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Abbotsford City Council candidate: Lyle Caldwell

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Interviewed by Brittney Hensman

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 think this is supposed to be the university area, or district, they call it. I think it’s the city’s mandate to try and cater to the university area by promoting coffee shops and places for students to go. It’s one thing about education, and I agree, I know that a lot of the land here is in the ALR and we’ve got to get that out of the ALR in order to make parking or more buildings. We’re a bit hemmed in, not like Chilliwack. Chilliwack can expand without too much problem, and we can’t. So I believe that we should be working hard to try and keep the main centre of the university here. I would like that, anyway. And then promote businesses to come into this area so that the students have somewhere to go for entertainment, even. For entertainment, for me … if I want things to do, I go to Vancouver. And I think that’s a sad statement, really, because we should be trying to keep people here. I have two daughters that are 30 years old, and they don’t stay here either. They go out of town for entertainment, even [to] Langley. And I think that’s sad. This town basically shuts down at 5 p.m. And I’m not quite sure what the City’s role would be in that, other than trying to promote businesses that do stay open later. I don’t know if they have municipal guidelines that say, oh, you can’t stay open late, or we don’t want this kind of business here. I’m not really clear on that. But I would sure look into it and try and promote something. Just open it for business.

Who do you view as your constituents?

Everybody. I don’t know if that’s the right answer, but you know what? I’m not – without sounding too weird here, I’m a Christian, but I don’t necessarily go to church every week. I drink beer, I go to pubs, and I don’t care what colour your skin is. I don’t care. If you’re a legitimate person and you have the right ideas and you’re moving forward, great. So my constituents are everybody. I’m running as an independent. I’m not running on a slate because I think slates cater to special interest groups. And I’m running as an independent and I will represent everybody.

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

I am trying through my daughters. They both went [to UFV]. Actually, I went here once too. As far as getting young people here to vote, I was going to come down here and hand out pamphlets, or maybe have a table in the foyer. I don’t know if that’ll really help, but at least it’ll get my word out, and if they’re interested hopefully they’ll get out and vote. I’m running a bus on voting day to get the vote out. So I don’t know if any of them would be interested in that, but if they don’t have a way to get to the polls, but if you guys advertise where you vote, and the times you vote, and there are rides available, hopefully they’ll get out and vote. They need to get out and vote. I can’t emphasize that enough. Like I said earlier, you pick the candidate that you think will work for you and you support them and hopefully they’ll have enough integrity and inner strength to bring those issues forward.

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

I’m not quite sure how I would do that, but I am very focused, very determined. I’m a little bit like a dog with a bone. If it’s a good idea, I will just keep hammering it. You have to do that. Council is, if you’re mild-mannered and bring your idea up once, it’s gone. You need to keep pursuing it and pursuing it and pushing it and pushing it. And hopefully at some point they will start to listen. And you have to work with them, too. It sounds kind of funny and you wouldn’t think it goes on, but you do lobby other councillors. If there’s an idea that came from university students that said, we need this kind of business, or we need this kind of entertainment, or we need some kind of event, then you go and you talk to your other councillors, and you say, okay, this was an idea that was brought up, and I think it’s a valid idea and here’s why it’s a valid idea and here are the benefits, let’s make it work.

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

I have a few things that are my mandates that I want to accomplish. One of them is we need jobs here. And not just jobs, we need good paying jobs to keep the people here. So I’ve been talking to Aerospace Canada about what can I do to help you bring those kind of high-tech industries here. There’s an organization in Kelowna called Accelerate Okanagan. An amazing, amazing organization. And it’s a non-profit, and it’s a group of people that get together, and they have a headhunter that goes to Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Seattle, Microsoft – and they try to pull high-tech gaming industries and all kinds of businesses into the community, which is good, because you need to headhunt. I mean, just to say, we’re going to pass these bylaws that are going to allow these businesses – that’s only part of the equation. You have to go out and headhunt. And then, again, say, here’s what we want, here’s what we can do, why is it good, is it going to make money, is it going to be good for jobs? So there’s a whole formula in there. So this Accelerate Okanagan, I’m very enthused about it, just because it’s a group of young 30-somethings that own high-tech industry, and then they have lawyers and accountants and different businesspeople that come in and help these high-tech geniuses set up their businesses. And there’s realtors. And one of the interesting things is, instead of – because high-tech industries can go from two people to thirty people instantly. It can also go the other way. So what they do, instead of the owner of the business saying, I’m going to open this business and I need a space, well, you rent the whole building. So Accelerate Okanagan works through the premise that no, they set it up with realtors and developers. They rent a desk. One desk. And if it goes to 30 desks, it’s not a problem, because you pay as you expand. And if it collapses, you just go back to two desks. There’s no commitment to rent the whole building. So that’s very important for high-tech industries. It’s a very interesting concept.

I’ll be pursuing that pretty hard. That’s one of my main things, is jobs for today and tomorrow, and bringing high-tech industries and gaming – I’ve talked to Dean – I can’t remember his last name, but he’s more of a headhunter, and he actually lives in Abbotsford, but he works for Accelerate Okanagan. So I’ll be working with him if I get on council, I’ll definitely work with him and say, look, we need these kind of businesses coming in here.

Now, Mill Lake, I know they call it the jewel of the town for the city, and I agree, except that the city’s mandate is to leave it as a green space. For me, green space, if you go two miles from here you can get lost in the wilderness and need a search and rescue company to find you. So I think we’ve got lots of green space. Not that I would want to destroy the green space around the lake, but I see so much there, potential. I would love to see an amphitheatre there, for bands and concerts and plays, like Bard on the Beach or whatever. I would like to see a teahouse that when you walk – you can’t even get a glass of water there. You can walk around that lake five times and you can’t get a coffee, you can’t get a water, you can’t get a muffin. So I’d like to see some kind of teahouse. And they’ve got bylaws that would prevent those kind of businesses from coming in, I’d be pushing really hard to get rid of those and say, look, we don’t have to develop the whole lake, I’m not talking about developing it. But just some thing – I’ve been in parks all over the world. I’ve been in Paris and London, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, their parks – you can go and get an ice cream if you want. And I just think that’s wonderful. It brings people to the park and oh, I would like to see outdoor theatre there. They have the blow-up screens now. And they just blow them up and you can have a Friday night movie in the park. I think it’d be great. So there’s so much potential there. I see so much potential there. Because right now, my daughters won’t even walk around the lake at dusk because it’s become a bit of a, not a very nice place to be. And it’s just a waste.

I want to work on – I call it the town centre approach. That ties into transportation and pollution and environment. We can’t keep going out because of the ALR. That’s a given. So you have to go up. So if you can densify the downtown core and then have Mill Lake close, which ties into – it’s a walkable, livable city. You can walk to Mill Lake and you can walk around and have an ice cream or a coffee or go to a movie or go to a play and then hopefully people don’t have to drive. Or they could cycle or walk. So that’s all tied into that. So the town centre approach is trying to densify it a bit, and the other part is, they call it density bonusing. That’s how I would try and get some of it paid for. They already have density bonusing in this town, they have an area around the city, and what that means if, is as you start to densify the downtown core, if the developer wants to build a 20-storey building and council, or government, local city government says, we would like you to put in a childcare centre, or we would like you to put in a community centre, or maybe we would like you to pay for some public art – but the list can go on and on and on. And of course, the developer says, what’s in it for me? And what’s in it for him is, that’s where the bonusing comes in. You can add a bigger footprint, or you can add a couple more floors if you put those things in or put money for public art or for helping modify Mill Lake. So it’s a give and take.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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