Interviewed by Megan Lambert.
Since many students will be voting for the first time, what would you describe as the role of municipal politics? What can city councillors actually do?
I have struggled with this question since I first started to think about politics in 2007, so that’d be seven years, and there’s some examples of where the student vote has been motivated — not just students, it’s kind of the rule of thumb out there is that under-40s don’t vote, particularly in civic elections. In civic election, the number one issue is taxes. People under 40 are more likely to not be property owners, and more likely not pay taxes. So they’re far less financially motivated to get out and vote in civic elections [and] you need to know all 30 candidates, and [to] choose which ones of those 30 you want is a pretty difficult thing to do.
Taxpayers care how much I’m going to jack up their taxes or not. And that’s the big engagement. To my mind, retired people tend to read newspapers and watch TV a lot, and so they are engaged in the political process, and so whether or not they own homes — then you’re property owners and you’re business owners often are engaged, but they’re typically business owners and property owners. It’s entirely up to municipal guys about the road clearing or how tall the buildings are going to be across the road here and where the next bistro’s going to be or is allowed to be, and where the next liquor store is, and the next music venue, and none of that is provincial or federal purview so we really need to be talking ahead and it’s absolutely someplace I feel strongly about, given the opportunity. And if I was smarter.
Who do you view as your constituents?
Probably owners and seniors. Now let’s see, is that right? Now, I know that’s who I have to appeal to in order to get elected. Once I’m elected, I need to be representing and speaking in the best interests of those street homeless guys. And with people who are too young to vote, so it’s everybody. Yeah. So, it’s everybody.
I’m focused these days on who’s voting for me, and somehow I need to get to those property owners and those seniors, but why, and the constituents, and we had an all-candidates meeting and at the all-candidates meeting one of the questions was a yes/no question across 30 people, so all you’re allowed to say is that the question was if you had a decision to make and your constituents opinion differed from yours, how would you vote, personal opinion or constituents? And it was great fun to watch that one because I was level in the role and everybody’s “constituents, constituents, constituents,” and I’m sitting here and making faces and squirming, personal. And I figure that’s because the constituents vote me in to represent them. We don’t run our democracy by referendum. It doesn’t matter if all those people do it that way. They might not have all the information. And they might not be looking farther ahead — they’ve voted for their politicians to represent them, not for the politicians to run everything by referendum. And so constituents are everybody. And so one of the questions an old politician once said was “Aird, who represents that 87-year-old lady who lives in that third floor apartment, and only goes out once a month; somebody’s got to speak for her.” Good reminder.
Are you doing anything to address the lack of student interest in local politics?
When City Hall doesn’t have a clue what to do next on a topic, they launch a task force to investigate it. And a rather interesting recent example of a task force was on homelessness. So you may have noticed that we’re in the poo-poo of homelessness in Abbotsford. So as a city we’ve conceivably been accused of having messed up our homelessness issue. So in desperation, not knowing what else to do, the city struck a task force, and I went to some of the meetings, and their main mechanism for figuring out what to do is to bring in speakers from other [communities] that’ve had success dealing with these homelessness issues, and so I was there the day they had the lady from Lethbridge, and the guy from Calgary, and it was absolutely amazing to hear what these guys are talking about and what they’ve done and the successes they’ve had and so I think that’s how you do it.
I’ve already done that once with six, seven years ago, and a bunch of students came to me and said, “Aird, we need a venue for our music,” like there’s no place for us to play and about seven students and I — we didn’t call it a task force, we didn’t think of that — started meeting on Sunday afternoons and for about three months. We’d get together and we’d hash through what a youth music venue was the terms that we used and we didn’t, in fact, come up with solutions; I came up with a mathematical formula that proved that the whole project was impossible, financially. But that’s how you deal with stuff like that. So that would be a really good – now for me, I, once again I’m not smart enough to organize and create a task force on getting the student vote out in my current position or lack of position, but that’s probably what needs to be done.
If elected, how would what you want to do as councillor be different from what council is already doing?
I’m trying to think of in terms of a three-legged stool. We have names for each leg of a stool, and the first one’s money. And you’re not doing nothing nowhere anyhow without money. You have to have a strong economy. You have to have jobs for people and they’ve got to be getting paid, people need to buy groceries, and with that money you can then have a viable and fair social system, and nobody’s valued other people. And that becomes – our homeless issue is we’re definitely dealing with those guys, I hate calling them homeless, dealing with the guys who are living in the street. They’re definitely not valued, like the same categories of other people would be valued in some sector in our city. But it takes money to do that, right? If your economy sucks it’s going to be charitable and organized, and putting money into things that don’t make more money.
There’s no point in having a good economy or social system if you can’t breathe the air. Or if you cut down all the trees and fish out all the fish, so there’s a natural resource responsibility sometimes to use everything, in a sustainable way, so we’ve got the food, we’ve got the air to keep healthy people to work in that economy to make money to drive the social system just goes around and around. There’s this thing called fiscal responsibility: the level of taxation and how you use the money. And I am quite keen on balanced budgets – I don’t like borrowing money because it’s not a sustainable thought – you keep borrowing money, and you have to pay for it 20 years from now. So balanced budgets are really good. And you can’t tax people too much, then you annoy them all and they leave town. So it goes around. So three legs on a stool, our economy, our social system, and our natural environment.
Do you have a specific project you want to prioritize or bylaw you want to change?
I think the biggest threat to our city is what we’ve been talking about, which is you know, the young people leaving. We need to move fast, and you know, I don’t know how to do it fast because you need private enterprise to invest the money somehow. You know, we’ve got the plan for U-District, but now we need it built. So how do we convince people to build it? So economy would be my first step because I can’t do anything without it, we need the economy to support the environment. Actually, I don’t want to build the economy at the expense of the rational, natural resources too, so no, I don’t have a specific project.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.