Print Edition: November 9, 2011
“I’ll have to see just how demanding the job will be” – Bruce Banman
This statement, referring to if Banman will be able to juggle both his work as a local chiropractor and potential mayor, is the kind of apparent lack of insight into the job and what it entails that plagued the four candidates running against incumbent George Peary at the City Hall-hosted mayoral debate last Wednesday.
Meghann Coughlan kicked off the debate with opening remarks that attacked the big problems in the city that need to be fixed: crime, poverty etc. How she specifically intended to address those issues was the question, and as the debate progressed she proved she did not have an answer. After her carefully crafted and typed opening statement, Coughlan mostly repeated her talking points of a government with “compassion” and of how despite Abbotsford is no longer the murder capital of Canada, convenience store and bank robberies are completely unacceptable. The lasting impression of Coughlan was her lack of professionalism. Talking in terms of herself rather than addressing the people she would want to persuade (tangents into her experiences with rent and illegal suites) throughout the debate, Coughlan in a final act of desperation threw up her rebuttal card on a question regarding hospital parking discrepancies between New Westminster and Abbotsford to offer the helpful tip that parking fees are not enforced before a certain time in the evening, so you can get away with breaking the rules if you’re careful.
Gerda Peachey has been involved in Abbotsford’s politics for a number of years, but apparently has grown “tired of watching city council” make choices she, we can assume, does not agree with. Either due to disinterest or lack of information, Peachey rarely approached issues with anything more than a surface awareness. When it came to crime, Peachey talked of keeping criminals locked up and off the streets of Abbotsford. Her moral indignation that Abbotsford would dare allow a sex show into Tradex was answered by George Peary who pointed out that event booking is handled by Tourism Abbotsford, not the mayor or city council. Peachey based most of the rest of her argument around her opposition to the P3 water project, which made her closing remarks regarding the proposal, “Go ahead and do it if you feel you need to do it,” odd.
Travis Daleman essentially pre-empted his entire performance in the debate and election by saying that if he has increased awareness in local politics in Abbotsford’s youth, then that will have been enough for his running to be a success. While that could be taken as a roundabout way of Daleman saying he’s just happy to be here, his being upfront about his intentions was encouraging. While his answers were marked by nervous breaks and rushing through sentences, that Daleman was able to hold himself as well as he did surrounded by far more accomplished adults is to be commended, though it has rendered part of the debate and election a bit of a joke. He didn’t have much of a game plan for the debate either, agreeing with other candidates’ answers and proposing ideas that were either not fully thought out or thought up on the spot: widespread roof upgrades for added rain catchments and rapid rail transport to Vancouver. Where would these projects take place and where would the funding come from? Who knows. One thing Daleman did offer is his perspective as a university student (though he has yet to earn a credit). At one point, a voice was overheard saying “he’s such a sweetheart.” Maybe someday Travis Daleman will be a serious candidate for mayor, too.
Bruce Banman appears to be the strongest challenger to Peary in this election. Attempting to reach out to every possible audience from his opening: business owners, religious groups, youth, seniors, Banman continued to hit on all of his major points, turning questions around to suit his platform in multiple cases. Banman clearly possessed the best oratory skills of the candidates, articulating some of the same reasons against the P3 water project as others, but connecting with the audience in a way the other members of the opposition could not. Also sounding great, though perhaps less feasible, were Banman’s dreams of a better Abbotsford. His well researched idea of Abbotsford as a more condensed city, in which “building up, not building out” is the plan going forward, set him apart from the other candidates.
Less urban sprawl makes for easier transit links, which makes it easier for everyone, especially those that cannot drive, to commute to work and other destinations. While it sounds great, there was nothing in what Banman said to indicate Abbotsford has the resources to commit to such a drastic change, or where such a project would begin. Banman describes the future city not as the skyscrapers of New York, but more in line with what Paris has in their city. Dreaming big is great, but it is difficult to see if this man with no political experience has any idea what would actually happen, what the job would be like were he elected mayor. Banman had well-expressed statements on crime, taxes, and repeatedly emphasized making Abbotsford a better city for today’s youth to live in and one day lead. It’s very likely he won over a number of people at the debate on the strength of his speaking abilities.
Incumbent George Peary did everything he possibly could have to impress and sway the audience in the debate. Right from the start, he did not possess the velocity or volume of some of the other candidates, but had a level of knowledge no other combatant could approach. Statistics filled his answers, which in every case either sounded good in that they spoke to a success or legitimacy to his point or sounded good in that not everyone knew exactly what they meant, but Peary sounded like he knew what he was talking about. One of the earliest topics: crime, illustrated this best. While, yes, there has been a spate of robberies lately, Peary rightly pointed out that murders have dropped under his tenure.
Crucially, Peary did all the candidates one better by mentioning that not one of them had been in contact with anyone from the police prior to the debate. This is how many of the answer sessions went. While other candidates made the point that if we judge by experience alone, then of course Peary is the only one for the job, but in this debate Peary showed how experience and commitment to the job matters more than the supposed unfairness of his advantage. No other candidate was as specific in their approach. His composure continued as he came under fire for his stance on the P3 water project (he’s the only one in support) and his spending for advertisements supporting it. Whatever you think of Peary’s performance so far, there is little room for maneuvering when it comes to discussing his ability to manage his public perception, which in the end might be enough in this election.