It’s been just over a year since Nancy Cooper took over the reins as Salmon Arm’s mayor.
In that time, she, council and staff have been presented with a number of challenges: the sudden decline of shopping options, a legal battle with neighbouring First Nations, and flooding, to name a few. But there’s been a lot of positives too for Cooper, including the progress made on a downtown campus, the city not losing jobs in the takeover of the Canoe mill, ongoing upgrades to Blackburn Park and more.
A goal of Cooper’s when elected was to help foster better communication and consultation with local First Nations – in particular, the Neskonlith Indian Band, who have been involved in a legal battle with the city regarding the SmartCentres development. (The city is currently seeking expenses after winning a legal challenge by the Neskonlith).
“Wanting to have better relations with First Nations is very important to me, but it’s going to be a process… there’s going to be things that we may propose that they’re going to say, ‘no, we can’t agree with that.’ But I know, in talking with Chief Judy Wilson, I know we’re both committed in… getting to a protocol agreement. That’s a huge challenge for me.”
Cooper recognizes that it’s not just political differences that need to be reconciled, but also cultural.
“There has to be some reconciliation and some, you know… forgiveness is another word too, because there’s been some difficult things on both sides,” says Cooper.
Cooper says she and Wilson are committed to creating a protocol agreement. And their communication has been positive – so much so that they can find humour in their differences.
“She was telling me about some of the things she has to look after. I said, ‘It sounds like your job is even harder than mine, you don’t have all the staff to help you.’ She turns around and says, ‘Well, actually, I think your job is harder than mine because you do have all the staff,’” laughed Cooper.
The sale of Federated Co-Operatives Canoe mill also created some tension for Cooper, who feared the potential buyer would shut the operation down. But that stress melted with the mill’s acquisition by Gorman Brothers.
“When we found out they were going to be purchasing it, we were quite happy about that because they’re very community minded people,” says Cooper. “They wanted to keep it here, they wanted to look to the future to see what else they can do out there.”
While Salmon Arm kept jobs, it lost shopping with the closure of Zellers and Fields.
“I don’t think anybody expected Zellers and Fields to close and there would be nothing else in there,” says Cooper, adding how the Economic Development Society and local businesses have been working hard to fill the gaps. Cooper says the EDS is also contacting other retail chains, encouraging them to come to Salmon Arm.
“There’s a new one out there that has taken up some of the Fields leases, so EDS is talking to them to see if they’d be interested in Salmon Arm as well,” says Cooper. “They’re working with Loblaws, and even talking to Sears… trying to encourage them. So far we haven’t had that happen, but they’ve certainly been working on it.”
Cooper adds that the EDS is also working with business in the industrial park to address needs there while determining what new business the city could attract that might complement those already there.
Looking to the future, Cooper says there are a number of plans in the works that she looks forward to seeing completed, a key one being the city’s Salmon Arm’s strategic plan, which will “provide context and direction” for all other city plans, while assisting council and staff with decision-making.
Cooper also looks forward to seeing more construction in 2013, expecting to see projects already approved by council to get underway, from housing to the SmartCentres’ shopping centre. She and council also look forward to Okanagan College securing a new site on the former JL Jackson property.
Through all the challenges the year has brought, Cooper credits city staff and council for providing an invaluable network of mutual support. And, when the going gets real tough, Cooper goes horseback riding.
“I have a horse out at Topline and she has a well-groomed coat, I can tell you,” laughs Cooper about her preferred form of stress-management.