At the Oyama Community Hall a select group of candidates running in the 2011 municipal election gathered to speak to the public on their vision for Oyama and Lake Country going into the future. In attendance were mayoral candidates James Baker, Noreen Guenther, Jayson McCarthy and Bill Clark, at-large candidates Penny Gambell, Peter Withers, Jamie McEwan and Nick Aubin, as well as Oyama ward candidates Rob Nairne and Owen Dickie.
When asked to share their views on how Oyama should grow in the coming years the answers spoke to varying degrees of future development. Agriculture was also a common theme with all candidates desiring to see it continue in Oyama.
Nairne supported keeping Oyama just as it is today. He said that bringing too much infrastructure, such as sewer, to Oyama would require more homes in the ward to make such a project financially feasible. Building more homes in the area would change the characteristics of the community—something he is not eager to see happen.
Guenther also brought up the idea of bringing sewer to Oyama, noting that while it is expensive, there are failing septic systems in the community. She stopped short of committing to bring in sewer, but did say that protecting drinking water from the failing systems is something that council needs to consider.
Gambell’s response also touched on water quality and quantity issues. She looks forward to seeing the Kalamalka Lake reservoir completed to improve Oyama’s water supply and filtration on municipal systems to stop the frequent boil water notices.
McCarthy says the Oyama residents he’s spoken to don’t want change in their ward. He says infrastructure can be improved but that it’s a minor detail in a bigger picture that focuses on the quality of social life in Oyama.
McEwan answered the question by speaking to the Wood Lake recreational corridor that will be opened up once the new highway realignment is complete and the old highway is turned over to municipal control. He wants to see sidewalks on that stretch of road, as he believes it will become a major route for pedestrian traffic.
Baker also talked about the recreation corridor in his answer, suggesting that by working with neighbouring jurisdictions, it may be possible to extend the route all the way to Vernon along the shore of Kalamalka Lake. Such a trail would attract tourism internationally says Baker, and Lake Country would benefit as a hub. Baker also spoke to the importance of Oyama Traditional School as a focal point in the community. He said that there is a need for jobs to attract young families to live in Oyama so that there are enough students to keep the school open.
Clark called Oyama a tight-knit community and pointed to the level of family involvement in school activities and the turnout to events such as Oyama Fun Day as his evidence. He said council needs to emphasize its support for community involvement that binds residents together. He also sees Oyama as a developing centre for tourism with Gatzke’s Farm Market, Oyama Zipline and Oyama Lake Alpaca Farm as major contributors.
Dickie says the focus of Oyama should be agriculture as it always has been. He says some growth is inevitable and desirable in order to supply the school with students and to improve public transit options in Oyama. He cautioned though that significant public input be required before any development is to occur.
Withers wants to maintain the rural friendly atmosphere in Oyama. He favors supporting the volunteer organizations in the area to enable them to continue their work. He also pledged to work towards making it easier for seniors to age at home. An Oyama resident himself, he says he’s seen too many neighbours have to move away because they are no longer able to support themselves at home.
Aubin pointed out three issues that he says Oyama residents are talking about right now: the recreation corridor, boat access and water improvements. He said it shouldn’t be up to a councilor to impose a vision on voters but that if elected he would work toward finding solutions to these issues that are reflective of the public opinion.
When asked to give a five year plan for Lake Country, the answers the candidates provided mentioned a variety of goals.
Dickie made it clear that he would support keeping the recreation corridor open to traffic so as not to affect traffic on Oyama Road. He wants to see families living on Main Street and says that business development would happen after the arrival of such a customer base. He also said he would work towards finding a permanent home with adequate work space for the Lake Country Food Bank.
Nairne also wants to see people on mainstreet but suggested that finding a way to attract business should be the first priority. An advocate for agriculture he wants to keep development off usable farm land—particularly the valley bottom.
Withers wants to see Lake Country become more than a “dormitory for our neighbours.” He says the first step to becoming a self serving community will be to improve communication between the municipal bureaucracy and the population it serves. He says finding ways to deal with failing infrastructure and completing the waste water management plan are amongst other top priorities.
Aubin said he is supportive of an active downtown business community, preserving agriculture and safe streets in Lake Country. As with his previous response he says any steps he supports towards achieving those goals would be the outcome of communication with constituents.
Gambell spoke to the issue of taxation. She said that an expanded tax base is needed to keep rates affordable. Economic development should be focused in the town centre but should be allowed to occur to a limited extent in other areas too she said. Gambell also wants to provide public transit to the wards using small buses. She would also like to see an amendment to the water master plan that would see the rate increases phased in over five years instead of just two.
Baker said that in a third term as mayor he would continue to support best business practices when in comes to municipal spending. He also noted however, that sometimes such a policy is not always possible for a government body. He used the HandyDart bus service as an example of a situation in which government has an obligation to subsidize an amenity for the benefit of a specific demographic in the community.
McCarthy turned the question around saying that he is more interested in what is going on in Lake Country today than what will happen here in the future. He said that after 20 years of talking about Main Street it is time to take action and get the job done.
Clark says the most important thing for Lake Country in the coming years is to diversify the tax base. He wants to create a desirable business environment and then sell the community to UBC-O and the tourism industry. He says the taxes collected from a broader tax base could then be used to provide more services for residents.
Guenther used her answer to caution against opening up too many areas for development. She said the current supply of developable land is sufficient for the community’s need and that adding more would burden taxpayers with increased infrastructure costs.