Bissonette: No side akin to ancient battle between David and Goliath

One of two no campaign organizers in Lake Country say some residents have legitimate concerns that need to be heard

Guy Bissonette says he’s prepared to let the chips fall where they may when it comes to Lake Country’s April 25 referendum but adds running a no campaign has been like the ancient battle fought between David and Goliath.

Bissonette says some Lake Country residents have legitimate concerns about the costs of the purchase but speaking about those concerns has cast him and others in a negative light. He said he has been hung up on by a Kelowna radio talk show host and ignored by the Kelowna media in general during the campaign as he has tried to articulate his concerns.

“It’s been frustrating (running) a no campaign in that pretty well anything the mayor or council says no one questions,” said Bissonette. “The media has done their best to paint a bad picture of anyone that is opposed to it. Those people that are opposed are not bad residents. They don’t lack community spirit. They are just saying there is a better way to spend our money. We’re not saying no to tax increases we’re saying let’s use our tax increase for our crumbling infrastructure.”

Bissonette and a small group started the group Taxpayers 4 Responsible Tax and raised close to $7,000 to push their message. The money was spent on Canada Post mail-outs and newspaper advertisements. Bissonette was one of the first vocal residents against the purchase of the rail corridor when it came to light. And the media took up his cause, publishing his letters and asking for comment. However he soon found many of his letters were being ignored and his concerns being shrugged off by the Kelowna media.

“Initially a lot of my letters were published but in the last month I have sent half a dozen well-written letters that weren’t published so I stopped writing them,” he said. “It seems as if the media is behind the yes campaign and they really don’t want to print anything that is damaging to this. There is tons of outside pressure on Lake Country residents. Provincial ministers are weighing in and people from other city’s. I’m not whining. It’s their TV station or radio or newspaper and they can preach what they want but they are in the yes camp. It’s been David vs. Goliath. A few thousand years ago David won the fight and we’re hoping it becomes 2-and-0 for David.”

In terms of his concerns, Bissonette says there are many more costs associated with a yes vote than what the district has talked about. He says Lake Country taxpayers will be on the hook for the total $5.1 million dollar price tag when you factor in the re-payment of Kelowna’s $2.5 million investment in the rail corridor in Lake Country.

He says the mayor’s comments in a previous letter to the editor that there will be an increased tax base to draw on in Lake Country in three years time as evidence that the district will indeed go back to taxpayers for money to pay back to Kelowna.

He claims there will be much remediation work to be done on the rail corridor once CN Rail removes the ties and rails and restores it to “industrial” level. He calls claims by district councillors that Lake Country will lose lake-front access with a no vote a non-issue when you look at Pelmewash Parkway and the lake-front access the district will gain when the province hands over control of the old Highway 97 to Lake Country.

With regard to the two homes that have the right of first refusal, Bissonette says he doubts the residents will sell only the corridor back to the municipal group and says purchasing those lands is going to be extremely expensive.

“When you look at it there are just so many question marks,” said Bissonette. “Yes there are unknown costs but there are also known costs. Buying those (first-right-of-refusal) properties is going to cost millions we just don’t know how many million.”

In a letter to the editor sent by Mayor James Baker on Wednesday he said local taxpayers won’t be on the hook for more costs down the road while the lead negotiator in the deal said negotiations with the two right of first refusal properties will be handled out of the budget and won’t have implications for taxpayers.

“We know from other models that there may be options, other than taxation, for funding development and maintenance of corridors like this including stimulus funding, government grant programs, fundraising and foundation contributions, and we will be exploring those,” wrote Baker.

“Today the only cost to taxpayers is for borrowing to acquire and protect a 50 per cent share of the rail corridor through our jurisdiction and Council can state that is all that is being asked for.”