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OP/ED: Castlegar and Trail need to put down the banjos and grow up

“Our airport is better.”

“No, OUR airport is better.”

“You’re not closing OUR school.”

“Well, you’re sure not closing OURS. So there.”

Every time I try to imagine how dialogue between Castlegar and Trail must sound to ministry officials at both the provincial and federal levels, I can almost hear the banjos playing in the background.

It’s embarrassing. Humiliating, even.

Former Castlegar Mayor Mike O’Connor told me the province had given the go-ahead to start planning a regional hospital ages ago – but the promise, years and years later, has still not come to fruition.

Small wonder.

If I was Health Minister and I had a choice between spending tens of millions of dollars building a hospital in a united region that would rejoice at their collective gain, or building the same in an area where a goodly portion of residents and municipal governments alike will be up in arms, screaming foul and attacking my efforts (not to mention my chances of re-election) … well, suffice it to say, it would be a no-brainer.

And frankly, I wouldn’t trust the purveyors of this shameless, childish infighting to administer any such facility I left in their care.

If it was just the one issue, I could maybe see it – but it’s not. Hospitals, school districts, airports: we’re embarrassing our entire region at every turn.

Like when members of our previous board of education wrote to the provincial education minister asking her to dissolve the board and fire the board chair. Why? Because they lost a vote. Most of us, if we behaved that way in our professional lives, would be summarily fired by bosses who lack both the time and the inclination to babysit grown-ups who haven’t yet learned to play nice with the other children.

I sincerely believe this relentless polarization has cost us more than we could ever imagine – I posit that we would have had a state-of-art, Kelowna-quality hospital a decade ago, had our leaders pretended, for a moment, to be adults and gathered together to say, “This is what we ALL want, and this is where we want it.”

That’s more jobs, better health care, money saved on patient transport and – and this is the worst part – lives saved … all of it, thrown away because we, unlike our Kindergarten counterparts, flatly refuse to share.

The in-bred bickering continues unabated and no minister in his/her right mind would move forward with any plan that would require them to wade, any more than is absolutely necessary, into the political and administrative grade-school-style quagmire that is the West Kootenay. We only account for two per cent of the B.C. population – are we really so moronic to think that ministers at any level are going to fritter away 70 per cent of their time trying to get us to stop squabbling?

Of course they won’t. They’ll just feed us an excuse or two and hand the money and resources to regions that can behave in a way that doesn’t evoke memories of poorly-written daytime dramas.

Our children are moving away, our elderly are being medevac-ed to Kelowna and Vancouver … and we STILL can’t seem to remove our collective head from our lower topography .. . location, location, location, as they say.

I liked my colleague Adrian Barnes’ suggestion, which boiled down to this: give Nelson the college, Castlegar the hospital, and Trail the airport. Everyone gets something, everyone gives up something.

But, as I said, this will never happen. Not because our politicians are venal or stupid (although it pains me to relinquish that most-convenient of excuses), but because all of us residents are, as a group, both. Politicians have to get elected, and re-elected.  Until we stop being selfish, narrow-minded, masochistic xenophobes, and stop egging our representatives to mirror that, we will all continue to lose those things for which we have always fought the hardest.

I know lots of people who live in Castlegar and work in Trail and vice-versa … not to mention shop, visit, eat out, etc. We are all, the tri-cities, one large community. A win for one of us is a trifecta (or maybe I should put that in Canadian parlance and say “hat-trick”, go Canucks!). And here’s the part no one seems to be able to wrap their heads around: what hurts one of us, hurts us ALL.

We don’t need more lobbyists for any one city. What we need is to stop acting like the cast of Deliverance and start creating a political will for collaboration and the greater good of the tri-city area.

Or we can keep losing our kids to larger centres and our parents to limited health care and our self-respect to the sophomoric, self-destructive, humiliating displays that have been an accepted part of the tri-city culture for generations.

It’s our choice.

What will you choose?