Interviewed by Megan Lambert.
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?
Well, city council helps make decisions mostly on the zoning and development. They also use their position to lobby for other funding from the government. Yeah, I guess that’s a nutshell, really just helping the city operate, right? By listening to the folks, which historically hasn’t been done too well.
Who do you view as your constituents?
Everybody. I’ve been really active in this city for about 10 years. I’ve interacted with thousands of people in this town so I don’t know, a good percentage of Abbotsford. My primary folks that I work with are marginalized demographics or at-risk populations, low income persons with disabilities, the homeless – I spend a greater deal of time with that group. It’s voice that’s typically never represented or heard, so a good percentage of my constituents would be in that arena.
How will you receive the views of the entire population instead of just those most active around City Hall?
Well, that’s never too easy. One of the problems I see with Abbotsford though is those demographics aren’t interacting enough with each other, so we need to find ways to bring those groups together so they can actually start deciding together amongst themselves what needs to be happening in this city. So bringing together, say seniors and the Indo-Canadian community, the churches, bringing together those sectors of Abbotsford to talk more readily, together, through events, arts, heritage events, different things, different venues, different ideas so those voices can start listening to each other and then maybe in the middle we can start finding out what everyone can share.
Yeah, it’s not easy, I mean, everybody’s got an agenda – nobody is agenda-free regardless of who [they are] or what they say. It’s just a matter of being able to listen and be able to make the choices that affect a healthier future – not just all these vanity projects we’ve seen over the years, poor spending which is just drowning us in debt – and making Abbotsford a very livable city for most people.
Are you doing anything to address the lack of student interest in local politics?
I don’t know what can be done other than they’ve got to find somebody who resonates with them. We can do all the marketing strategies we’ve got, people make posters and all that fun jazz and buttons and events, but the reality is that most people are tired of politicians and rightly so. They’re all the same, it’s always the same old BS with the same party lines. No one’s very honest; it always seems to be a list of buzzwords run together about fiscal responsibility and transparency and all these words, but okay everybody’s saying that in politics, but it’s a matter of finding somebody that they can connect with. I think that’s it, I think that’s how anybody gets involved in politics, even students and other people: does that person resonate with that group, with that demographic? And I don’t think most politicians resonate with most humans, even students.
I think somebody who’s 60 years old talking about your future when you’re 20, there’s a disconnect there. You’re like “What do they really know about my life?” or “What kind of experiences do we share?” You need people who are probably closer to the students demographic age spectrum, and you need someone they can believe in. No fancy campaign has really been doing much.
If elected, how would what you want to do as councillor be different from what council is already doing?
I think the big difference is I’m coming from a different angle. Most folks are going in talking business, economic development, which is great and valuable and I know we need that area covered, I’m coming in on the social angle that we need to invest in people. Because if we invest in people, invest in community, the rest kind of follows suit. People don’t want to invest or develop in a city where you don’t want to live; it’s not enjoyable. Abbotsford’s been called murder capital, boring, unemployment, all these things are a very unenjoyable space, so the angle that I’m coming at is, what will make the city fun? What will make it a place that you want to stay in and live in?
Most people I know, as soon as they hit you know, 24, after they’ve done their run at UFV they’re gone. They’re off to Vancouver, they’re off to Edmonton, they’re off to some place other than Abbotsford. We got to make this a place where people want to live, and we’re not going to do that by bringing in more Walmarts and Ikeas – we got to find a way to drive up the music scene, drive up the arts scene, have a social life. After 6 p.m. in this town there’s nothing to do. It’s horrendous, on a holiday in Abbotsford it’s like a ghost town. So we have to find a way to encourage life in this city, to breathe life into its spirit, because it is a dry city. So my angle is how do we make this a more lively, livable, human city where we feel like we’re a part of it. Because most of the time people just working in other towns live here because it’s a little bit cheaper, and as soon as they get the chance they’re gone.
Hundreds of my friends have left this town in the last 20 years. It’s like ‘I’m gone’, Abbotsford is not a place you want to live. So we have to find ways to improve the quality of life, which will then of course encourage business and jobs and development and other things because I just feel we’ve got to focus on that human aspect, you know we’re always worrying about wacky developments that are misplaced and all over the place, I think it’s time to start looking at what do the people need to feel connected to the city, to be able to breathe here and live here, because like I said it just needs life.
Do you have a specific project you want to prioritize or bylaw you want to change?
Well, some of the stuff that I’m curious about exploring is definitely bylaws, like our good neighbour bylaw, which has got components that basically criminalize poverty those have to be dealt with. Things like, you can’t sleep in your car in Abbotsford? If you just lost your job and now you’ve got nowhere to go, you’re going to be fined for that difficulty that wasn’t your fault? So some of those aspects have to be changed. And other things I’ve been thinking about and I have to talk to some incumbents over the last year or so about is getting creative with zoning for housing issues.
So, looking at say places like a non-profit who has a large parking lot, like a church with 500 stalls or something, is there a way that we can create a variance in those sections to say pull out a section of those parking stalls, say like a dozen, and that non-profit could put in a trailer. Those are things that are practical and I think could be done with relative ease.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.