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Abbotsford City Council candidate: Rick Barkwell

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Interviewed by Katie Stobbart.

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?

Municipal candidates, their role is provide updates on city planning. At the municipal level, we take care of the bylaws, we make sure the city is moving forward. We have limited roles in transportation and whatnot, since these are provincially funded. But what actually takes place at the city level is generally taxation for local residents, for basic infrastructure improvements. So if you want to have more recreation, more urban developments, something for the Millenniums [sic] where you’ve got high rises at the top or with wanting two-bedroom apartments with specialized retail below, that’s where the city council comes into play, and that’s how we develop the city plan.

Who do you view as your constituents?

The residents of Abbotsford in my case. Everyone who lives and breathes here are my constituents.

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

Well, you can just look at the bigger picture, look at the fact that nobody comes out to vote. It’s not just being involved at City Hall or not being involved at city hall, it’s not being involved at all. And that’s got to change. I don’t know exactly how we direct our attention to the mass of people who don’t vote – if two out of three people don’t vote, there’s a problem. And unfortunately there’s no simple solution because it affects everybody.

Obviously the council member would want to have feedback with the constituents, but I think it has to be done more from the grassroots and up. I’ve always been a service-oriented person, and I think getting our young people involved in service first at a lower level will help encourage all of that, not necessarily that they run down the road for politics, but that they’ll encourage their friends and colleagues to get involved in it, to get involved with community. Once you get involved with community, you will get involved with everything else, because part of what you want, the fabric of your society that you want – if you’re involved with minor hockey or minor baseball, then you’re going to be involved with something that comes up that might threaten it. All of a sudden you have a passion for it, you have– so you have to somehow encourage people to get involved with something instead of just living here.

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

I’m a member of a rotary club, so we encourage a couple of different programs for that. RYLA [Rotary Youth Leadership Awards], it’s Rotary Youth International, where we take high school kids and we get them involved with a leadership campaign, so that’s one aspect of it. Rotaract is another, young age group of Rotarians where we again are bringing a service-first mentality and we try and create that environment where they want to be part of the community. It has to start there, it has to grow from that.

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

On the current council, Henry Braun has a business background and whether he’s on the current council going forward will be yet to be seen, but there isn’t really any business voice on council. So I’d like to say that the fact that I run a small business and have for 15 years, that’s probably where I differ, is the fact that I want to be able to talk to the business owners and get their support and feel that we’re doing something that can encourage development here.

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

I think there’s two key things right now: we need a tenant for the Abbotsford Centre, obviously. The contract that came out and was announced this week, that reduces our expenditure by $300,000 a year, it’s a good first step. The only concern I that I might have with it is whether that’s going to affect a long-term tenant, whether or not they could have their own contract management, but it’s a five-year commitment, so we’ll see how that plays out. That’s a priority. I think we need to address that because it’s losing money every year. If we lose $1 million a year on a $250 million budget, that’s substantial. That’s a quarter point down on our tax base, right? So that’s a priority. Fraser Highway, something needs to be done. Fifteen years ago George Ferguson made a change and the province got Mt. Lehman Road and we got Fraser Highway, so we own Fraser Highway, so we’re responsible for its upgrades, we can’t necessarily get a handout from the provincial government. So we need to address that. Transportation costs money. Every dollar that trucks are sitting on roads costs money in some way. So we need to look at that, to get that expanded. And it’s an expensive price tag, it’s $30 to 40 million. But that’s a priority.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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