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?
Students are so busy with their own activities. How can you make them participate? We have a youth commission at the City Hall, and we have a lot of young people volunteering there. We had some students here as shadows at the council table, and they would come to council meetings and when we would go around to places they would come with us to learn what the politics are all about. But the young generation just doesn’t have it, the interest in it. And that’s very sad, because, you know, once you’re 18 you’re eligible to vote and you should come out and look at the background of individuals and vote for the person you wish to vote for. Make yourselves accountable.
The role of municipal politics is, basically, we are policy makers. We make policies. And the staff and the departments are to get those policies out. And the second role is working with the public to make improvements in the city. And the third is work hard to bring the industry to account, so that people who live here will work here. So the benefit of that is they won’t have to travel a far distance, and that gives them the opportunity to spend more time with their families at home. So those are the roles of municipal politics. We are very fortunate to have the railroad, and very fortunate to have the airport, very fortunate to be next to the border, and very fortunate to have a freeway run through our town, and fortunate to have a hospital, built only a little while ago, that’s a great benefit to us.
Who do you view as your constituents?
All the people in Abbotsford. I represent from one end to the other end. We are the largest municipality in BC.
How will you receive the views of the entire population instead of just those most active around City Hall?
We have a lot of committees set up in the city, and that involves people from all areas of our city. In the past, at one time, I was sitting on 19 different committees. So, if the committees have an issue in one area, we as councillors go out into that area. Even if there’s a sport happening in that area, we are there. So, we are speaking with the people in our contingency at all times.
How did what you were doing at city council change over the past three years compared to what your initial goals were during the last campaign?
Well, when you’re first elected you have to learn the ropes and get in there. In the last three years it was so easy for me to communicate with people, because, you know, I could come to the university and I could go right into the chancellor’s office and talk to him. We would go out have lunch and see what we could do within the university itself. I worked on bringing wrestling into the university. Then working with that department, and working also with… we have an airport authority that is dealing and we are always meeting with them once or twice a year, or even other times as well. We have our own tourism set up. So the city has a lot of areas set up that we are connected with. And all council members are members of the chamber.
Do you have a specific project you want to prioritize or bylaw you want to change?
The main thing we are looking at are new official community plans that are coming. And if we get the [approval next year] … we have people asking what would you want your city to look like in the future? And the official community plan will be producing that for 10 to 15 years. And that is what we have to figure out: are we going to develop here, are we going to develop there? Are we going to put a better transit system? Are we going to get better buses? Are we going to expand on the university? Planning on the university goes to the provincial government.
We must make sure that we have proper policing, and proper fire department. And not only proper, it has to meet the requirements that we need. So those are the things we want to get done, and we want to expand on those.
And we have an airport, and we want to get international flights out of here in the future. We have lowered the airport fees, and the parking generates $1.4 million dollars to the airport which is a benefit to us.
Also, congestion and traffic is increasing, so we are looking at the provincial government to widen our freeway to six lanes. We’re also going to ask for funding to see if they will allow us to widen Lefeuvre Road or Station Road out to Mt. Lehman. That would alleviate the congestion that we have there now.
We also have 400 acres of land that is taken out of the land freeze, and we want that developed. And that would generate the tax base we need to move forward.
We’re also wanted to generate a better transit system; right now it’s not working. And it’s costing us a lot of money. And the recreation department, we need to expand on that because we need more soccer fields, more football fields, more arenas, we want to make Abbotsford the hub, the main hub where everyone wants to come and everyone wants to be at.
Do you feel like these things are going to keep on going, or that some of them will be doable within the most immediate future, this next term?
I think the basic thing here is that work very hard to bring the industry in. Once you bring the industry in, that will make everything go forward.
When I first ran and got on council, before we built the entertainment centre, we had a $42 million debt, and when we built it we were only left with $4 million. So, we brought our debt down. And now because we’re in this lump, economically all over, that is why it’s not moving forward. But we are very fortunate to have agriculture in Abbotsford. Agriculture brings in $1.8 million industry and that’s what’s keeping us going.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.