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Abbotsford City Council candidate: Tina Stewart

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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?

I would say the role of municipal politics is to create a progressive city. The role of the candidates in particular the council, is to be the voice of the people. I’ve always found that I’ve become frustrated with council and mayor in the past because I’ve found that they seem to lose perspective with that. They’re supposed to be the voice of the people. It’s not supposed to be their opinion, it’s supposed to be the voice of the people, and I’ve found that they lose that perspective over time. So that’s kind of why I’ve decided to take that step.

What can city councillors actually do?

City councillors can work with staff to fulfill the dream of the OCP [Official Community Plan] and build the future of the city.

Who do you view as your constituents?

The entire community of Abbotsford. The people of Abbotsford.

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

I think that you as a councillor need to be open to all possibilities of communication. People need to have access through telephone communication because you have different age groups … You can’t solely rely on your website or Facebook, you have to be able give people access through picking up a phone and just calling you. Also having the ability to drop by and be able to meet with you one-on-one.

You’re currently the director of the Downtown Business Association? What kind of challenge do you think might come with trying to perform two jobs at once?

First of all, I think people have the misconception that I work for the City, which is totally inaccurate. I don’t work for the city. My job is exactly that. I am not a property owner or business owner, I don’t have a vote in the downtown. I’m no different from the person who’s the downtown ambassador. I am an employee of a downtown business. I’m no different from somebody running for council who is an employee of a business somewhere in the city. So there is no conflict. I actually have tried to think of where a conflict might arise. I would actually like somebody to offer me an example of what they might perceive as a conflict, because I truly can’t come up with one.

Where I might see an issue there – I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t see an issue there. My job in the downtown is to help business grow. If they have issues dealing with, somebody who wants to start a small business and they’ve never had a small business before, and they have this dream, and they want to fulfill this dream, that’s my job, is to help them with that dream, to help them get that business off the ground … I don’t think having that extra knowledge [as the Downtown Business Association director] will hinder me.

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

Absolutely. I have a 24-year-old and two 26-year-olds and they are keenly interested. My daughter specifically was dragging me immediately following her 18th birthday to the polls because she was so excited about voting. I just think it is so extremely important for everybody to vote. I’ve been a strong advocate of that in my children, in my nieces and nephews who are roughly their same age, and if you look at my Facebook, I’m constantly telling people, “Of course I care if you vote for me, please vote for me,” but vote, please vote, and don’t just vote, but find two people that you know and whether or not they’re voting like you, take them with you and take them with you to vote, and explain to them how to vote.

We look at the number of candidates we have, it’s increased approximately 30 per cent this year. I believe we can have an equivalent increase in voters this year … from what I’ve been hearing out there, there’s an increase in the younger population’s interest this year. It’s always been so irritating to me that people are so easy to criticize the municipality and that our leadership does what they do. “Oh, they’re making this mistake, they’re making that mistake.” Well, did you vote? Why don’t you go out and vote. Look at the number of people who vote. It’s pathetic. Well, how about you go out and vote next time, and then I’ll listen to you complain.

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

I’d listen. People who know me personally are surprised that I’m doing this, because I’m just an average person, I’m far from a politician. People view a politician as a certain type of person – I’m not really sure what that type of person is, I guess, because I’m not that. I’ve lived through many struggles in my life, which I think if you actually learn about the typical politican, I think they all have, but they just kind of don’t speak about them. My struggles in my life are not something I am ashamed of. If you ask me about them, I will tell you about them because it is what we learn from, it’s who we are, and it is those struggles are what I will, I don’t want to say lead by, but it’s what I will – I don’t even know the word. It’s how I will try and make this a more progressive community. It’s how we will try and get some of our homeless off the streets.

We need to stop dealing with the homeless situation once they’re on the streets. They shouldn’t have gotten on the streets in the first place. And that needs to be done through making our mental health centre better, having a detox centre. Detox is something that I so seriously think is lacking in this community. We don’t have a detox centre. How is someone suppose to get three to six days of being clean and sober to get into a rehab facility if we don’t have a detox center? I know a lot about it because my family personality has dealt with, so I happen to know a lot about that. It’s not something I’m ashamed of, it’s something I will openly speak about to anybody who wants to ask me about it. So those are the things I will fight for. And it’s something that in the past year, everybody knows, I was told, “Don’t speak about social issues in this community, you’re a businessperson.” And because of my position in the ADBA, I was told, “Hush hush, you’re a business, don’t speak social.” Well, that’s why I’ll be on council, and nobody will be able to shut me up.

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

We need to start thinking progressively about how business and social issues all are a very circular thing. We can’t ignore one and expect the other to work. Business thriving directly relates to whether or not our social issues could be affected in a positive way. We look at so much red tape in City Hall, allowing business to be able to thrive, allowing development to be able to grow. We need more high-density housing, which will be able to allow for growth in business-friendly areas. We have millennials moving into our area like crazy. They want to live in a more urban-friendly area, walkable areas, more affordable areas. At the same time, we have an area in Abbotsford that I have been getting phone calls from people who have lived there for 30, 40 years, and you have these beautiful old-growth areas and it’s right across the street from the old hospital area. Beautiful old houses, huge growth trees, and these houses are right there and there’s three or four lots that have been completely clear-cut, and the neighbours are so upset that the city has allowed these trees to be cut down, and it’s going to be these huge houses put up there and the neighbours had no say in it. It’s a shame.

Yes, we need to put up high-density housing, but there also needs to be respect for the pockets of the city for the people who want to life in these beautiful old areas. You need to take into account that there are still people who still want to live in single-family dwellings. But I do believe that long, in the outskirts of the downtown area, along the South Fraser corridor, we need to start building up so there’s high-density housing, multi-level apartments, so that families can actually afford to buy. Affordable housing has to be out there.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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