By The Cascade Staff – Email
Print Edition: November 9, 2011
The P3 water project, crime, and taxation were the foremost items on the agenda for the Abbotsford mayoral debate held at City Hall last Wednesday.
The first debate between the declared candidates kicked off the final stretch before the municipal election later this month and featured incumbent George Peary squaring off with rivals Bruce Banman, Meghann Coughlan, Travis Daleman and Gerda Peachey.
George Peary was the focus early and often, fielding the most questions from the public during an open question and answer period and frequently being made the subject of discussion and derision over issues such as the P3 water project, which is also being put to a vote on November 19.
Peary Was singled out as the only supporter of the deal, which would see Stave Lake used as a water source for the city through the construction of a water treatment plant and pipeline.
Travis Daleman opposed the project, bringing up problems some European cities have had after committing to similar projects, while Bruce Banman opposed voting yes on the grounds that the public deserved to be more involved in the selection process of what source and method for supplementing the city’s water supply is eventually used.
Gerda Peachey disliked the idea that an outside source would be involved in the project.
“No international company is going to want this job if it’s just a little line of profit, they’re going to do it if it’s a good profit,” she said.
In response, Peary cited the recently constructed Abbotsford Regional Hospital as an example of how P3 developments can work and repeated throughout the night that the city of Abbotsford, not a private company, would own the plant, pipeline, and the water itself.
On the subject of crime, Meghann Coughlan recounted the recent spate of robberies as reason to believe the Abbotsford police can be doing a better job.
“It’s nice that we aren’t the murder capital anymore, but we’ve had 12 robberies since September,” she said.
Incumbent Peary countered with the statistics showing crime has been reduced over his tenure, with zero murders this year in a city previously notorious for their frequency.
Bruce Banman raised the issue of the law enforcement budget, currently taking up nearly half of the city’s budget.
“I think they really have to be open to having that budget looked at in a transparent manner,” he said.
Another financial subject raised was the Abbotsford Heat, heavy on taxpayers’ minds due to their low attendance and resulting tax burden. Peary, when asked why they were pursued, responded that the Plan A project was inherited by him, and that the arena “needed an anchor tenant…[to]book 40 events [a year].”
Peachey questioned the $24 million in economic spinoffs cited by Peary and also asserted that the proposed upgrades to the Tradex Centre, totaling $7.35 million is something she is against.
Banman, when asked about the possibility of reviewing the current ten-year contract between Abbotsford and the Heat after it is halfway finished, said that “no” might have to be the response to the team.
“If they’re not paying their end by the end of five years, then this is a bad deal,” he said.
The recently introduced tiered water rate system was another financial issue for Abbotsford residents that both Coughlan and Banman spoke out against.
The audience in attendance responded favorably to Banman’s idea of improved city infrastructure, and the notion of public involvement in the water project appeared to go over well. Peary was most derided when the topic of the wage increase for city counselors, passed unanimously in the past year, was brought up, but received, along with Banman, the majority of the audience queries and attention.
Candidates Coughlan and Daleman were the recipients of only one directed question from the public attendees.
CIVL station manager Aaron Levy, who was in attendance on Wednesday night, said that such a narrow focus on the banner campaign issues can prevent voters from getting to know how the candidates will handle the many other issues that are sure to come up in the next term.
“I feel like it’s a challenge to get some new issues thrown into the mix,” he said.
Levy also expressed disappointment that so few of the questions were directed towards Daleman.
“It’s too bad nobody gave Daleman a chance,” he said.
Voters will have one final opportunity to present their questions to the candidates at the all candidates debate presented by the UFV Political Science Students’ Association, which is scheduled to take place Monday, November 14 at 7 p.m. in room B101 of UFV’s Abbotsford campus.