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Posted: May 21, 2015

Two competing markets a bad case scenario

chrisconwayThe Purcell Pundit

By Chris Conway

Until last week Invermere had a downtown farmer’s market that locals and visitors obviously loved.  It was vibrant, colourful, fun and it attracted lots of people because of that.

It has grown year after year into something special and most everyone was looking forward to an even bigger and better market again this year.

Yet now it seems that market is going elsewhere and it’s taking a well-established name, a bunch of vendors and 15 years of know-how with it.  A new farmer’s market will replace it but just how successful that will be and which vendors will join it is very uncertain.

With the busy summer tourist season just weeks away, it’s looking very likely that the Invermere area will have two competing farmer’s markets this summer. That fact has caused a lot of frustration and concern.

Last week (May 12), District of Invermere council voted three to one (Councillor Paul Denchuk opposed and Mayor Gerry Taft self-recused) to accept an application by the Royal Canadian Legion to run the Farmer’s Market.  In so doing, council rejected the application of Julia Oaks and swept aside her 15-year Invermere Farmer’s Market with only five weeks remaining to opening day.

The district says it’s been trying for years, but could not obtain Oaks’ compliance with mandatory requirements.  The district sought compliance with financial transparency and governance criteria for the community-sponsored event.  It didn’t get what it was looking for. Oaks also failed to submit not-for-profit registration by the district’s deadline.  In addition, the downtown business community had unresolved and long-standing grievances about the market.

They had anticipated that the showdown was coming.  Mere days beforehand, the district’s Events Coordinator Theresa Wood solicited the Legion to replace Oaks.  The Legion was approached because of its long-standing commitment to the community and its solid volunteer base.  Eager to help, the Legion filled out an event application on the spot.

It all came to a head when this year’s market application landed on the council agenda. Council members agonized over the decision but felt compelled to make a change.

“I am sad and honestly broken hearted over the situation that has been put on all of us,” said Oaks, adding she had no knowledge there was a competing application until literally minutes before the meeting, which she did not attend. She says she only knew that her application was coming before council that evening, as it does routinely every year.  She had faith it would be approved as usual.

“They only thing I did not provide was the final papers for our not-for-profit registration as a few of our board members have been unavailable to sign,” said Oaks.

For better or for worse, Invermere now faces a last minute imperative to change horses as the clock ticks down on the final days to the market opening.  If a change had to be made, leaving it to the last minute has really upset the apple-cart.

“There would never be good timing. There would never be a perfect process,” said Taft. “There is always going to be risks and fears.”

It’s probable that someone on the cold side of the Rockies will soon publish a book about timing and politics.  Until then, suffice to say that there are times for decisions such as this that are better than others.  The decision itself appears to have been unavoidable, but the timing could have been better managed to reduce the risks and fears and to fully explore all options.

Hindsight is 20/20 and what is done is done.  What everyone needs and wants is a successful 2015 summer season safely stashed in the bank.  A bonus would be a promising beginning to a new era for a unified, strong and viable Invermere Farmer’s Market.

A profit-sapping duel is certainly not what anyone wants.  The uncertain and, for many, unexpected threat of dueling markets is very worrying.  It will weaken the viability of each. It will confuse visitors, undermine community image, test vendor loyalties and even threaten livelihoods.  Dueling markets will also harm weekend foot traffic at a time when every foot matters.

On a broader scale, it would be another wasteful, damaging division of the investment, energy and effort needed to build this valley as a preferred visitor destination.  So much of that effort consists of countless devoted volunteer hours expended with passion for the community.  It is all too easily squandered by unnecessary and detrimental division where none need exist.

If the legacy of this decision becomes two competing concurrent markets on either side of the lake, that will be a sad, sorry and lasting worst-case scenario;  A true head-shaker!  The end will not justify the means and few people will care about the back-story that got us there.

That train wreck, need not be inevitable; Not yet anyway.  This can yet be a win/win.  Both sides should put their frustrations and grievances behind them and strive for the best outcome together.  Sit down and try talking again one more time.  An objective third-party mediator might help.  Invermere is well worth some extra effort to achieve a better outcome.

Mayor Taft has opened that door just a crack.  “Perhaps,” he wrote online; “There is still time to work on a compromise and to avoid the potential of two competing markets and to ensure there is a strong model of cooperation behind the scenes?”

That would be the best outcome. Will it happen?  If everyone’s interests include doing what is best for Invermere, there is no reason why it can’t.  We won’t have to wait long to find out.

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