As a Water Councillor, I found the recent decision by Town Council to only allow water councillors to participate at the Council Table only when water matters are being discussed, very surprising. According to the Town Council and CAO, the presence of water councillors could put the municipality in a “precarious position.” Yet, after 28 years there was never a challenge from any member of the public, former mayors, former councillors, and previous staff. One would assume if council was in a precarious position someone would have raised the issue much earlier.
A brief history: The formation of water councillors for the Town of Oliver and Osoyoos happened as a consequence of the Town of Oliver wanting to expand town boundaries into the Tucelnuit and Rockcliffe areas. Given the situation, the B.C. government decided the South Okanagan Land Irrigation District, i.e. SOLID, would be dissolved and its assets and responsibilities allocated to Oliver and Osoyoos. The SOLID trustees and the rural residents they represented were very apprehensive about losing control over the rural water system. Taxation without representation was a major concern. Hundreds of farmers signed a petition against the B.C. government’s decision, but the B.C. government dissolved SOLID anyway. To ensure the people in the irrigation district were properly represented, the B.C. government created two water councillor positions for Oliver and Osoyoos.
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Since the dissolution of SOLID, the water councillors were welcomed and respected on Oliver Town Council. As water councillors we understood our responsibilities and duties with respect to water. Over time, Town Councils recognized the benefits of the rural perspective the water councillors provided, and encouraged the water councillors to be more active in all discussions. It was not uncommon to be asked our opinion on non-water matters even when we did not offer it. In reality, we did not comment very often on such matters. It was also not uncommon for members of council, including the water councillors, to have different opinions, but everyone always valued each other’s perspectives in making decisions in the best interests of the community.
Despite a 28-year precedent established by previous councils, the current council no longer values the opinions of the water councillors: why and why now? I suspect a couple of individuals on council did not appreciate the opinions of the water councillors if they contradicted their own opinions.
In reality, our role as water councillors remains the same with regards to water, and is strongly protected by the Lieutenant Governor’s Order in Council. However, what I find the most upsetting is how council decided to silence opinions that they do not agree with when it is a councillor’s job to listen to the opinions and concerns of citizens. At the council meeting where this issue was discussed I jokingly said at the end of the meeting. “I am glad I live in Canada, in some other countries I would have simply disappeared.”
What I find very sad is that council will lose rural perspective on all matters affecting our entire community. It is sad that what previous councils saw as an asset, this council sees as a liability.
I would like to thank everyone who supports and appreciates the water councillors, especially during this ordeal.
Rick Machial, Water Councillor