Mayor Gray in cross-country arena flap

Sometimes, when you think you're doing the right thing - it turns out terribly wrong.

Just ask Kelowna Mayor, Walter Gray.

The mayor found himself in a flap with the mayor of Belleville, ON over what Gray thought was an innocent letter in support of saving the Ontario city's aging downtown arena.

It all started with an innocent meeting with a Belleville businessman at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Convention in Kelowna back in the fall, followed by a tour of the renovated Kelowna Memorial Arena.

Over the next few months, Gray says he had correspondence with Betty Burkitt, a Belleville citizen the mayor says was heading a group campaign to get the ice back into the old arena.

While he was on vacation in Mexico, a letter was written on his behalf stating the scope of renovations Kelowna made to preserve Memorial Arena and suggesting the same could be done in Belleville.

"I would encourage everyone involved to preserve this rich and vibrant piece of history for the benefit of future generations and as a testament to the past," the letter stated in part.

Gray read and signed the letter when he returned on the weekend. It was sent to Burkitt Monday morning.

Burkitt apparently sent the letter to Belleville media.

Gray says within a few hours, and while he was at council, he had messages waiting from two media outlets in Belleville as well as Mayor Neil Ellis.

"Jan (Gray's personal secretary) said I can tell you the mayor is really, really mad," recalls Gray.

"So I called him first and he said this is a real political issue, it's an election year and this is the last thing they needed. I guess this battle has been going on locally for quite some time there. So, I unwittingly wound up opening wounds and taking sides."

The downtown Memorial Arena in Belleville has been closed for about three years and, while there are some who want ice returned to the arena, Gray says the Belleville mayor told him that city can't justify the expense of a new ice plant.

"They've got other very, very serious infrastructure problems. I haven't said this to anyone else but the mayor did tell me they have a $300M deficit in infrastructure," says Gray.

"They still have wooden barrel sewer systems and stuff like that. While the building is not threatened at all, they want to at some point when they can afford it, re-purpose it for other activities but not as an ice arena. That's what the fight is all about."

Gray says he apologized for the discomfort he caused, and it was not his intention to make problems for the city.  

"He was really, really angry. I don't know if he was particularly angry at me because he would understand I was just doing what he would do, help people advance their cause," added Gray.

"He understood it wasn't my intention, but of course I hit a sore. It's an election year there."


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