By Kelsey Verboom
For years now, local and regional government leaders have been touting the importance of acting and operating more like a unified region than a cluster of standalone communities.
Granted, each town and area in the valley needs to have its own identity and flavour, as diversity makes a cultural landscape more interesting and vibrant. But making conscious choices to operate more consistently as a whole rather than as disconnected parts is important for several reasons.
First, visitors to the region do not travel here to stay in one area; they arrive and hopefully hopscotch up and down the valley, enjoying multiple parts of it. Having a message that is reliably identifiable throughout the valley, and rules, signage, and amenities that follow accordingly, makes the experience of visiting that much easier and more enjoyable. Secondly, residents dont stay cordoned off in one town: they work, play, eat, go to school in, shop, and visit every part of the Columbia Valley on any given day. Commerce and employment ebb and flow from one community to the next, and what benefits one usually benefits another. Yet for the most part, each town and area remains independent planners when it comes to governance decisions and guiding principles. This sometimes creates discord where concord would better serve.
At the most recent Regional District of East Kootenay meeting on July 6th, two perfect examples of the need to push a regional outlook went before the board: which areas of the regional district should be included in bylaw amendments that will allow or prohibit secondary suites; and which areas should pay into a new Columbia Valley recreation services area.
After lively discussion and debate, Area F is slated to be excluded from the former, and Area G from the latter. Ironically, during the same meeting, directors again discussed the importance of acting more regionally.
There are certainly complicated technical matters to iron out in these cases, but these two most recent decisions stray from the idea of working toward a cooperative valley-wide focus. If a renter can stay in a legal secondary suite in Invermere, but not next door in Windermere, what kind of a big picture is that? Such thinking will only encourage a separatist outlook.