The majority of Summerland council wants the provincial government to MYOB on municipal issues.
Council voted 4-3 in favour of sending a letter to Premier John Horgan and Housing Minister David Eby requesting the Province respect local government’s traditional responsibility for local land-use planning and to refrain from invoking paramountcy over municipal zoning bylaws.
The motion by Coun. Doug Holmes was in support of a request made to the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen by Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki.
Last month, the Province overruled a unanimous decision by Penticton City Council to deny a second one-year extension for a temporary housing shelter at the former Victory church on Winnipeg Street.
Holmes insists his motion isn’t about the homeless shelter, but an elected body’s ability to make a hard decision without being overruled by a higher government.
If it happened to Penticton, it could happen in Summerland.
“The provincial government may have the legal authority to invoke paramountcy over municipal zoning, but I question if it has the moral authority,” Holmes said during Monday night’s public meeting. “It goes against the very purpose of local government and undermines local democracy.”
Holmes received support from fellow councillors Richard Barkwill, Doug Patan and Marty Van Alphen.
“It’s to send a message out. There’s due process in the municipal world,” said Patan.
“What we really want to say is we really don’t think you should — even though you have the right — to apply this right that you have (paramountcy),” Barkwill said.
“Why am I here? Why do we have elections? Why do we have elected officials in our community if this is the way Victoria is going to step on councils,” Van Alphen asked.
Mayor Toni Boot, who opposed the motion along with councillors Erin Carlson and Erin Trainer, said Penticton’s situation is well known across the province and, indeed it’s divisive.
“The Province, as a senior government, has the right to invoke paramountcy and that’s what they’ve done in this case whether or not I agree with it,” said Boot, the NDP’s candidate in the 2020 provincial election.
“Let the lead actors in this situation sort things out for themselves.”
Boot took aim at Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki in her address to council.
“I think that there needs to be some demonstrated level of cooperation and frankly maturity between the Province and the City of Penticton. They need to have some frank and honest and unemotional discussion.”
“There were some established rules of engagement which included respect and that doesn’t include hanging up on the Minister of Housing,” she added in reference to Vassilaki abruptly ending a phone conversation with Eby. (Vassilaki has repeatedly denied Eby’s claim.)
Trainer, mirroring her vote made at the RDOS table, believes the issue belongs with the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. (Trainer and Holmes both represent Summerland on the regional district, which voted 10-9 to send a similar letter to Horgan and Eby.)
Carlson, meanwhile, asked if the Province’s decision to overrule Penticton on the temporary shelter issue was directly due to the pandemic.
“Some of this is reacting to the situation,” Carlson said. “I don’t think they’re (Province) doing it out of spite for any municipality.”
To view the debate from Monday's meeting, scroll to 1:03 mark of this meeting: