Hovanes says run for mayor his last
In a town with a tradition of returning incumbents, there is no shortage of challengers to the two women and five men seeking to retain their seats around the Oliver council table.
Three-term Mayor Ron Hovanes faces a challenge from a candidate with a strong management resume running on a platform centred on the need to change leadership.
While a bit short on details, Martin Johansen told an all-candidates meeting at the Frank Venables Theatre on Wednesday evening that conversations with local residents make it “clear there is an appetite for change in leadership.” He added that Oliver faces a “fork in the road” and added: “You can go with me, or you can go around in a circle and end up back at the fork in the road.”
Johansen works as a senior manager for the City of Kelowna and says his experience makes him ideally suited for the mayor’s chair. He claims four-generation roots in the community and plans to retire there. His wife works at the South Okanagan General Hospital in Oliver.
Currently, Johansen’s leadership skills are on display as coach of the South Okanagan bantam hockey team.
Hovanes was born and raised in Oliver and operates a local business with his wife, Tara. He dropped a bit of news on Wednesday’s forum when he volunteered that this will be his last mayoral campaign.
The announcement came as part of an answer to a resident who asked if Hovanes would commit to serving out his term rather than stepping down half-way through to run provincially.
The mayor has long been touted as a possible successor to Liberal MLA Linda Larson. He seemed a bit taken aback by the question and declined to make such a commitment, saying he prefers to “keep my options open . . . . What plays out in the future will play out in the future.”
Hovanes has served two terms as a councillor and three as mayor.
“If I’m re-elected, this will be my last term as mayor,” he said.
All four incumbent councillors are running to retain their seats and they exemplify the Oliver voters’ tendency to value decades-long attachments to the community.
Larry Schwartzenberger is the shortest-term Oliver resident, having moved there 27 years ago. He was elected to council in a byelection in 2013 and returned in the 2014 general.
Dave Mattes was born in Oliver, moved away after high school but returned to run a successful business in the town, from which he has since retired. He was elected to council last fall in the byelection to replace retiring councillor Jack Bennest.
In 2014, Mattes fell victim to a rare exception to the tendency to return incumbents to office when he finished fifth in the race for four seats, defeated by rookie candidate Petra Veintimilla, who actually topped the polls.
To be fair, Veintimilla was a newcomer in name only, coming from a prominent local family and with deep roots in the local business milieu and in the populous Portuguese and South Asian communities.
Maureen Doerr, who moved to Oliver when she was nine, is a small business owner and president of the local chamber of commerce and works at the local Buy-Low Foods. She was elected in 2011 and re-elected in 2014.
Doerr offered one of the evening’s few sharp differences of opinion when she corrected Johansen, who accused the current council of “selling the farm” with a 10-year tax exemption granted to the owner of the recently completed hotel.
She pointing out that the 10-year exemption on improvements was not specific to the hotel but open to anyone as part of council’s efforts to spur development in and around the town’s downtown core.
The challengers for a council seat this time around are Aimee Grice, who finished second to Mattes in the 2017 byelection, and first-time candidate Dermott Hutton.
Grice is a self-styled “community advocate,” who recently started a local affordable housing society, is vice-president of the chamber of commerce and works as the marketing manager at the Frank Venables Theatre.
Hutton is a small business owner who moved to Oliver two years ago but says he has already developed a passion for the community. He promises to bring a “fresh perspective and a new energy to our town.”
He said little that separated him from the pack, but he did get the biggest laugh of the evening when he recounted his slogan as a candidate for Grade-6 class president: “Don’t be a hermit. Vote for Dermott.”
In a break from the long-standing tradition of acclamations for the position of water councillor, veterans Rick Machial and Andre Miller face challenges from a pair of youthful local farmers. (Water councillors represent the rural users of residential and agricultural water provided by the town. They attend council meetings but only vote on matters related to water.)
Parminder Sidhu said he was born in Oliver and intends to stay there. He said his family farm employs conservationist strategies to reduce water use and sees the water councillors’ main role as protecting the area’s water supply.
David Machial, who is Rick’s nephew, said that the experience that his uncle and Miller offer is important, but succession planning is as well. He has a business degree and the intention of staying on the family farm for his career. “If you think that renewal is important, vote for me.”
Wednesday’s forum was sponsored by the South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce and the Oliver Chronicle.
Oliver residents packed the Frank Venables Theatre on Wednesday night for an all-candidates forum.