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Abbotsford City Council candidate: Raji Buttar

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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?

The municipal government works with different levels of government. So we do work closely with the provincial and federal government when it comes to creating programs and getting funding. The municipal government consists of one mayor and eight councillors. Their main duty is to create, or pass, should I say, bylaws. That’s primarily what they do.

Who do you view as your constituents?

That’s difficult to answer, because I hope I’m targeting everybody. I own my own business, I’ve just started a family, and I was a student. I can relate to a lot of people in Abbotsford. My parents are senior citizens, so I can relate to them and understand what their concerns are as well. Primarily I would love to focus more on youth and getting the youth out there to vote because they don’t seem to have much interest in politics. I would really like – that’s partly the reason why I’ve decided to run, to hopefully motivate other young individuals like myself to step up and try to help their community or be involved. Really, I think my main concern is the community. I don’t want to really focus in on a specific group because I can relate to mostly everyone, and I want to hear everyone’s opinions, everyone’s ideas and hear their concerns that they have for Abbotsford.

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

There’s lots of different ways of doing that. It’s a matter of approaching these different groups and making it known that their concerns do matter. Sometimes people are, they have a concern, they have an issue in mind, but they’re either too afraid to say anything because they don’t think their concerns matter – they do, I mean we’re all living in this community together, everyone should have a say – I mean, as far as specifics on how to address people’s concerns, or how to get people’s concerns, I mean, social media is huge for youth. Sometimes they don’t want to actually approach a council member in person or actually knock on their door, but email, technology, there’s all sorts of ways. You can pick up the phone, you can Facebook message, you can email… if anybody wants to talk to me now and get an idea of my perspective and what I’ll do for the community, don’t hesitate to email me or drop me a message on Facebook or view my webpage. And I hope they do. It’s very important to hear other people – I don’t know everything, I’m not – just because if I get elected it doesn’t mean that I’m there to – I’m not there because you want me there to make decisions for you, I’m there to act as a servant to the community. I’m there to voice the community’s concerns and address the community’s issues.

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

There is only one way to really do that – I have to start with my own personal group of friends and hope that they in turn tell their friends and hope that word spreads in that sense. Being young myself, once you get into it, once you start reading articles or going to, or even just watching council debates, you start to understand more, and I think people took more – once you start getting into politics, it does become more interesting. It may seem kind of bland and boring to young people because there are no other young people trying to win a seat. There’s no young influence in Abbotsford, really. Right now, if you look at the council table, there’s nobody our age. Sure, people have tried, but never, they don’t win, and one of the reasons is that the youth don’t go out there and vote … The problem is, people need to understand that if you’re going to hopefully choose to reside in Abbotsford, you should have more concern about what’s going on in the city that you live in. We have huge issues right now that should be of concern to young individuals, such as the highest unemployment rate in Western Canada. We have a great university in Abbotsford, but what happens when people graduate from here? It’s difficult to find a job in Abbotsford, they have to travel or find jobs outside of Abbotsford, and that needs to be changed. We need some high quality jobs in Abbotsford so people have motivation to stay here. Job creation is huge for our economy. Bringing businesses into Abbotsford is huge for our economy. I think we really need to work on that.

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

I think we need to focus on long-term growth economically. There have been a lot of issues related to spending, bad decisions have been made, but you know, we learn from the past. It’s time to move forward and get a fresh perspective on things.

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

I think some of our bylaws do need to be amended especially when it comes to – actually, an issue that came up is realtors are concerned about high-density developments and lack of parking, and that’s partly due to old bylaws, they haven’t been updated or amended. So that’s one thing. Another big issue right now is the entertainment centre. We need to focus on bringing an anchor tenant that will be revenue-positive for Abbotsford. Obviously the Heat didn’t work out for good reasons; they should have known, I think, that bringing our rival farm team into Abbotsford. Anyone could have told them that, but – that really bugged me, but it’s done now. Sure, we wasted $12 million, and taxpayers are footing [the] bill because of that. So, we can turn that around though, if we find an anchor tenant that will be positive for us.

Homelessness is another big issue. There’s a lot of people who don’t understand that it’s not just a housing issue; it also has to do with drug addiction and mental issues. It’s a very complex issue, and there is more to it than just housing … We have Kinghaven right now, however for that, in order for someone to be allowed access, is if they are absolutely clean. That’s hard to people to just go cold turkey. But low-barrier housing would be a step in the right direction, absolutely, yeah. There are other cities out there, other countries who are dealing with the same problem, and we could take a look at what they’re doing and what they’re doing right, and adopt some of those ideas into our own city, I think that would work well.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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