Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Western: Mayors facing an uphill battle

The following editorial appeared in the Western News on July 6th, 2007:

It is hard to downplay the political optics of seeing six former mayors unite in criticizing council’s refusal to assume ownership of two school buildings scheduled for demolition.

Al Kenyon, Ivan Messmer, Dorothy Tinning, Beth Campbell, Mike Pearce and David Perry do not necessarily share similar backgrounds and views. But they have all sat in the chair now occupied by Mayor Jake Kimberley and that grants their views a certain gravity.

So people pay attention when these elder statespeople issue a joint statement opposing the destruction of the Penticton Secondary School auditorium and the north gym without replacements in place.

Whether this “desperate” appeal in the words of Campbell will save the buildings from the wrecking ball is uncertain. The odds appear to be against it.

Only two current councillors, Dan Ashton and John Vassilaki, opposed the city’s refusal to assume ownership of the two buildings and even their opposition was not unanimous. Local school board officials and the provincial government have also made it clear they are not interested in saving the facilities.

This has left the city as the only government agency capable of saving the facilities and we already know how it feels. So supporters of saving the facilities face a difficult task in translating public sentiment into political leverage.

Kimberley is certainly saying the right things in acknowledging the emotional aspect of the current debate, while trying to deflate it with a whole host of facts and figures that justify the direction of the city as it moves forward with plans for a new performing arts facility. Everybody generally agrees that the city needs such a facility.

Sorry, but I can't let this part slide: Where does this emotional/sentimental/nostalgic stuff come from? SONG's argument is at its core an economic and social argument.

But the critics say the city cannot afford do without the auditorium until it has built that new facility. And if recreational groups are clamouring for more space after the loss of Nanaimo Hall, why tear down a functional gym?

But these arguments are still looking for new converts. The city has so far dominated the commanding heights of this issue. But Thursday’s political rally has left us with the distinct and teasing impression that some among this Group of Six still carry dry powder.