Interviewed by Michael Scoular.
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?
Basically what we do and what we’re governed to do is follow policies with land, building, social issues, policing falls under our mandate as well. Running a city is like running a business, the same thing, just more zeroes behind it and more people. Land transactions, land use, there’s a whole myriad of things that we do, things that happen through staff, with the recommendations, then it comes to us at the table and we talk about it, debate it, and vote it, and we carry on to the next problem.
Who do you view as your constituents?
All of Chilliwack.
How will you receive the views of the entire population instead of just those most active around City Hall?
You need to put yourself out there to really hear what’s going on. The past three years that I’ve been on council and previous to that I was with the BIA [Downtown Business Improvement Association] for 10 years, and I was the president for the last four years of that. And you learn about areas, especially the downtown area which is a passion of mine and to see it getting revitalized and moving forward and I know people expect it to happen tomorrow, but it’s gonna take some time to get it there, but I think the track we’re on is great. And in those conversations that we have with people, that’s where you hear the views and “Why are you doing it this way, we think it’s right this way.” Communication is the key, and I’m very accessible to the general public. I’m right in downtown Chilliwack, so if a person has a problem, they come through my door, say, “Ken, you got a minute?” and okay, let’s go talk. You just got to be out there and transparent and be available.
Are you doing anything to address the lack of student interest in municipal politics?
That’s a tough one. Besides your typical angles of approach being social media, actually my daughter is my social media contact person, her being in early-20s, she took a communications course at university, so it’s worked out great and I’m really getting her point of view. To get the word out to the young voters, you got to show an interest. There is a group that is out there that I know is a younger side, and they’re more the complainers — it’s easy to be at a computer and lambaste everybody, get yourself involved. I was down at the Brown Road wetlands planting some trees a couple Saturdays ago, and there were probably 50 to 60 university kids down there helping out. I had some conversations with them and it was cool to see young people that want to get involved and that’s the big thing. Government’s not a big, scary monster, it’s just a bunch of people that are trying to steer our city in the right direction, keep it going.
How did what you were doing at city council change over the past three years compared to what your initial goals were during the last campaign?
Not much, because I knew pretty much going in what I was up against. My motto was “I’m going to work with a good team.” I’m not going to lower taxes and do things you can’t do, just work with a good team of people to move forward, so there were really no surprises for me. I knew going in what my challenges were, being that I had that past experiences in the BIA, I was a quasi-politician at that point. It was the next natural step for me.
Were there any things you had hoped to get done that you haven’t yet?
Well, there’s always things that have a process and again with the downtown, we’ve taken on the challenge of purchasing properties, knocking down the buildings and making them shovel-ready. My kind of line there is doing nothing hasn’t worked. That’s a work-in-progress. There are things happening in the background that I can’t talk about, but are coming down the pipe.
I also chair the Chilliwack Healthier Communities file, which is a file comprised of about 24 agencies — School District 33, Sto:lo First Nations, RCMP, Community Services and on and on, and they’re service groups that sit at a table and work to collaborate together so there’s less overlap of services provided, of grant-writing issues. And the amount of services that are out there for the people that need them is amazing. And Sharon [Gaetz], our mayor, she just gave me that file the first of the year. This is one committee we’ve really gained a lot of traction on and I want to see this keep on going. Through the CHC, there’s a low-barrier housing study that’s going on through the planning and research committee that’s actually through the university, Darren Blakeborough. There’s a couple people on the street right now getting information and actually talking to the homeless people for us. We’re going to proceed to build some kind of low-barrier housing. It’s “What do you guys want, what do you need?” There’s no sense in building something if they won’t come. That’s exciting and I want to see the fruition of that.
Do you have a specific project you want to prioritize or bylaw you want to change?
Cyrus House came here, the same people that were over in Abbotsford, and that wasn’t easy to get that done. Our homeless count was 74 people, and 40 per cent of that was between 18-22 or something like that. So there’s definitely a need for that type of actual facility to help these kids, get them off the street, and get them some help. That’s another project that’s gone through the system and come to fruition, which is great. Next challenge for me because I’m socially conscious is a low-barrier housing of some form of — there’s a place out of Vancouver, I believe it’s called Rain City, that has had a low-barrier housing up and running for the last 20 years or so with success, so they’re coming out to talk to us and talk about what worked, what didn’t work. So that is something I want to see follow through on. A three-year term just wasn’t enough. Now it’s going to be four, which is going to be great, it’s just going to get you that much more time to work with different agencies and stakeholders and just keep moving forward.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.