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?
Municipal politics are really what’s on the ground in terms of how we live, how we do things. It’s really for the most part, the most influential level of government. We use the term, “It’s right on the coal face.” In federal politics we have relationships with other countries but how does that affect someone living in Chilliwack? How will we build our road system — that affects people. The mayor works as part of a team of seven. Under the charter it say that mayor will provide leadership. That really is a mayor’s role. There are some misconceptions that people have. Some people believe that the mayor can do everything on their whim and it doesn’t work that way for good reason. We have those checks and balances inn place to protect the citizens from a mayor if necessary and that’s why we have a council.
Who do you view as your constituents?
Really simple, anyone that lives between Popkum and the Vedder Canal, and the Fraser River and the border. Those are my constituents: if they are one day old or 101 years old, or more.
How will you receive the views of the entire population instead of just those most active around City Hall?
There are two ways of doing that. One, we need to do a much better job of communicating our job and being open to the citizens. Right now there seems to be this kind of a bubble around City Hall and you can’t talk to people, oddly enough until every third September. It’s breaking down those barriers. We have the tools, why not use them? Some people are afraid of using the tools, social media tools for example. You have the exact opposite extreme. We have people that are afraid of social media, so it’s also helping those people to understand the message.
Are you doing anything to address the lack of student interest in local politics?
Yes, I’m speaking with you. In terms of youth, yes and that is why I’m very heavy on social media. Young voters or young potential voters are not unlike any potential voter. The reason they don’t vote is that same as anyone who is 60 years old and doesn’t vote. It’s about accountability and communication. People don’t vote because they feel that they don’t have a voice. I don’t care if you’re 18 and just starting or if you’re 81, it’s the same thing, and it’s creating that atmosphere that you’re accountable and approachable. To give you an example, I had an email chat with an individual from one of the local community groups and they couldn’t believe that I would answer their question at 1:30 in the morning. I said that’s because my workday isn’t done yet. I don’t finish work at 5:00, I finish when I’m done.
If elected, how would what you want to do be different from what council is already doing?
There are a number of things that I would see different. The first is in the downtown revitalization plan. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but there are parts of that plan that I really have issues with. We have spent over two million dollars on purchasing land for speculation. It’s been suggested that they spend another $2.6 million on top of that. It’s doing those things prudently and in proper time so that we don’t waste our money essentially. The other thing is opening up communication to people so that we are fully accountable.
Do you have a specific project you want to prioritize or bylaw you want to change?
No I don’t. I do have a broader vision of the city. The first is in fact getting our spending under control. We have the lowest tax rate in the region, but we are spending a lot of money and that concerns me.
What kind of communication will you try to have with the police department?
A very productive one. Having a relationship is difficult sometimes for the mayor and I understand that because the inspector here in Chilliwack also has to report back to Ottawa. I’m a Canadian Forces reservist so I speak that language and it is a language unto itself. When I speak with them and we talk about security things, I understand what they mean, I understand what they get. That relationship I think will be one of trust, respect, and openness with our RCMP and our RCMP partners.
How will you manage the wishes of the province or private companies vs. the desires of the public?
Public comes first, number one, every time. It actually is law: that is what I am supposed to do. It actually is in the community charter that says that the action of council and the mayor are to be within the best interest of the city.
What would you change about the way the city currently uses its agricultural and urban spaces?
I have some real concerns with how the city is dealing with agricultural land. Currently as it sits right now and how the law is, if someone wants land taken out of the ALR, it goes to the agricultural land commission, and the City has the opportunity to do one of three things. They may comment on it. They’ll either say, “We approve of this,” “We don’t approve of this,” or there’s no comment. It is the city’s policy right now to say no comment. No comment to me means, “I don’t care.” If it’s land within the city, I care. That’s the first thing we can do.
The second thing is that the line can potentially get rezoned. We have so many jobs in this region that are directly or indirectly related to agriculture that we have to keep. It is such a fundamental part of who we are. I look at this campus here [CEP] and a large part of what this campus is about is agriculture. It’s here because that’s what we are. One of the big problems with agriculture is the interface. My suggestion would be why is it that we can’t create an interface, and have it so that we bring in an industry to process those products. So you don’t have like you have on Evans Road, farms on one side of the street and housing on the other. On the west side of Evans, we could set up that area for agriculture processing. You have groups that come in that want to create good, high-paying jobs in Chilliwack, and also then the farmer doesn’t have to send their products miles away to get processed.
The urban side of it is, they kind of play on one another a little bit. There is a revitalization plan right now to build more high-density residential housing in downtown Chilliwack. However, what we’ve been doing is allowing land out of the ALR to build housing down the south side of the city, it’s suppressing prices elsewhere in the city. We’ve been playing with the market a little bit and when we stop doing that, then we’ll be able to build that housing downtown.
Right now, I’m really concerned that if we do go ahead with the project as it sits, that what’s going to happen is going to be what happened at The Vibe. We weren’t ready for residential housing and it wasn’t people that were living here that were buying them. I’m concerned that we’re doing that again.
Many people do not vote because they say they never see real positive change started at a local government level. How do you address that without resorting to unrealistic promises?
First point is to give them realistic expectations. A lot of people want things to happen not now, not right now, but right, right now. Part of that is giving [an] expectation that things take time. Four years on council, oftentimes that’s putting the city on the path to doing things and it takes time to make things happen. One of the things that happens is, things might get started but then no one ever hears about it again. For example, Gastown in Vancouver has been 40 years in the making. It does take time and it’s letting people know every step of the way that it’s happening. Letting them know it’s all about communication and being open and accountable. When that happens people go, “Oh, ok they’re working on this. It’s not happening as fast as I would like, but it’s happening.”
When I look at a municipal ballot, it’s intimidating. On a provincial ballot, I have one X to put on it. With civic ballot, you have three people running for mayor, you have 17 people running for six council spots, and a dozen running for school board. You feel like you have to vote for all of these people, but here’s a secret: no, you don’t. A lot of people don’t understand that and I really want to get that message out. One of the things that I really love about civic politics it that you vote for you really want. So if you’re doing your research and you don’t like anyone for mayor but there are two people running for council that you’re all in on, you only have to vote for those two people if that’s what you want to do, and your ballot isn’t spoiled. Some people are concerned that they have to fill it all out or their ballot doesn’t count and that’s simply not true. You vote only for the people who you want to vote for.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.