B.C. land swap deal with Westbank First Nation stirs up political trouble in West Kelowna

The B.C. Liberals have themselves a little problem in the Okanagan. The District of West Kelowna is up in arms over a land deal between the province and the Westbank First Nation, fearing it will fleece taxpayers and leave the municipality dealing with a major development right next to a water reservoir. I got to write about it for the Globe and it got heavy treatment from local media. I guess the cabinet minster responsible for the file, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister, Blair Lekstrom, got so many interview requests, he felt compelled to hold a conference call with reporters. The problem there was that he wasn’t the minister who made the deal and he probably hadn’t had time to thoroughly immerse himself in the file yet.

The wide reporting of Lekstrom’s remarks got West Kelowna Mayor, Doug Findlater, all mad again and he sent out another press release and got a lot more local coverage. And then today, Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart felt compelled to hold a press conference in his consituency office. Unfortunately I couldn’t go because I was on another job. But the Capital News went and so did CHBC and AM1150.

But it seems that, no longer encumbered by a cabinet post, Stewart chose to take the tact of a local representative standing up for his constituents by trying to hold his own government to account.

It ‘s a difficult spot for the Liberal government. They’ve gone to great lengths to foster good working relationships with First Nation leaders and they probably don’t want to damage those alliances by changing a deal that had been awfully close to closing. At the same time, the Central Okanagan is a party stronghold, and they need to hold onto its three seats if they hope to survive the the next election. But voters here are vulnerable to wooing by the B.C. Conservatives should the Liberals prove to be too soft for the Conservative/Socred/Reform wing of their coalition. And those are the kind of constituents that take to flooding an MLA’s office when they are passionately displeased with what’s going on.

It will be interesting to see how this one gets untangled. Maybe this is what’s preventing the government from making a decision about where to put a prison in the Okanagan, something it said it wanted to do by June.

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