Interviewed by Vanessa Broadbent
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 role is fairly specifically laid out under the legislation, as described in the local government act in the community charter. Municipalities are children of the province, so we cannot do things like change federal laws. Some people are a little sad when they find out that we can’t change the criminal code or change federal laws, things of that nature. The exciting thing that we can do is we can have a direct on the ground impact with your neighbourhood and we can make changes, and we tend to make changes a lot quicker than any level of government can, and we get to see the fruits of our labour. We build a road or a bridge or upgrade a water system. We get to see the changes to the infrastructure. We take care of things like roads, sewer, water, garbage collection, public safety—so policing and fire. We take care of development and city planning, long term planning. Every number of years, municipalities are mandated to release an official community plan out to the community, and work with the community to generate a community plan and a long-term policy document for how the city will handle growth and provide jobs and help create an environment that provides jobs and opportunities for citizens. A lot of the core services of municipality really come down to the things that stand out in the community charter in the local government act and, also, that’s the piece of legislation that gives us our power and takes it away.
Who do you view as your constituents?
Everybody in Chilliwack. When I ran three years ago (so I’m an incumbent councillor running for re-election) in 2011, I did a concerted effort to focus on new voters and first-time voters, but it goes beyond that. I think our poor voter turnout is an epidemic that starts a lot earlier than just your eighteenth birthday. One of the things I said three years ago is that I would focus on education and awareness and voter-awareness, so every year since I’ve been elected, I’ve come and spoken here at the university—most recently last week, to the Agriculture 272 class. I’ve spoken at this university and I’ve spoken every year at the high schools. I start with grade tens sometimes, in the civics classes and social studies classes. We start with a basic awareness of what the local government does, what are the things we can do, what are the things we don’t do. We focus in on the separation of the different orders of government and our responsibilities, and then we focus in on local issues and the things that mean the most for younger people. Some of the more enlightening things that you find out from talking to students and young people, and trying to educate them and make them aware about their civic responsibility, is the fact that it’s not that they don’t care, it’s not ignorance, it’s that not many people are asking about it in a meaningful way. You hear a lot of people bring this stuff up around election time and really it’s what happens in between. Talk is cheap and it comes free with a haircut. If politicians want to remain relevant at a local government level and they want to seriously attract young people to vote for them, then it’s the work that they will do in between elections, not three weeks or a month moving up to an election. I’m pretty proud of saying it and then doing it.
Are you doing anything to address the lack of student interest in local politics?
I attended the all candidates meetings that were here in 2011. I’m one of your top 40 alumni at the university. I spend as much time as I can around here, I love the environment of a university. It’s genuinely a place that I get excited about. I think some people struggle with ‘how do we make politics cool’ or something like that. You know what, you can only go so far making water and sewer a cool thing. You know what the really cool thing is? This is the level of politics where you do something, you get it done, and you walk on the street and you look at it. You don’t have to wait around for years and years in different levels of bureaucracy. It’s neat that at this level of government, you see the impact that you’re having and I think younger people in general want to see the results of their actions. The great thing is they can go out there and they can vote for candidates that are committed to doing what they say they’re going to do, and get them elected. The other big thing is that young voters in that 18 to 34 demographic have the potential, if they get motivated, to make a huge difference, in not just these elections, but most elections. If they get motivated to do it, that can make a massive impact, and they will see the results of their impact. I also believe in a well-educated voter. I think that there’s really no excuse to not get out and get educated on the different candidates that will represent you for the next four years.
How did what you were doing at city council change over the three years compared to what your initial goals were during the last campaign?
I set my goals fairly realistically. I don’t make promises that I don’t keep. I’m not going to release a platform of big ideas and stuff like that. I’ll be very realistic with the things that I would like to achieve in the next four years. I was pretty realistic with the things that I wanted to achieve the last three years and when I go through the list of things that I said back in 2011, I’ve been able to check a lot of those things off. I wanted to work to improve public transit; I wanted to work on a healthier environment community. We’ve done our healthier community partnerships. I wanted to focus on education and engagement. I’ve done that. But these are ongoing things. I chaired the transportation advisory committee. We made the largest public investment in transportation in the history of the city of Chilliwack. Pretty soon, we will connect Abbotsford, Chilliwack, and Langley with the regional transportation system. The most important thing that I committed to in 2011 that remains relevant going forward is that you can’t do it by yourself. You can come up with a lot of great ideas and a well thought-out platform, but you’re one person, and to make any kind of headway in government, you have to do it with a team, and you have to be a very good team player. That doesn’t mean agree with everything that everybody says, it means when you disagree, do it respectfully and come very prepared with your information that you have. Do your homework.
Do you have a specific project you want to prioritize or bylaw you want to change?
I don’t have a specific bylaw but there are some priority areas that I think are going to remain relevant to the city of Chilliwack. Public safety, focusing on crime prevention, how we work without community policing partners, how we work with our citizens on patrol, how we work in general with the community in their neighbourhoods around public safety, building up a neighbourhood resiliency when it comes to crime reduction. I don’t believe that crime is simply a policing issue. I believe that it’s a community issue and as such, we need to all take ownership of the problems that are out there. When you flip it on its head it can be very empowering, and just start looking out for your neighbours, start looking out for your neighbourhood, start to reinvigorate neighbourhoods. I would like to focus on that kind of thing. My whole campaign will be focussed on the neighbourhood level and on what we can do in our neighbourhoods to improve the quality of life for everybody. Transportation is something that I have thought about ever since I’ve gotten involved in government. I believe that public transportation and introducing new and sustainable forms of transportation to the city are key but it’s not just busses. There are some bigger projects in terms of creating a north south freeway up across the city that could be used for pedestrian and bicycle use. That’s a huge recall of the rail trail and it’s something that we’re actively setting aside money for and planning for now. All of this stuff that we talk about costs money, but it’s important to stick to our fundamentals and ensuring that we continue to be a low-tax, and keep our taxes low and predictable for residences and businesses alike. I think that’s one of the best ways to ensure Chilliwack stays affordable, and it means we attract new families and young people and seniors, and we ensure that we keep that high quality of life for everyone. We’re working on different city initiatives. We look through the lens of how we can improve the quality of life and keep that quality for everybody.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.