WHAT ARE THE VALUES of Kamloops? How do we see ourselves? Who do we want as our leaders?
Those were questions we’ve grappled with this week.
On Thursday, March 21, news of a new executive director, John Perks, for the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce was followed by rapid outcry from across the community about his social media posts. Community members quickly condemned his reposting of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-Justin Trudeau, anti-abortion and other memes.
Before the weekend was done, the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce decided that their hiring decision was not a fit for their organization. Perks is gone, and the chamber now has to reflect on the piece of the puzzle they missed in the hiring process. Perks’ publicly accessible posts (until he shut off access after the outcry) against so many clashed with our community’s values of working across differences.
The chamber heard rapidly this weekend that Kamloops values leaders who can work with everyone in our diverse community.
The values of a group or people grow up from shared experiences. Take for instance The Netherlands. It is a land of dikes and polders, ditches and dams. It only exists because, communally, the people have worked to create land where once there was water.
It is a constant task to keep the water out and to rebuild the dams. People know that their homes and lives depend on collective action.
So what are some other Kamloops’ values? What is part of our shared experience that has permeated our values?
One part of shared experience that I think has shaped our community values is Tranquille Sanatorium.
From 1907 until 1958, it housed up to 600 tuberculous patients from across B.C. With the decline of TB, it then served as an institution for mentally ill and developmental disabled residents from 1958 to 1983. When it closed in 1983, Tranquille housed over 300 residents, and had 675 staff. It was the third largest employer in Kamloops at the time.
I will argue that the collective values of Kamloops were shaped by Tranquille, both because of the residents of Tranquille, and the workers. A large number of the residents of Tranquille were relocated to live in group homes in Kamloops. Thus, the decades’ long tradition of providing care for the ill and developmentally disabled continued in Kamloops. The residents of Tranquille became members of our community who required housing like everyone else.
Even now, we see the effects. A Kamloops value is the willingness to find housing solutions for everyone.
This week alone, another social housing project was announced in downtown Kamloops. At the same time, the provincially funded transition housing on Tranquille Road is near completion, bring to 100 the number of modular housing units built here. There have been a host of other housing initiatives completed on the North and South Shores in the last year as well.
Compare this to North Vancouver which recently rejected below-market apartments. As did West Vancouver.
Then there is Maple Ridge. The Province of B.C. ended up going ahead on their own to build 51 supportive housing units in Maple Ridge because Selina Robinson, B.C.’s housing minister, stated that city’s plans were “unworkable.”
Kamloops still has homelessness. But it has avoided homeless tent cities of up to 300 residents that have occurred in Nanaimo, Maple Ridge, Abbotsford, Surrey, Vancouver, Victoria, Saanich, Vernon and other B.C. cities in recent years.
Collective values, which permeate what we do, have made Kamloops a leader in providing housing solutions for everyone in our city, including the hardest to house. And that I would argue can be traced back to Tranquille Sanatorium.
Kamloops collective values were evident this weekend as well.
As a city, we share values on who we want as our leaders. We want people who embrace the diverse backgrounds of our citizens, who are open to working with politicians of every stripe, and who see all those in our community from the most powerful to the least enfranchised, as being part of our community.
And that, to me, is the biggest takeaway from this last weekend.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.