Area “B” Director George Bush discusses his first year in politics

The first year was a very sharp learning curve and I am thankful for my union training


The first year was a very sharp learning curve and I am thankful for my union training to have at least some boardroom experience. I am still one of the rookies there –  and hopefully never get as seasoned as some of the directors. My main issues for running for director were the Similkameen Valley Planning Society, the Cawston Official Community Plan and the farm workers campground. The SVPS is made up of representatives of seven jurisdictions, Princeton rural, Town of Princeton, Upper Similkameen Indian Band, Keremeos rural (which includes Hedley and Olalla), the Village of Keremeos, the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, and Cawston rural.

I am now the vice-chair along with Mayor Bauer as the chairperson. My goal now is to keep all the jurisdictions working together for a combined stewardship of the beautiful Similkameen Valley. I now oversee the Cawston OCP, which is moving ahead slowly and as issues come up I will present them to the community. The other issue that is ongoing is the farmworkers campground. If a campground was started it would have to be supported by the farmers. There would need to be supervision, daily fees, and facilities such as showers, washrooms, and drinking water. This year the National Park debate became a major issue for me. When I campaigned in Cawston I found that the majority of people I talked to were not in favor of a park. I went to every meeting in the surrounding communities and had park tours  with the conservationists and government MLA’s etc. I understand the conservation side and the economic benefits of a National Park, but not in this area. We can’t lose site of our agriculture benefits for the future generation. Food is not seen as important as water yet but it is on our next endangered list. Agriculture land is rapidly diminishing in B.C. and we only have a limited amount of usable land left. One of the other goals I achieved this year was to retire in March from School District 53 but I still help out occasionally as a spare.

My priorities for next year are to work on the Similkameen Watershed Plan, which will be worked on over the next fouryears. As the Official Community Plan committee progresses I will present their ideas to the community in town hall meetings. I am presently working with Councilor Arlow from the Village of Keremeos and the Penticton and Area Women’s Centre on improving farm workers issues. We need to welcome our farm workers and promote morefarm camping and to be tougher on the problem transients that are just here to party and cause trouble. We are also looking at improving public transportation, especially for medical issues and to coordinate transportation between communities.

Our RDOS board is presently a controversial yet a very positive working group. The Similkameen is very well represented by our two mayors and the three rural directors. We work very well together and have gained the respect of the Okanagan directors. This is partially due to our present Chair, Dan Ashton who promotes working together on a regional level. The Similkameen was chosen to use a large portion of the Federal Gas Tax money for the Similkameen Watershed Study over having smaller amounts going to the municipals and rural areas in the Okanagan. The one area that is lacking representation on the regional district is our Similkameen First Nations people. They are covered under a federal jurisdiction and are not allowed a vote at the RDOS table. I would still like to see First Nations representation at our table which would allow our directors to at least have knowledge of their input.

I really like my job as Director of Area “B”. I think it is mostly due to the acceptance of the RDOS directors and staff. We are like a big family, not always getting along but at least treating each other with respect.

When I was campaigning people would ask why I would want the abuse of being a politician. I do feel bad when people come to me with their problems, but I get over it. I have had to learn what falls under our jurisdiction and what doesn’t. We are not responsible for roads, policing, septic tanks, ground water, a lot of environmental issues, farm practice, and bad neighbors. This doesn’t mean that these issues get ignored but rather realizing what I can do and pass the rest of the problems on to others. One of the things about this job is that I didn’t expect to have to do so much reading. It is incredible the amount of preparation that has to be done before each RDOS meeting, especially now with the internet, where each item refers to a link that refers to other links, etc. Also, I was surprised at the amount of committees there are and groups and societies that we are involved with.

I was also surprised at the amount of issues there are to deal with such as the national park, Kobau Park, Ginty’s Pond, campground /farmworkers, employment services, highway signage, cherry bangers, GMO’s, starling control, farming practice code, chipping program, smoke control, trails, wildlife, conservation, environmental issues, water runoff, Cawston CA Storage, noxious weeds, Cawston Hall/cemetery, river drought, Trees over power lines, roads,iIllegal burning, fire department, fire hydrants, community forest, Agriculture Land Reserve, OCP, medical, media, landfills, recreation, and I am sure I missed a few. I want the local residents to feel free to contact me of their concerns. If I can’t help then I pass the problem on to someone else.

Regional District governance is in my opinion a necessary evil. The RDOS provides the political and administrative framework for:

1.Sservices forparks and 911.

2. Services for recreation.

3. Local services such as water and fire protection (not water in our area but in some of the others).

Without having a large tax base we would have very little to work with. We depend on RDOS’s deep pockets and excellent staff research etc. Because regional districts are divided into local areas such as North Okanagan, Central Okanagan, and Okanagan-Similkameen which gives us a large enough population base yet small enough for local representation and input.

Area “B” is one of the few areas in B.C. that enjoys the freedom from a lot of bylaws. This is being questioned by the newcomers who come from organized areas with strict rules and regulations. This is also compounded by some local abuse with people not being good neighbours. In the future bylaws will be presented and we will proceed as the community accepts them. More rules means an added tax burden to locals and this will be another consideration.

To all I wish season greetings and a happy New Year.