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Abbotsford City Council candidate: Kelly Chahal

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Interviewed by Michael Scoular.

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?

This is an opportunity where, I believe, our voices are the most significant, because municipal politics are closer to us that the provincial or the federal politics, because we actually have an opportunity to see effect. We have more of an opportunity to have an effect on what we feel and what we think are issues in our community. So, I believe, municipal elections are the more important elections, and participation should be greater. Unfortunately, it seems like it’s not. It’s an opportunity where your voice can be heard clearer than the other elections.

Who do you view as your constituents?

I’m known as wearing many hats in the community. I’m a big supporter of the university. I was a part of the committee that helped make it become a university … And I’ve been on the alumni board for close to 10 years now. So, I have my UFV family, which I’m extremely proud of.

For the past 25 years I’ve been trying to bridge communities together through intercultural and interfaith work. I believe that we have such a diverse community, so engagement with each other only makes us a stronger community and a more informed community. So, I see those as my constituencies as well; individuals that I care for, and want to always bring to the table for dialogue.

As a woman, we have minimal representation on council. And as a South Asian woman we’ve never had an elected South Asian woman before. So, I reach out to the women in the community. I’ve been told it will be very difficult for a South Asian woman to be elected, the community’s not ready. I disagree with that. I feel when the community’s informed and they feel you’re a qualified candidate, they will vote for you regardless of the fact you’re a man or a woman.

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

I think that’s very important, and that’s how I actually live my life. I like to be informed. I like to take time out and not run to the shiny things all the time, but to actually listen. Sometimes you can’t wait for individuals to come knocking on your door, you should be present. You need to be aware of what kind of issues are going on in your community. I attend local events, gatherings, all the time, just so I have a better idea … It could be marginalized groups, vulnerable groups, those are the individuals that struggle most of the time and often don’t get a lot of attention, but it doesn’t mean their issues are less important … I look at the past, present, and future when someone’s bringing up an issue or concern, and I dig a little deeper.

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

I’m trying to work through social media, because that seems to be the main means of communication, but I’ve also written some articles in English and had them translated into Punjabi as well to try to [reach] all youth on the importance of being involved. I try to engage the younger population, and that doesn’t just mean the student population. The younger population is quite diverse.

In the future, we need to look at different things. Everything is done through technology today. We should be thinking about using technology for voting as well.

Why did you choose to run on a slate, and what do you think this means for the organization of municipal politics?

Abbotsford’s growing and the issues are growing too, and it was just a matter of time before groups came forward. I’ve been watching what’s been going on at City Hall for many, many years and what’s to say there’s not a slate there already. The voting patterns are pretty clear; one side that says yes and one side that says no, and then nothing gets done. So, it’s quite frustrating to see that. So, because Abbotsford is growing when we hit the median we hit it in a big way like “homicide capital of Canada,” or the unfortunate issue with the homeless, or the lowest employment rate in Western Canada. We’ve been on the mark for not a lot of good things.

So, the reason I joined a slate is because I don’t have all the answers. I have expertise, education, work experience, and I have a wide scope of knowledge, but I don’t have all the answers. And I don’t want to pretend I do. But with a team, there is an opportunity to work on issues, collaborate. The team I’m a part of has diversity in their background, has knowledge base, and puts others first. We need change. Something needs to change in City Hall here.

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

There needs to be more informed decision making. How did we get this colossal arena? If you’re going to buy a TV, you don’t just go out and buy it, you at least talk to people in your family, maybe even get three quotes. How does a council make such a big mistake and continues to keep getting voted in? That mistake is going to continue to cost us so much in the future.

[Property tax] is twice as high in most Vancouver cities.

On top of that they were going to make another mistake with the YMCA. We don’t even have any money, yet they were going to give $17 million to something that wouldn’t even belong to Abbotsford. That’s not right.

You trust council to show you these good things that should belong in a community.

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

We need revenue from tax base. Businesses are leaving; businesses are scared. We have lots of publication existing that Abbotsford has so much potential, [but] that it’s not business-friendly. So, I would advocate definitely for a “fast lane” if you are a small to medium business. You shouldn’t have to wait 18 months to get a permit.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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