Print Edition: November 9, 2011
George Peary, current Mayor of Abbotsford, worked as an administrator in the Abbotsford School District for 28 years. He went on to become an Abbotsford city council member for 18 years before stepping down from his position on council to be a school trustee on the Abbotsford school board for a year. Three years ago he ran for mayor of Abbotsford, and won the 2008 civic elections in Abbotsford with more votes than all of the other four mayoral candidates combined. This year, George Peary is on the campaign trail once again. The Mayor spoke with The Cascade this week about his reasons for running for a second term in office.
Why run for Mayor of Abbotsford for a second term?
For the last three years, I’ve been mayor… I worked pretty closely with four different mayors, but until you do the job you don’t really know it. Even as deputy mayor it’s not the same. So I’ve learned a lot being mayor. I’ve met many people, and have had the opportunity to do many things. Having learned the job, it seems to me that I owe it to the public. Because my health is good, I still enjoy life and I think I am capable of doing the job again, so I’m going to run for a second term. Now I think I can be more efficient and more effective having gone through a term as mayor.
If re-elected, what are your plans going into a second term?
The campaign that I have put together with my colleagues, my team, is basically building on our successes, because over the last three years I believe we have done some spectacular things. To begin with, we managed to secure over $125 million worth of funding from the provincial and federal government for a variety of initiatives. No other council ever before has drawn in that much money from other levels of government to the benefit of our local citizens. To have funds come back from Victoria and Ottawa in that scope is huge, and it’s to the amazing benefit of our community… I am the Chair of the Police Board, that’s one of the roles of the mayor… [and] crime is down across the board, nowhere more spectacularly than in homicides. We’ve gone from [being] the murder capital of Canada in 2009 with 11 homicides to… zero homicides [this year]… Abbotsford is becoming a very safe city. We have made dramatic improvements and dramatic changes.
The election is largely going to be about water. What are your opinions on the proposed project?
I learned about public-private partnerships because I was the local contact, and I worked for 19 years on our new hospital. I was intimately involved in that project, which was a public-private partnership. The solicitor general of British Columbia, who is the independent watchdog of the legislature, reported after that project was completed that the public saved $39 million by making it a public-private partnership. There are private operators in that hospital right now. It’s a hospital, it’s working as a hospital, and it is an amazing example of the success of public-private partnerships.
So when we were looking at opportunities to seek additional funding for our water source, there was a federal crown corporation (PPP Canada) which funds P3 partnerships. They examine a project and determine if it is eligible and then award up to 25 per cent of [the cost] of the eligible project. We were looking for an opportunity to acquire some additional funds for this project. We went through a very exhaustive process and arrived at Stave Lake as the preferred option. We applied to PPP Canada, and they said “Yes, your project will qualify.” So they, in fact, have agreed to give use up to $65 million for the project if we make it a public-private partnership…
The controversy comes because the national union, public sector union, is opposed, and they are funding a very vigorous campaign of opposition. Much of their campaign is mendacious. They are trying to convince people that the City of Abbotsford wants to privatize its water system. That is not at all what the City of Abbotsford wants to do. The City of Abbotsford will own the water coming out of the lake, it will own the water going into the treatment plant, it will own the water while it’s in the treatment plant, and it will own the water coming out of the treatment plant. A private operator will operate the plant. Why? Because it gives us a 25-year warranty. If something goes wrong with the plant, the private operator has to fix it at their expense. So it transfers the risk from the public sector to the private sector.
What differentiates you from other candidates?
I think the primary differentiation is that none of the other candidates have been involved in politics at any level. That to me is quite astounding, to think that the four of them [are] an 18-year-old, a 32-year-old lady, Mrs. Peachey, and Mr. Banman. They all think they can jump into the role of mayor and be mayor. The learning curve for any of them would be incredibly steep. It was challenging enough for me having spent all those years in city hall; it would be extremely challenging for someone who has never been exposed to municipal government in any formal sort of way…
We had an all-candidates meeting last night, and it was my first opportunity to sit, discuss and debate the issues with the others. They speak in what I would call, perhaps not flatteringly, banal generalities full of platitudes, but they have not had any significant leadership opportunities. Indeed, with the exception of perhaps Mrs. Peachey. That to me is a little bit troubling.