An age-old axiom of success suggests you do one thing only and you do that one thing well. In Osoyoos, what we do well is tourism.
We’re great at bringing other people to our community for short periods of stay. We do it so well the Town of Osoyoos is recognized as one of the province’s 14 Resort Municipalities. Annually, at least through 2017, the provincial government throws money at us to improve our tourism infrastructure.
What our community doesn’t seem to get, however, is its fair shake of provincial services — not the kind the province administers directly and not the kind it administers indirectly.
Most of those regional-based services are located in Oliver, which, it appears, the B.C. government deems the South Okanagan’s regional centre for provincial support. Maybe that decision is somewhat deliberate, as if provincial bureaucrats collectively determined Osoyoos is the resort community and Oliver is the accompanying service centre.
Maybe it’s just a matter of circumstance and geographic location.
Oliver is home to the general hospital, the Service BC Centre, regional offices for Children and Family Development, employment assistance, agriculture and even probation and family court.
Okanagan University College has a satellite campus in Oliver. MLA Linda Larsen set up shop in the community. The Okanagan Correctional Centre is coming to town.
And, if the South Okanagan-Similkameen School District has its way, Osoyoos Secondary School will be closed and the region’s only high school will be located in the “Wine Capital of Canada” as well.
You can understand why Osoyoos parents are a bit bummed about Oliver seeming to “get everything.”
The reality, though, is that it all comes down to economics, perhaps even to trade-offs. One share of the provincial pie goes to Osoyoos; another goes to Oliver.
For example, the Town of Osoyoos received about $408,000 last year in Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding — money it must use to increase, among other things, resort activities and amenities, visitor activity and the tourism component in the local economy. It will get another $413,000 this year.
The Town of Oliver doesn’t receive any of the RMI funding.
The provincial government set up the RMI program in 2007 because it recognized resort communities needed to diversify their municipal tax base and increase revenue. The idea appears to be that building a strong tourism sector is the key to building a strong and vibrant resort community — one that will attract, keep and secure residents in the community beyond the peak and shoulder tourist seasons.
Despite the RMI program, young residents — especially those with families — still struggle to remain in resort communities outside of the peak tourist season.
Most, according to a 2013 study undertaken for go2, B.C. tourism industry’s labour market and human resources association, want to be in the community and see their job as a “means to an end” to allow them to remain in the community.
According to the same study, about 30 percent will leave the community each year; those who hang around stay for the lifestyle and the amenities.
Having a local school for children to attend shouldn’t be an “amenity.” But if we have to think that way, there’s ample evidence to suggest local schools are a critical amenity for both Oliver and Osoyoos.
It’s easy to begrudge a neighbouring community its resources, be they natural, cultural or government-provided. Osoyoos could look at Oliver and bemoan its preferred location as a regional service centre; Oliver could look at Osoyoos and envy its resort community status.
Or the two communities can embrace what collectively they have to offer and work together to build an even more vital South Okanagan region.
In many ways, the two communities are already doing that. We share a Chamber of Commerce. Industry associations work for the common good.
SD53’s announced intention to integrate secondary schools has delivered yet another opportunity.
Councils, peer organizations, business communities and residents now have a chance to construct a shared vision for public education that keeps local children in local schools — Oliver kids in Oliver schools and Osoyoos kids in Osoyoos schools — and secure education as an amenity that attracts other young families to each community and consequently builds both.
That work begins with buying time: the collective message to the school district must be one of demanding a season to develop strategies to secure public education in the South Okanagan.
But, to be effective, the message must come from both communities.
The choice is simple: Oliver and Osoyoos can point fingers at the perceived unfairness of a sibling community getting something the other is not. Or the two communities can find a way to work as one, embrace differences, share complementary resources and grow — literally and figuratively — together.