Interviewed by Dessa Bayrock.
Since many students will be voting for the first time, what would you describe as the role of municipal politics?
Officially city council gets to make bylaws. Bylaws are laws that the municipality will be able to enforce, so there’s some enforcement aspect of it, and in theory the bylaws are designed, based on the wisdom of the city council, to help better the life of the municipality.
So for example, if people complain about something enough, then the councillors can make a bylaw to enforce the reduction of that complaint. “Oh my gosh, my neighbour keeps complaining about my chickens!” And so, for example, Chilliwack, in their bylaws, doesn’t like chickens in our yard. Having said that, that’s about the extent of it. Because every other type of legislation above bylaws trumps bylaws. So provincial legistlation? Trumps bylaws. Federal legislation? Trumps bylaws. For example, we have Aevitas — the hazardous waste plant. And Chilliwack’s all upset about that, because council has rezoned some land through a bylaw, which will allow that plant to exist by the Fraser River. So of course now everybody’s all like, “We need to stop that.” Okay, well, the only thing that can technically stop that would now be provincial legislation, right? The province saying “No.” Or the city council re-bylawing so they rezone it to something different. That would be awkward, I think, for city council to do that. So that’s really what council does. Bylaws.
And how would you describe the mayor’s role?
The mayor, being a city council member, gets to participate in the process of making bylaws. There was a rumour going around that the mayor has this thing called the veto vote, but I’ve looked up the legislation and it doesn’t exist. The mayor gets one vote out of seven.
However, the mayor has the additional responsibility, acting as an ambassador and a diplomat. And not only to the citizens of the municipality — where, for example, there is a responsibility of a mayor to go out into the community and say, “Hey! How’s it going? How’s your day been?” — but to go to other municipalities and say, “Chilliwack has this problem with you, Abbotsford. And you need to tone it down.” And then of course whoever is mayor of Abbotsford will say, “I don’t think so. I think Abbotsford’s just fine. So let’s talk about this.” And all the way up, theoretically, to the federal government, but I haven’t seen that yet, because usually the provincial government says, “Nope. This is how it’s going to be,” and all the mayors go, “Ughhh. Really?” Like in the greater Vancouver area where they’re trying to figure out transit costs, and all of the mayors are saying, “We have all of these great ideas. Why can’t we do them?” And the provincial government is like, “Mmm… no.”
Do you think there are there any other popular misconceptions about the role of mayor?
Here’s the deal: as mayor of the city, if something’s going to go wrong, you probably had nothing to do with it. It’s probably been going wrong for a while, and now you’ve just noticed it because someone’s brought it to your attention. And there probably isn’t very much you can do about it immediately because you’d have to make a bylaw to correct it. And in order to make a bylaw, you’d have to get a majority vote on a council. So I think that’s another popular misconception is that mayors are responsible. However, mayors do have the responsibility to be a leader. So if they have a vision, right? If I was to think there should be public transit from Chilliwack to Abbotsford to Vancouver on a regular basis, then I would have to push that vision in council. I’d be like, “No, this doesn’t make any sense. We need transit. No!” Every time it came up I’d be like, “Public transit!” So that would be that.
The mayor sets the vision for whatever the city is. So, for example, one of the questions people have asked is, “Why should you be mayor, Raymond?” Right? And my dirty response is that Chilliwack is not the same city it was six years ago when Sharon Gaetz got elected, and perhaps the people who are now willing to vote might want a different vision and a different ambassador. Because sometimes I have encountered people who do not feel that Sharon Gaetz does not represent who they are as a person. Right? So for example, if I’m a new immigrant, I might not feel connected to Sharon Gaetz. I might want a different ambassador to voice for me.
Who do you view as your constituents?
Every human being in Chilliwack of voting age is my constituent and theoretically every human being in Chilliwack is my constituent because they either did vote, or they’re about to vote. So that five-year-old child? Right? He’s a constituent. Great, he’s not voting now, but in what, 14 years if my math is correct, 14 years or so, he’ll be voting. So I should think about what he wants in some sense. What his concerns are. Now, granted, he probably can’t vocalize them, so I’ll probably listen to his parents. And just like the person who’s 90 and retired, they might not feel that they can vote anymore. I don’t know, maybe they don’t feel they contribute enough, so they’re not interested in voting? That’s okay. They’re still my constituents. They’re still people who live in the municipality that I’m supposed to care about and care for.
How will you receive the views of the entire population instead of just those most active around City Hall?
If I was mayor and I could do what I want, I would spend most of my time not in my office, right, because that would be problematic for me. And I understand that, as a mayor, I have to sign paperwork and I have to make sure things happen, right — all that managerial stuff to move things along — but for me that’s not the key function of a mayor. For me the key function of a mayor would be to not be in their office. Star 98.3, they have this kindness crew. And so I will steal that idea, if I could, in my fantasy world, and I’ll have the mayor crew. And what better way to find out what people think than to go and ask them? Right? So in my fantasy world I’d drive around with my mayor crew, and we’d set up shop randomly in Chilliwack and hang out for a while and chat people up and see how they’re doing. And that way there’s no doubt about what people think because they can just tell me to my face.
Are you doing anything to address the lack of student interest in local politics?
Yeah … that’s a tough one. I’ve been invited to go talk to people at elementary schools and stuff, so I will gladly do that. I do this kind of stuff, when people invite me. But I don’t have “the mayor crew” happening yet, so I can’t show up at the University of the Fraser Valley and say, “Hey! I’m here. Let’s have coffee.” It’s problematic because the solution is more complicated than I think people would like to admit. It’s nice to say to people, “You should go out to vote,” and to guilt them into voting because, oh, you should, and that’s what you’re supposed to do. But that doesn’t solve the problem of people not wanting to vote.
The idea, I think, is that students, younger people who don’t feel their voice is heard, don’t really see the value of voting. Because, for example, last election, no one ran against Sharon Gaetz. So why would I vote? Even if I had a different opinion, I can’t voice it. There’s no point. So in some sense I could say I’m protest voting by not voting. But either way it doesn’t work because Sharon Gaetz is still Sharon Gaetz and she’s still mayor.
People’s faith that their vote means something needs to be generated. I have kids who are younger. They’re in their teens now. So I’m talking to them about voting, and this is their response: what’s the point? I know who’s going to be in power: all those people with money, and all those people who are invested in business, and all those people who want to be rich and blah blah blah — and they don’t really care about what I think or anything like that. And I’m like, “Okay. Hmm. Yeah. Interesting.” I have a couple dozen reasons why [I’m running for mayor], and one of them is that I have children. If you want your vote to mean something, make it mean something. So run for mayor. In fact, if I get elected as mayor, I might encourage everyone else to run for mayor too. Just ‘cause you can.
If elected, how would what you want to do be different from what council is already doing?
In some sense, council has been doing a good job. In Chilliwack, we’re prospering. Nothing terrible has happened. No one has publicly embarrassed themselves grievously. No one thinks, “Oh my gosh, Chilliwack, hee hee hee.” Right? So that’s nice. That’s good. So you can’t begrudge council for not doing their job. They’re doing a fine job. Of course the idea is we want to do a better job.[But] I sometimes get the impression that those people who are public servants sometimes forget the two key words in their title: public servant. So that would be one of the things that I would want to do better. I’m not interested in hiring, for example, a consultation organization or consultant experts to find out what people want when I could just walk outside my front door and say, “Hey, how’s Chilliwack doing today for you?” And then someone will tell me.
For me the big theme would be getting more people involved in the actual government — restoring people’s faith that when they have an issue or when they’re given the opportunity to vote or to have input, that it matters. So I want more people to do that: more input. And have business prosper, and have more people want to come to Chilliwack, and keep taxes low, and all that other stuff that every other mayoral candidate ever says whenever they want to get elected. Because I’d be a fool not to.
Do you have a specific project you want to prioritize or bylaw you want to change?
Are we talking realistic bylaw or fantasy bylaw?
Why not both?
Okay. Yeah. I’ll do fantasy first, that way people can call me a fool. So I have this idea that perhaps we should have free public transit, and more of it. And that is completely fantastical, as many of the people that I’ve talked to have said. Because of course, the question is where is it going to come from? Where is the money going to come from to pay for that? And the quick and dirty response is, oh, we’ll just have to raise taxes. And then of course people panic. They scream in fear, because people don’t like raising taxes. So boom, there’s my fantasy bylaw shot down. And I don’t even know if that could be done as a bylaw, or a series of bylaws, or whatever. So fair enough.
More realistically — let me back right up. Bylaws are interesting. Any law is interesting, because usually when you think about a law, it’s a restriction. Right? So when people make laws, it’s to protect people and restrict behaviour. Stop signs, for example, are interesting. We have a law that says you have to stop at stop signs. Common sense states that if you’re at a four-way stop, it just makes sense to stop, check, make sure it’s safe and then proceed. So theoretically we shouldn’t need stop signs. But we do, because people don’t. So there’s a law called stop at stop signs, because it keeps people safe.
So having said that, I don’t have an actual bylaw that I want to have. Because realistically, that’s just a restriction. And I think Chilliwack and people in general could do with a little less restriction. So if I was to advocate for a bylaw, it would have to be — you’d have to have a good argument as to why it’s needed, if it wasn’t something like a rezoning bylaw.
What if we rephrase it as a project? Are there any projects you’d like to pursue?
Ah! Okay. Projects are better. There’s a couple then. So transportation. Public transportation in particular. I’m a big fan of it. I used to live in Vancouver and I liked the fact that I could get around wherever I needed to go without actually getting in a car. I think if we want more people to come out to Chilliwack or to hang out in Chilliwack, we need to kind of have more public transit. Particularly young people, and particularly for people who can’t drive.
And it has to be safe, too. That would be the other project — there’s a perception and a truth that Chilliwack’s a bit hard. And that would need to be dealt with. And I don’t want to do it through a bylaw, because I think the people of Chilliwack are more creative than bylaws. If I were in a neighbourhood that was hard, I would want to participate in its revitalization, so to speak. I would want to be actively involved in that.
And then protection of heritage cultures. The Fraser Valley is full of heritage cultures, right? Old Dutch culture, old Asian culture, old First Nations culture, all of these awesome, diverse cultures that the Fraser Valley has that we kind of forget about. So I would want to protect those. And it doesn’t have to be your boring kind of protection that’s in the box, right, but creative things. The other issue that’s big in Chilliwack is the revitalization of the downtown core. And so it’s cast in conflict, right? Oh, we need to protect the heritage buildings, oh, but we need to revitalize the downtown core. Do both? Why can’t we do both? Do they have to be in conflict that way?
What kind of communication will you try to have with the police department?
Can I extend that to other first responders?
The kind of relationship I would want to have with first responders in Chilliwack is a good one. And by good I mean one where we acknowledge that everybody’s expert at what they do — that police are good at policing, that fire people are good at fire-putting-outing, and that paramedics are good at picking people up and patching them up. So if I start there I think I can have a pretty good relationship with these experts, and then when I make suggestions such as, “Maybe you should do this,” they might actually listen to me. Because unless I make it a bylaw, they kinda don’t have to, in some sense. Right? They’re their own department, they have their own managers, they have their own code of conduct, so to speak, that they have to abide by. It’s not so much that I get to order anybody around, it’s more that I get to cooperate. I would like to have a relationship of mutual respect, cooperation, collaboration, and ideally pleasant good relationships.
How will you manage the wishes of the province or private companies vs. the desires of the public?
Okay, so that’s three different stakeholders there, right? The province, the private companies, and the public. We’ll deal with the province first, because the province is an interesting phenomenon — by province I’m assuming you mean provincial government?
Well, they get to tell me what to do. And we all know this, because it was the provincial government that said, oh, look, Chilliwack, you need to have chlorinated water. And as much as we all complained about it, and as much as Sharon Gaetz wrote many letters about it and verbally complained about it, and said, “No, this is wrong,” — hey, look, we have chlorinated water. So the wishes of the province have to be dealt with creatively, because the only reason that the province even noticed we needed chlorinated water was that we had two or three cases of people suffering from bacterial infection from the water. So I guess a heads-down attitude. Be small! Don’t draw attention to yourself! Because the moment you do draw attention to yourself and the province gets involved, then it’s not about negotiating with the province, really, it’s about damage mitigation. It’s about “How do I make this so that the people of Chilliwack now get truly upset over the fact that they have chlorinated water?” It’s not anything that I or the council can change, and it’s completely not good for many of the people of Chilliwack. Like, I noticed the change, and my children still refuse to drink the chlorinated water and we have to filter it.
Now private business versus public interest. That’s an interesting issue. I would remind people that every private business is owned by a public person. So rather than dealing with the private business, you should probably deal with the public person that runs, owns, or manages that business. Because the business is just a machine to make money, and doesn’t care where it gets its money from. The conscience of that business rests in the person, that public persona, that human being, so that’s how I would deal with that.
I’ve been in situations where people are forced to talk to each other, and it’s a very bad conversation to have, because it looks like this. “I don’t want to talk to you.” “I don’t want to talk to you.” And then there’s lots of silence for an hour. So I’m going to ask a bit more of people — “Okay, look, if you have a concern, we’ll get a mediator. I’ll act as mediator.” That might be part of my job description if I want it to be part of my job description, and collaborate on a solution where everybody understands what’s on the table, why it’s on the table, and how we can get so everything on the table ultimately gets done.
The hazardous waste plant doesn’t get a voice. It’s just a thing. However, there are people who work at that plant, there are people who theoretically own that plant, and they have needs. And I don’t know what they are yet. So let’s talk about the needs first, and maybe that plant doesn’t have to be by that river. Maybe it can be up in some mountain someplace. Away. Hidden. In a pit. I don’t know.
What would you change about the way the city currently uses its agricultural and urban spaces?
Right now I don’t think the city has a clear agenda in regards to those two spaces. I think it’s in flux right now. Because there’s a lot of agricultural land that’s around Chilliwack that’s protected, and it’s possible to get it removed from the ALR [Agricultural Land Reserve] given certain circumstances, and it’s not my impression that the city knows what it wants to do with that. It’s still feeling out how people in Chilliwack want to deal with that ALR issue. So having said that, my bias is to protect it. I know that people look at that land and think, “Oh, but if we develop it … think of how much money we will make.” And money is very alluring. But eating is also very alluring. And eating without having to buy stuff from California is even more alluring. Because if I have to buy my food from California I’m kind of at the beck and call of California. Whatever they want to set the food prices at, I have to pay.
There’s a really nice movement in Chilliwack for people to grow their own food, or to grow food in small community areas, and I think that’s wonderful. So I would protect the agricultural land.
And as to the urban land, they might be creating a bylaw to permit the subdivision of large plots in the city into smaller plots. And that’s a concern for me, that sort of density increase. There are other ways to increase density, and for me I would like to explore those other ways first, because part of what I think makes Chilliwack Chilliwack is the fact that they still have these awesome houses, with these awesome back yards, and it still feels like I have privacy, and yet I still get all the amenities of a city. But the moment I start increasing density in that infill way, I lose that privacy and I start flashing back to Vancouver where I look out in my backyard and it’s this little sliver of land and there’s my neighbour. It’ll change the culture of Chilliwack, I think, if we allow that to progress too quickly.
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?
I don’t make promises. I feel that way too. I feel that there is this bureaucracy that trundles along, regardless of how I feel about things, and so being the jaded voter I am, and understanding that every campaign promise that has ever been made to me has been broken in some way, twisted, mangled, or abused, I don’t want to make any promises in that sense.
It’s kind of a joke, because I’m sarcastic, but it’s a joke and not a joke. I’m not kidding when I say look, in order to run for mayor, there’s really no qualifications. There really isn’t. You have to be a Canadian citizen. You have to be of voting age. You have to not be a criminal. And you have to be a resident of the municipality. That’s pretty much it, in some sense. So, okay, how about this. If you don’t think your vote matters, run for mayor. Now your vote matters. Granted, if you should ever be mayor, will you get to enact any of the positive change that you want? Ooh. Tough one. That all depends on how well you work with the city council.
So if all of your friends ran for city council, then you’d have a pretty good shot at enacting positive change in the way you want, because when you went to a city council vote you’d all just agree. And so in some sense that’s kind of how people see it, right? I mean, right now, city council votes in a particular way pretty unanimously all the time because they’re all kind of on the same page. So if we want that page to change, then again — why can’t 150 run for mayor? There’s nothing stopping you. Except the fact that you might be afraid should you actually get the responsibility of being mayor, then what do you do?
So given that kind of attitude, you kind of have to accept the long haul. If you want positive change, and you accept that there is this thing called the city bureaucracy, the provincial bureaucracy, the federal bureaucracy that trundles along without you — then if you really want that positive change, you gotta invest in a four-year stint. An eight-year stint. A 12-year stint. Of being actively participating in the process. It’s not good enough to say, “Well, I’m not going to participate, because I don’t think I can. Or “Because I know that my participation doesn’t matter.” Or because and here it is, I’m going to say it: “What’s one little voice going to do?” Well, last term, no one ran against Sharon Gaetz. Two people are running against Sharon Gaetz, myself and Cameron Hull. Those two people have given Chilliwack a choice. That’s pretty cool. Now people have to actually think about why they’re voting. Before it was just like, ahh, whatever, check check check. Now you’re like, “Oh! Do I pick Sharon Gaetz? Do I pick Cameron Hull? Do I pick Raymond Cauchi? Huh! Interesting!” Being active is how you make that positive change.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.