Interviewed by Michael Scoular.
Since many students will be voting or taking an interest in municipal politics for the first time, what would you say is the role of municipal politics?
It kind of comes down to a perception of government — people think about what government does, and the breakdown analogy I like to use is probably about 90 per cent of what you view government as doing is municipal government. And it affects most of the things in your day-to-day life. That’s not to say that federal politics and provincial politics are not important — there’s a lot more glamour there. But if you can have a beer on the patio or you can’t have a beer on the patio; if your streets are plowed or if the paving happens of if a new kind of business development is happening in your community, that is all passed through city council chambers. I think that role of municipal politics in terms of how it affects people’s lives is so important, and yet it’s our political system, at least in Chilliwack, that sees the worst turnout for voters, so it’s kind of a sad statement.
Who do you view as your constituents?
It’s interesting, right? A lot of people running for council will say it’s the people that vote. My constituency base is both the people who vote — obviously that’s important. They’re coming out to vote, they’re taking an interest. And largely that’s seniors and that’s business people. They have a vested interest in the dealings of city council. But I think for me, a huge part of who I view as important to represent on council is young families and young people, who have the most to gain in the long term. Chilliwack is growing so fast and we’re changing rapidly from a town to a city, and in that transition we have a chance to shape it to be something really interesting, but we could also squander that opportunity as well. So I want to build a city that makes sense for me and for my family and generations to come and I think that’s who I have in mind when I make decisions at council.
How will you receive the views of the entire population instead of just those most active around City Hall?
I think that’s a big part of what I’m standing for as a candidate: a different level of engagement. Right now, I think, [at] City Hall, there’s definitely a philosophy where people come and speak to them about issues and bring their issues forward, but almost always those are interest groups, who either have financial interest or have the financial capacity to do that. So whether that’s the development industry or the real estate industry or whoever it is that has a direct vested interest, versus the city going out and seeking out interest groups, whether that’s student bodies at UFV or outdoor recreation groups or artist conglomerates. And I think that’s the new model of how a community needs to engage with their City Hall and vice versa, how City Hall also needs to engage with those groups that are already out there rather than asking them to come to our doors.
Are you doing anything to address the lack of student interest in municipal politics?
I am planning a couple talks at UFV in Chilliwack. A lot of UFV students are from our community or from surrounding communities and so that’s a unique model. In Vancouver, you go to UBC, a lot of those students wouldn’t be able to vote in a municipal election anyway. Whereas that’s not the case in Chilliwack. So I’d like to see that voter engagement happen. Again, I think young people have the most to gain from taking a vested interest.
And the other thing is people running for council or already in politics at whatever level have to speak to those who did vote. It’s a very important part of the process and you do have to pay respect to those who came out and voted you into office. Currently, seniors’ issues are first and foremost on the agenda for a lot of candidates, and that’s because seniors are very active voters. If students and young people were more active at the polls, you would see far more platform issues addressing young people’s issues. That whole idea of ‘There’s nothing to do in Chilliwack’? That’s addressed by us zoning really interesting retail districts and zoning on-street patio spaces for restaurants and interesting things like that can happen if students take an interest and push for those agenda items.
If elected, how would what you want to do as councillor be different from what council is already doing?
We’re lucky we have a really good foundation in Chilliwack. We have a council that has decided not to go into debt. We don’t spend any more that we make. And so it’s not like I am addressing a deficit issue, it’s not like I have constraints that way if I were to be on council, which is a privilege. So I view it as rather than “Scrap everything we’ve done and start over,” we’re going to build on what’s already been done. There’s some decent new innovations to our transportation in Chilliwack. Bike lanes and some new busing routes, and we actually have more transit in our city than we ever have. But that being said, we can’t stop there.
Would this mean then that you would have specific things you would want to bring to BC Transit?
It is a partnership, and it is mostly a provincial matter, but for instance when Chilliwack prioritizes the way we do transit, we had a couple city councillors take the point, mostly Jason Lum in the last three years. He went out and sought private sector for transit facilities, so all of our benches and all of our shelters and all that kind of stuff. The private sector came in and replaced them all — there’s advertising that they generate off of those pieces. It makes the city look so much nicer, it also provides better facilities while you’re waiting for buses, all that kind of stuff. So that’s the kind of role a municipality can play. We advocated for more busing, we worked directly with the provincial government. We got more rolling stock, so more actual buses on the ground in Chilliwack, different size buses, so buses that are too big for their route, now we have smaller buses that run more frequently. Those are the kind of changes we can do. We can inform the province what the issues are in our community and work directly with them in a partnership to make it better.
Do you have a specific project you want to prioritize or bylaw you want to change?
There’s a couple things. In terms of bylaws, I hesitate because that’s a very specific kind of planning issue and obviously I have a vision for what I’d like to see. In terms of legally how that’s implemented like a bylaw revision level or amendment level, I would like to work directly with staff to make sure I’m not overstepping my bounds here. One of the interesting ones is there are greening bylaws for buildings. So if I want to develop a new building, I have to plant certain trees or make green spaces in and around my building to a certain percentage of the lot. But I don’t have to retain any of the old green. So if there’s beautiful old-growth firs and whatever else, I can cut those down and then plant some three-year-old maple trees in exchange for that. I think that needs to be looked at. There’s other municipalities that have retention bylaws, so you can’t cut down existing old growth and that kind of thing on your property, and I think it makes for a community that looks more lived-in, it gives it a heritage feel versus just a clear-cut and then we re-plant and hopefully in 50 years it looks nice again.
So those are the little things, and it sounds like a small amendment to a bylaw, but that shapes the entire eastern hillsides of Chilliwack. If a developer is required to retain a certain number of the existing trees, I think it gives the community a way better feel than if they’re allowed to cut everything down and start from scratch.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.