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In reflection on the Osoyoos Times British Columbia editorial August 25, 2004 regarding the Chamber of Commerce vs. Town of Osoyoos, in British Columbia,  - issues vital for Canada at large.   

It is reasonable to believe that any reasonable thinking person in Osoyoos, BC and elsewhere agrees with the leader in the local paper. That the disputes between the Chamber of Commerce versus the town and the town’s contractor the Destination Osoyoos Corporation, is negative for the community.  Needless to say, working together with other organizations in the best interest of the Chamber members and the community, promoting the community as a nice place to do business, live and visit, which is a natural part of the Chamber’s activities.  However, what the paper seems to overlook, is that the Chamber’s first and primary purpose in society is not cooperation and promotional events and beach-parties.   

The Chamber’s primary purpose is to address issues that are important for businesses, the Chamber’s membership, and hence important for the community at large.  Then there is the issue the paper in Osoyoos is not talking about.   The Osoyoos Chamber fell out of favor with the Town Hall, because the Chamber simply did its job and addressed issues surrounding the Town Hall’s accountability to the community.  Specifically, the matter of the town’s contract and relationships with Destination Osoyoos – D.O, also known as Osoyoos Business and Community Development Center Corporation OBCDC.  Involving the Town Council decision to award the contract to the private Destination Osoyoos – D.O without prudent tendering, and without accounting for the tax transfers the corporation has facilitated for more than ten years.   

The Chambers concern that the tax transfers meet the standards for government intervention in the economy, what has been accomplished and where did the money go?  The Chamber’s concern was to ensure a level playing field, for its members, businesses, and other organizations.  The Chamber requested that the Town Council and government request that Destination Osoyoos openly account for the tax transfer they facilitate.   That never happened; instead the Town Council’s response was to wrathfully and arbitrarily terminate its long-term contract with the Chamber for operating the Town’s Visitor and Information Center. Thereafter, the town evicted the Chamber from “its own” building, and finally handed the contract and “Chambers” building over to the Destination Osoyoos, (D.O.) Corporation.   

The lingering question in Osoyoos should be, why is the community accepting this?  Is tax being used in the best interest of the community? Subsequently the Chamber’s board, at that time, filed a lawsuit against the town. 

As the pre-trial judge described the case “this case cries out to be tried”.  Unfortunately, the case was never tried.  Up against the towns tax funded defense, the Chamber decides to settle out of court?  What happened to the Chamber in Osoyoos could happen to any individual business and organization.  The case strongly indicates a need to implement appeal legislation, which in certain instances allows members of municipalities to appeal a municipality council’s decision to the government. Very few individual or businesses can afford to take a municipality to court as the Chamber’s case shows. 

If Chambers of Commerce fail to muster support to try a case which is of fundamental importance to the community, who can? Further, the court should never be a substitute for elected legislations and government.  With increased downloading of government mandates and services to municipalities, the lack of a process where municipality decisions can be appealed to government and the court is only the last resort that should be a serious concern for the members of the communities in BC and for investors.   

To be a Chamber, not only to the name but also in deed, the Chamber of Commerce must guard its integrity, and not to be intimidated or engage in relationships and mindsets that contradict the Chamber’s purpose in society.  That is now the particular challenge for Osoyoos Chamber of Commerce.     

The nature and climate is nice, but under the surface Osoyoos and the Okanagan is facing major social, economic and ecological challenges.  With nature and climate advantages, the real estate and the tourism sector will always be important for the Okanagan.  Real estate and tourism is also a cyclic and volatile business with elastic demand, and climate changes may also be taken in to consideration.   Open economic conditions and with comparable advantages in North America and around the world, tourism is not a panacea.  People and their investments and spending have many places to go.  

The Okanagan desperately needs more investment in clean sectors such as technology, light value added manufacturing, and food processing.   Intelligent people in the real estate and tourist industry also recognize that. tourist and allied sectors benefit from a more diversified and sustainable economy, which generates more business year round and better paid full time jobs.   

It may not be a trend, but current data indicates that the tourist and allied sectors in Osoyoos is losing revenue, and with that the community is losing employment as well.   Recently the only remaining manufacturing business in Osoyoos decided to move across the border to Oroville in Washington, where also a number of resort hotels and condominiums are planned.  This will compete directly with resorts and hotels in Osoyoos, and particularly with a climbing Canadian dollar versus the US dollar. 

Osoyoos, and the rest of the region including Okanogan WA, is a closed ecological highly sensitive area that continues to lack integrated strategic social, economic and land use and ecological planning, that should be the concern in communities on both sides of the border.  The key to solving the issues and allowing the present, to achieve their ambition without denying future generations to achieving theirs, is of course research and education.  Therefore the community must expect that the new University of British Columbia Okanagan UBCO will contribute with the interdisciplinary research and education resources, that is needed to address the socioeconomic and ecological issues society is facing, - not only at home but globally.   

In Osoyoos the question should be, is it good governance to privatize and separate economic development from the overall community and land planning, in the Town Hall? Is it good governance to shelter tax transfers in a private corporation from accountability to society? How can possible economic development be separated from land, and socioeconomic and ecological analysis and planning?  No community is an isolated island, would it not be beneficial to integrate economic development and planning with neighboring communities and the regional municipality?   Is it not time to modernize the thinking of municipality’s councils and boards?   

In good democratic order it is eventually the voters that finally decide what government, council and administration they want and subsequently what kind of community they want to become.  Hence, a well functioning democratic governed economy depends on informed voters. The only real threat against democracy and that, which fuels bad and patronize driven governments, is ignorant and rationally ignorant and complacent voters.  Therefore, a democracy entirely depends on freedom of expression and freedom of the press.  

As the Canadian Daily Newspaper and the Canadian Association of Journalists statements of principles state; the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of the press, a free flow of information sustains and vitalizes democracy because understanding emerges from vigorous discussion, openly reported.  A newspaper has responsibilities to its readers, its shareholders, its employees and its advertisers.  But the operation of a newspaper is a public trust and its overriding responsibility is to the society it serves.   

Bolstering the positive and dodging serous issues,  the community is facing and shooting the messenger that address the issues, they are not promoting understanding among the voters and hence are not vitalizing democracy.    

As Voltaire wrote, I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.  That can be a problem in one-paper communities, where the only local paper is the main source of local information.  The peril against democracy is not what is said and discussed, but what is not said in Osoyoos and elsewhere.   

Ultimately, the paper is a private business, and the editor has the exclusive right to set the editorial and journalistic standard for the paper, a right that should never be questioned.  Only the editor must decide what should be written, omitted and published, and which also reflects the moral and ethics of the paper.


September 27, 2004