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Abbotsford City Council candidate: Brenda Falk



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?

Well, city council’s job is to help business and development and investment come to a community. It’s our job to look after roads, to look after transportation, to deal with those kinds of issues that we all deal with on a daily basis and we need a tax base to do that. So we need development. So as councillors it’s our job to encourage and work with business and development, and to help them come into our community and help them to establish jobs, and so when kids get out of UFV they have jobs to go to. I think UFV has a large technology base, and we need infrastructure to build technology-based businesses that isn’t here, and so council [and] City Hall’s job to fund those kind of infrastructures to come in and build into our community – so whether that’s water that we can get to come in to the 20th floor of a high rise, or whether it’s sewer, or whether it’s transportation, or whether it’s the roads to get in and out of the community so that you can access your job, those are the things that City Hall would look after, but we need the money to be looking at those things. So first we have to develop industry and bring development back to Abbotsford. So we need a tax base to fund those things because those things take money.

Who do you view as your constituents?

My constituents are every single person who lives in this community. Regardless of your age, or gender, or race, or religion.

How will you receive the views of the entire population instead of just the ones most active around City Hall?

You know, that is going to take conversation. That’s going to take listening to different groups, it’s going to take, you know I myself am a mother of UFV students and an employer of UFV students and so whether it’s a homeless issue, whether it’s a student issue, we have to listen to these people. Right now my experience in City Hall has been in the agriculture advisory committee, and what I’ve been noticing is that the current council isn’t really going to the businesses and to industry and to development, or even to the community and really finding out what it is they need before they make decisions. So whether it’s taking ALR land out of the reserves for industry, or whether it’s businesses on the Fraser Highway, we need to listen to the people who are most impacted by those decisions that we make at the time. And obviously different issues are going to impact different people. So, we really have to make a concerted effort to bring those voices together, whether that’s meetings on a UFV campus, or meetings out on ALR land or whatever but it’s going to the places and creating the venues to actually find out who are these decisions going to impact, and how do we go about listening to their voices.

Are you doing anything to address the lack of student interest in local politics?

One of my employees is a political science student at my business, Tanglebank and Brambles Bistro. So I get a lot of UFV students here, and so just trying to communicate with students wherever and however, and so I think we all have to take a greater interest in listening. I’m a firm believer that teenagers and young adults do vote. It’s very interesting that the people who come into my bistro, I would say 95 per cent of them if they’ve had, you know, if they were able to vote in the last election, did, either provincially or municipally. So I think that students are actually huge voters. I think we really need to listen to them, and talk with them, and share with them, because in my experience they want to know what’s going on, and they do care.

Why did you choose to run on a slate? And what does that mean for the organization of municipal politics?

Well, I chose to run as part of a team because that’s how I’ve always operated. I’ve always believed that together we can accomplish far more than we can as individuals. None of us knows everything and when you bring together a team with different strengths you pull from all those resources so your knowledge base and your experience base and your abilities stretch that much farther. I think with the way the economy is right now and the shape that Abbotsford is in it’s going to take a team to help us get out of this place we’re at. I think we need to be able to hit the ground running and we’ve been working together as a team from the last year already, and so we already know each other’s strengths, we already know each other’s weaknesses, [and] we’ve got a board of advisors that we’ve been working with ideas, with knowledge base, with experience base that will help us to come out of the gates running. So we’ll be able to start working right away; it won’t take us that amount of time to figure out who’s doing what and who’s strengths are whose.

If elected, how would what you want to do as councillor be different from what council is already doing?

I believe that we need some responsible decision-making concerning the spending in Abbotsford. I believe we spent it on the wrong things, at the sacrifice of things that our municipality really does need. This entertainment centre: great idea, but if you think of the money that was invested, that money could have been invested into our community in other ways that would have had a far great impact on our community for everybody. Certain people get to use it, but when you think of the amount of money we spent on that entertainment centre, individual citizens really get little value out of it. They wanted to spend $17 million on a ‘Y’, when we only had $14 million in the bank, and then we wouldn’t have even owned it. That’s poor management as council; who would have even agreed with something like that? That just doesn’t make any sense at all, so I think we need wise decision-making, and we need to bring development back.

Right now our DCCs (our development cost charges) are some of the highest in the Lower Mainland. And so what that’s done is it’s caused developers to go to other communities where they can build much cheaper, and so what’s happened is development has dropped off the map. We need to lower those DCCs, or do something to give them some value for those DCCs so that they come back. I can’t say specifically because I don’t have access to all the financial records as a candidate that the current incumbents have. We need to do something, whether it’s lowering our DCC charges or giving them more value for them, but we need to encourage development to come back, because development brings jobs. Development brings families. With those jobs and those businesses and those families comes a greater tax base with which to fund transportation issues, whether it’s waste management issues, whether it’s roads that need to be upgraded; you know, we have a lot of debt we need to pay off, that has to come somewhere. I don’t want to leave my children with debt. I don’t want to leave them in that precarious situation. I understand there’s probably always going to be some kind of a debt load, but that debt load better be really valuable. It better have real purpose and real economic value or real social value to make it worth it. Right now I don’t see a lot of that. That really bothers me as a mom, as a grandma, to see that because I don’t want that left on my kids’ shoulders, and right now when I drive around Abbotsford I see a dying city. I see businesses closing and some they start to try to get established here and the hassle is too much so they end up taking their business elsewhere. I have a business two doors down from you that are gone through that, they’ve located to Burnaby, and 14 jobs went with that, not to mention the tax base that we could have created, had they been allowed to build on their present site. So we lost a tax base, plus we lost 14 jobs to Burnaby because they couldn’t deal with City Hall. So I don’t want my kids to have to go and work in Alberta. I want them to be able to work here, and right now that’s not happening.

Do you have a specific project you want to prioritize or bylaw you want to change?

You know, I don’t have a specific one. I think there’s a whole lot of things that we need to look at, I think that there are definite areas that we need to look at, the Fraser Highway corridor is in bad, bad shape and we need to deal with that issue, that’s an area we need to look at, land coming out of the ALR – it really has to be justifiable. Right now, when I see the properties that have come out that haven’t been justified at all. It’s just been taken out ad hoc and that just bothers me. I really want to take a look at those kinds of issues because the land they’ve taken out of the ALR supposedly for industry, when you talk to industry they say, “I can’t use that land,” so the land sits. So now it’s speculators that buy it. The price of our land has gone up, but industry’s not taking it. Industry says this is the land we need, this is the land we really need, but we’ve already taken this land out over here, so there hasn’t been communication between industries.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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