This election campaign has only just started, but it’s looking like it’s going to get ugly — fast.
Much as the SmartCentres debate exposed a critical divide in our community, this election is ripping the scab off that wound and exposing those painful nerves to the open air.
Salmon Arm is a city of factions: pro-SmartCentres, anti-SmartCentres; pro-business, anti-business; pro-development, anti-development; pro-shopping, anti-shopping; pro-green, anti-green; pro-Smart Growth, anti-Smart Growth.
There seems to be little room, or even little tolerance out there for moderation.
The entry of Warren Bell, a physician and well-known environmental activist and Tim Lavery, an educator, blogger and the initiator of the Save our Wetlands sign campaign, into the race for city council appears to be sparking a renewed debate about this community’s values, judgments and future direction.
All of these can be good things.
It is valuable for citizens to think about what they want their city to be and how best to achieve that goal.
It is important for candidates and citizens alike to define their wants, needs and priorities for our municipal government.
But, I believe this election, unlike the last four I’ve witnessed, is going to be the most divisive, the most highly charged, most polarized. Just check out the heated comments on the Observer’s online commenting feature, which allows people to air their views mostly anonymously (although some respondents choose to use their real names when making a statement.)
It’s recently become a war of words. Here’s a sample:
• “Get out and vote, and vote for progress in beautiful Salmon Arm. Do not vote for the “wacko environmentalists,” the “stiflers.”
• “I’d say the good citizens of Salmon Arm were duped by the two so-called “smart growth” councillors last time ‘round! Not much “honour and integrity” last term, as we (the greater part of the community) see it.”
Now we’ve also got SmartCentres themselves, the catalyst for much of the angst that has erupted over the past few years, weighing in on the election. In an email sent to SmartCentres supporters, Nathan Hildebrand, land development manager, writes:
“I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone of the upcoming municipal election on Nov. 19. It is very important to be involved in this election and get out there and support those on council who have supported more shopping in Salmon Arm and have worked diligently over the past three years to represent the larger community needs and interests.”
Make no mistake, folks. As with the SmartCentres decision, people are taking sides, and it’s going to be difficult to find middle ground. My best advice for candidates is to put on your slickers and your wellies ‘cause it’s going to be hard to avoid being hit with some of the mud-slinging that’s to come.