is something else the Town wants to address. Chief Administrative Officer Cathy Cowan said they want changes to the legislation in order to have more power to deal with these problems. (There are properties in Oliver that police and local bylaw enforcement staff monitor on a regular basis for illegal activity.)

The other issue that both Oliver and Osoyoos would like a joint meeting on is a “holistic” inmate release support program at the Okanagan Correctional Centre.

Another meeting at the UBCM convention will focus on best practices for Oliver’s new policing contract with the province (when the Town surpasses 5,000 population in the next census).

From policing concerns to wine tasting, council is covering all of its bases.

Cowan said the Town would like to see a pilot project where people can visit a tasting room to try their favourite wines in Oliver.

One of the most critical meetings at the convention will be reminding ministers about funding for the Gallagher Lake siphon repair project.

“We have to get the message across to every single minister that is sitting in caucus,” said Councillor Dave Mattes.

Johansen said there is an opportunity to discuss the matter with the premier.

But water councillor Rick Machial didn’t sound very optimistic.

“You can almost guess what your answer is going to be.”

He said perhaps they should take a farm tractor there to get their point across, which is what they do in France, he noted.

Cowan said they should involve the tourism minister in these discussions.

Yet another topic that councillors will raise at the UBCM is funding for affordable housing opportunities in Oliver.

Council is also seeking increased funding for the Okanagan Regional Library. Mattes said the government hasn’t increased funding for libraries for the past 10 years. It used to be 20 per cent, but now it’s five per cent, he pointed out.

Arguably the most critical issue that council will express concern about is staffing levels at South Okanagan General Hospital. Specifically, the concern is the closure of the emergency department due to lack of physician coverage on weekends.

Johansen suggested establishing a chronological order of the deteriorating conditions (services) at the hospital.

“The message needs to be clear, not vague and generalized.”

Mattes said they should follow that up with the question: How many lives will be lost if this continues, and does the government want to be responsible for that?

Veintimilla said it shouldn’t matter where you live – health care should be the same anywhere.

“We’re not choosing to live in the back 40 of some bush and completely disconnected from the grid. We’re in a heavily populated corridor of the province; we don’t deserve the lower level of service than those that choose to live in the metropolitan areas.”