Best council

In this 2019 file photo, Summerland Council poses for an official group portrait, from left, Doug Holmes, Doug Patan, Erin Trainer, Erin Carlson, Richard Barkwill and Marty Van Alphen. Seated is Mayor Toni Boot.

Municipal councils, regional districts and school boards are now one-third of the way through their four-year terms.

Our MLAs have made it to the halfway point (assuming there’s not a snap election) and MPs have begun a new term in a minority government.

Up until a week ago, I served as valley editor for Okanagan Newspaper Group and kept a close eye on all elected bodies in the valley. I was also in regular contact with the reporters who cover the councils/boards, including some who worked for competing news agencies.

I now present the first and only “Miller Awards” for who I consider to be the best elected officials in the valley.

In such challenging and uncertain times, I won’t name the worst, just the best, because I want to remain upbeat.

Best member of Parliament: Dan Albas (Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola). Accessible and renowned for returning phone calls, Albas seems best suited for his role in oppposition, rather than government, maybe because with a reduced caucus, it gives him a chance to shine. Like his political mentors, Albas’s focus has always been on being a constituency MP. His suggestion to donate his 2% pay raise to charity is a good move and shows sympathy to those of us who are struggling at the moment. He’s never been a hog with his expense account and his idea to share office space with Penticton MLA Dan Ashton is another way to save money for the taxpayer. It’s a little thing, but the little things do matter.

Best MLA: Norm Letnick (Kelowna-Lake Country). As the health critic for the Opposition, he’s continually looking for ways to offer better service and find inefficiencies in the system. If the Liberals win the next election, there’s a good chance he could be the next health minister. As a former business professor who owned several businesses, Letnick has a solid understanding of this file. Pre-COVID-19, he was always visible in the community.

Best mayor: John Vassilaki (Penticton). Vassilaki brought Ironman back, because it’s what the people wanted. (It never should have left.) He’s addressed crime and homelessness which, pre-COVID-19, were the two greatest concerns in the community. As a long-time businessman, he’s folksy and people appreciate his (pre-COVID-19) open door policy. He’s a straight shooter, which can be dangerous to politicians, but people appreciate that he calls it the way he sees it. Although his family has done well for themselves, he grew up poor and that’s something a person never forgets. He understands the daily struggles of the less-fortunate.

Best council: District of Summerland. Headed by Mayor Toni Boot, a former business owner and celebrated environmentalist, the six councillors are a diverse and talented group which includes representation of business people, agriculture, communications, university graduates, athletics, humanitarian causes plus two young mothers. The recent hiring of Anthony Haddad as CAO was a major score for the district.

Best city councillor: Charlie Hodge (Kelowna). Forgive the cliche, but if there was ever a “man of the people,” it’s Charlie Hodge. He usually has an oxygen tank with him at meetings and he literally cheated death earlier this term. Charlie has an incredible dedication to his job as an elected official. A few elections ago, a high-pressure business group lobbied to have he and three others tossed off council. It worked, but like the Energizer bunny, he keeps going and was voted back by the people in 2014 and again in 2018. Nobody cares more about the environment than Charlie.

Best regional director: Doug Findlater (West Kelowna). As a former mayor of West Kelowna, who voluntarily stepped down and ran for council in 2018, he has an excellent understanding of how government works at the various levels. He was a breath of fresh air when he suggested that Central Okanagan regional directors take a pay cut because many of the meetings are short and they don’t deserve the big salaries they’re making. How refreshing.

Best school board trustee: Roli Cacchioni (Central Okanagan District 23). As a retired teacher and principal, he has a superb knowledge of education. He’s supportive of students of all backgrounds and orientations. Roli listens, is well prepared for meetings and is never afraid to express an opinion. His decisions are never based on emotion and he’s doesn’t mind being the dissenting vote when necessary.

Rookie of the Year: Tracy Van Raes (Okanagan Skaha School District 67). There was a financial crisis and senior staff had a cavalier attitude about it. She, among others, showed incredible courage by insisting on public transparency, which we eventually got. This was not an easy task as some of her colleagues, undoubtedly, wanted to brush it under the carpet and blame the media for sensationalism. Van Raes is well-prepared, attends her PAC meetings faithfully and is also active in numerous community projects, including Rotary and the Starfish Pack program. She’s a keeper!

James Miller is managing editor of The Penticton Herald and was previously valley editor for Okanagan Newspaper Group. Opinions in today’s column are his own. Email: