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?
Well, in a nutshell, city council runs the entire city. Everything’s dependent on City Hall in terms of your sidewalks, your street lighting, your roads that you drive on, your water, your sewer, your garbage. All of that is a part of what city council deals with. City council is also who, we collect property taxes from homeowners and businesses as well as collecting school taxes on behalf of the school district. We are involved in a long list of issues regarding things like homelessness and all the social issues related to that, not necessarily because it’s our role but because the other levels of government have kind of dropped the ball on it, so we have taken that up as our responsibility to see that something is being done about it. We just feel you know as human beings we have a responsibility to see that something’ being addressed in those areas.
Who do you view as your constituents?
Anyone who lives in Chilliwack, because that’s where I’m a city councillor, but it is broader than that because for example through the union of BC municipalities, which is what all of the city councils belong to … we are interconnected to other communities through that organization. There’s issues that we all share in common, issues and concerns we share in common to do with all of our communities, and as a part of the Fraser Valley we of course have our neighbours in Abbotsford, hope, and even Langley who we have a lot of common ground with and share with. For example we have people who live [in those municipalities] who travel from one municipality to another going for a higher education like through UFV. We have people who live in one area and travel to another community to go to work. So yes, I represent the city and people of Chilliwack but there are other connections to that; it’s not isolated to just Chilliwack.
How will you receive the views of the entire population instead of just those most active around City Hall?
Well, I guess in a way I’m fortunate because of the nature of my business. I’m connected to a lot of people in Chilliwack. I meet with people from pretty much every walk of life through my business. That, combined with being involved with Chamber of Commerce, with Rotary, I get to talk to a lot of different people in a lot of different situations and have those conversations. I’m involved with a number of not-for-profit organizations within the community itself so I get the opportunity to sit with planning teams from different groups and various organizations, and I hear what they have to say and they have questions for me so I’m feeling pretty connected within the community — just because I’m involved with so many things and so many different people at different levels
Are you doing anything to address the lack of student interest in local politics?
We’ve all been talking about that a lot, because how do you get a handle on that? That’s the biggest problem, is how do you reach those students. We all talk to some of the students we know and ask them, you know, how can we get more connected to that group in our population because the students, it’s really important they become engaged in what’s happening in our community because they are going to be the ones who become our future individuals who are working and other levels of professionals and some of them will hopefully be going into politics, and I was having a conversation actually last night with an 18-year old fellow that was at this meetings, the mayoral candidates were having an all candidates meeting, and he was saying he’s really enthusiastic about all of this and he himself has said he tries to talk to his peers about why they need to be interested and what’s going on in their community. One of the things he said which made a lot of sense, he said their parents have no interest; a lot of them, their parents don’t even vote, so it’s really hard to get connected with a group of young adults who come from a background where their parents, let’s say we lead by example, don’t have an interest in what’s going on in their community and don’t bother going to vote. How do you reach those individuals if they’ve grown up not seeing that around them and there’s no example being given by the parents? And if we look at what happened in the last municipal election here in Chilliwack, 17 per cent of the people voted. That means a lot of people didn’t vote, and that’s a lot of parents who didn’t come out to vote whose 17-, 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds are seeing that lack of interest.
So is there anything you’ve been able to do, or is it just a huge problem with not many ways into it?
Well, it’s a huge problem. I think we just have to keep on working at it, we have to continue doing things through different forms of social media when we have the opportunity to get the information and messaging out to people, and hopefully pique some of their interest. You know, whenever something happens, whether it be a disaster, whether it be a really bad example, whether it be the Paramount Theatre coming down, all of a sudden people are interested. It becomes a single-issue interest, and it doesn’t seem to [translate] into the broader picture. And that’s very unfortunate because if people could see, “Well, I got interested in this, or upset about this, or angry about this,” whatever the emotions are, if we could just get people to see how that could transfer into other parts of the community and other things that are going on, it would just be so healthy for all of us.
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?
They haven’t changed a lot to be perfectly honest, because we are accomplishing the things I had on my agenda, because what I had on my agenda was pretty similar to what other people had. We needed to address the social issues we’ve had in our community; we’re doing that; there’s been a lot of strides made in that area. We’re addressing the revitalization of our downtown core. We’re taking some really bold steps in that direction. Not everybody’s happy about it, and that’s the way it’s going to be, we know that. But it’s something that has to be done. We can’t just leave it the way it is. It needs to be revitalized and now is the time to do it. So we’ve been able to continue to keep low taxes, we’ve been able to continue to end the debt-free status, and with all of that we’ve still managed to build the new library in Sardis. During the past six years I’ve been in council, we’ve also managed to open the new cultural centre in Chilliwack — all paid for. We saw the Evans overpass finally built, we’ve just seen a lot of development in our trails and parks; we have a trail plan in place for our community, one of them being a North-South connector, so we’re making a lot of progress in many areas.
Do you have a specific project you want to prioritize or bylaw you want to change?
Well, I want to see the Downtown revitalization process accomplished. That’s a huge one, and that’s going to take a lot of energy and a lot of hard work to see that accomplished. I think that’s a real necessity for our community so that’s my biggest priority. At the same time I don’t want to see us lose sight of all the other things that we’ve been working on. We have been working on the social issues, but we’re not all the way there yet; I still believe there’s more work to do. We developed a healthier community committee, which has been doing a lot of really good work, but there’s more to do in that whole area. We need to see we’re continuing to, you know we have to be building our reserve, which we’ve been doing, for future development of other projects. We know we need to have a new Vedder bridge, for example—that’s something that needs to happen. We’re looking at how we can widen some of the existing roads; that’s another thing we know has to happen. We need to build into those plans more bike lanes, that’s part of our bike and trail system. That all has to happen together, that’s part of the continued planning that has to take place.
With the social issues you were talking about, does that mean anything specifically in terms of things council is doing or attempting to facilitate?
We facilitated the health and housing contact centre; we really took the bull by the horns and pushed that forward to see that that got going. We’re looking at a lot of other issues to do with… you know, we have supported the development of residential treatment houses, we put our support everywhere we could to get these things in our community, and the organizations that are behind these, we support them 100 per cent, we do everything we can to help them along the way, we speak up on their behalf on behalf of these issues to other levels of government all the time, and we keep it moving forward. The health and housing contact centre, we put $500,000 down to get that rolling because it was a necessary need in our community; we really needed to have that. To get things, to work on the downtown revitalization you need to have those things first because you need to have resources for people who need them so they can start recovering themselves and start becoming part of the community again, being able to be independent within the community again. So if you don’t put that social safety network in there, you’re not going to really succeed in all of the other projects you’re trying to work on.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.