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?
If you’re an independent, you really don’t have a lot you can do unless you actually have people who support what you are doing. It’s kind of a tough thing. You can always go into something with a plan, but if you don’t have the support of people behind you, it’s kind of hard to get that plan done. I think the key is that you bring some great ideas to council and hopefully you’re able to get the job that you want done completed. Bringing taxes down is obviously really important, keeping the taxes down. Also, making sure that the city’s infrastructure is taken care of. I’m running in a group, a slate, and they call it a team, and we’ve got basically eight items that we want to work on. We’ve actually kept the debt, that group has kept the debt down, actually paid off 60 per cent of a $90 million deficit, so keeping a debt-free future is key. We want to keep expenditures in line with the rate of inflation and the rate of growth. We want to continue to emphasize the maintenance and repairs of our infrastructure. Let’s see, what else. One of the big things that we’re working on is the downtown revitalization. We want to make sure that the downtown for Mission is a place that people want to open up and continue to do business, family community. Right now, Mission has got a bit of a downside to the way people look at Mission. It’s kind of like when, in Abbotsford, there’s an area that was struggling several years ago, and they’ve put some work into it and people are actually starting to shop there again. That’s what we want, we want to see what happened down there.
Who do you view as your constituency?
With the downtown revitalization?
All the things you’re talking about.
Well, it’s going to obviously benefit everybody in the district. It’s not something that only benefits people in the downtown or certain neighbourhoods. Whenever you [have] a downtown or a community that is open to business and friendly for business, they’re going to open business here, and that’s what we’re looking for.
We’ve seen some things happening out here in the last three years, even in the last 10 years — I wouldn’t want to take credit for something that someone else has done in the past, but I am a resident here, I’ve been living here with my family for 13 years. Prior to that, my family has lived here since the late ‘70s and as a young man I moved around and ended up back here because I saw something here that very few places have. You look at our backyard here and it’s just amazing, it just goes on forever and ever. There’s trails, and that’s another area we’re working on too, we call it the Stave West project. So that’s huge for the people from Mission and Abbotsford. And bringing people from Vancouver, this would be a destination for them to come for camping.
I’m not sure if you’re aware, but Tim Horton’s is looking at building a camp for kids in Mission. So that’s the kind of thing that we want to see people bring out to Mission. The West Stave tourism — it’s a tourism of our interpretive forest. It’s one of the premier recreational locations. They want to open up, and I’ve seen people talking about this, camping boats, rentals, all sorts of things. A new boat launch being put in. It’s huge for the Mission residents. We’re going to see people coming out this way to spend some money and open businesses.
Another thing we’re working on: the seniors’ centre, that’s a huge growing community. I don’t have to tell anybody, the baby boomers are retiring and we have several already, these beautiful locations for seniors, but they’re privately owned. We want to have a seniors’ centre that’s funded by the district with no cost to the seniors. There’s an investor that wants to help the district of Mission and the seniors get this thing off the ground. So if you keep the seniors that we have, have a place for them to go, they want to stay. And whenever they want to stay, the families of those, their kids, that would be an advantage to them to move to the Mission area as well to be close to their parents or have their grandkids here. So it’s to bring families together as well.
How will you receive the views of the entire population instead of just those most active around City Hall?
Well, we have had open forums. [The CRMG] has had open forums, for instance the downtown revitalization, they had, if I remember correctly, three different open houses where they showed what the plan was, they brought in the gentleman and they, for the life of me I can’t remember his name, but he was involved in the restructure of Langley’s downtown. And you see what’s happened with their downtown, its business has improved exponentially, so that gentleman was here looking at our downtown and he was at these meetings and we were able to talk to him. I wasn’t on council then, I was working for a business that had some interest in the downtown. So I went and I was listening and I really liked the ideas that he had. And they’ve built off of those ideas, introduced those ideas. Council has got it as their big 10 moves for downtown. You can go online for the district and it’s actually on there, so I’m not going to quote all the big moves, but one of the biggest ones to start things going is the moving of Highway 7. It’s not a plan that is implemented or carved in stone, it’s an idea, and an idea that should work. To move the highway from First Avenue down to Railway, just so the traffic that doesn’t want to go through downtown doesn’t, and the key vehicles that we’re trying to remove from the downtown First Avenue is the big trucks. I’ve been in conversation with many of the truck drivers and at one of the open houses one of them came up to me and he thought it was a great idea, and there was a gentleman who was also running for mayor who was saying that he wants to leave everything the way it is. And he said that if you want to reroute traffic, take it out to the little overpass that’s at the bottom of Murray. And the driver practically lost it on him, saying, “Do you know how dangerous that bridge is, how slippery it is in the winter?”
It’s very dangerous for trucks. And if you’re a car going around the corner with one of those trucks, it’s very scary, to say the least. So if you’re going to reroute traffic that way, it’s not going to work. And then there’s others talking about putting in another overpass further down over the tracks — well now you’re talking not just millions of dollars, but close to a billion dollars in putting in a new overpass, new highways, buying up land. So there’s moneys that are involved in this that the city can’t afford, to move the highway. People are quoting this number and again, one of them is one of the gentlemen who’s running for mayor, he keeps quoting us, saying it’s going to cost $6 million. The fact is, it’s not going to cost the District of Mission $6 million dollars. That’s a price tag they calculated. Could be less, could be more. But we aren’t paying the full amount. The provincial government and the federal government — at least the provincial government will be picking up a good portion of that bill, and there’s talk of the federal government putting money in as well. So will it cost us $2 million, $3 million? We’re not sure because it’s not a plan that’s been approved yet. It’s a concept, it’s an idea, and that’s what we’re working towards.
Are you doing anything to address the lack of student interest in local politics?
I run a restaurant, and I’ve been doing that out here in Mission for a good 10 years now — I work with youth. I’d say probably, in the industry of food and beverage, you typically get three types of employees. One of them wants to become management, they want to continue on in the food and beverage industry. The other one is, I don’t want to talk about the second one, then the students. They come in, they need a job that’s flexible with their going to school. So I spend a lot of time with students. So my goal, personally, is — and I’ve been doing it at work, and one of the things I say to them is, I don’t need you to vote for me. I need you to go out and vote. Be involved in what’s happening in the community. If you’re living in Abbotsford, go vote in Abbotsford. Take a look at what people are offering, take a look at what’s in the best interest of not just you, but everyone around you. So look at what benefits your parents will get from this, what benefits you will get, take a look at the long-term results.
So I’m always talking with the students, I’ve got a family of seven kids, so you could probably say I’m pretty well in touch with the youth as far as that goes. And then as for the council, what the rest of the CRMG team is doing for students, I can’t speak personally for each one of them. I know that they have a lot of respect and they want something to happen for their kids and the rest of those kids. One of the things for the downtown revitalization, they bought a building downtown that people are saying it’s a bit of a controversy for the spending, and it’s already showing positive results, they’re putting in a high-tech company. And it’s bringing in 30 new high-paid jobs, and it’s also going to be a school. So there’s going to be students involved. So we’ve got 30 jobs plus the students that are coming there. So as far as that goes, they’re doing their best to keep the young adults, the youngsters, in Mission. Don’t have them so they don’t have to travel to Vancouver to get the good jobs, to get the proper schooling. This council’s in talks with UFV to have a campus downtown or in that general area.* So there’s always things that we’re working towards.
The seniors’ centre, it’s not actually going to be called a seniors’ centre. Basically it’s going to be open to all ages, and one of the main things they’re looking at is working to have a youth, an area there that they can go to where they’re not feeling like it’s a seniors’ centre And we want this thing built before those kids actually have to use it.
Why did you choose to run on a slate, and what do you think this means for the organization of municipal politics?
Well one of the things that I really like about a slate, and people will equate this to provincial or federal politics — it’s completely different when it comes to federal and provincial. They have a leader, that leader says yea or nay to things, and the rest of the people have to follow what they say. It’s pretty clear on the municipal level, the mayor, he can’t kick me out. He can’t say, “Attila, if you don’t follow what I’m saying, you’re out.” That’s not how it works in municipal office.
I will always have a voice, and all of us will always have a voice. The best part about it is we already go in with these eight items that we want to see fulfilled. So we’re all on the same page, we don’t go in there with a view of 20 different things or 40 different things that we want to see happen. We have eight items that we want to see completed for Mission. Now when other things come up, and I’m not even going to bore you with what going on — have you sat in on a council meeting? They can be terribly boring. It’s basically about, you know, someone wants to put in a basement suite or somebody wants something to do with their land, or add a new roof, and we have to say yea or nay to it. And then it has to go to staff, and it’s a long process.
But the thing is that there are things that we disagree with, even on a slate. We have that voice still. We’re independent. But we’re independent as a team. So I can say no to anything that comes up other than those eight items because I already know that I want those done. And so do all the rest of the team members. Whereas now, if I went in there as an independent and I promised you, “I’m going to make downtown better,” I have one voice. If six others, which would include the mayor, didn’t have the same vision that I do, it’s not going to happen. Even if I get two people on board with me, it’s still not going to happen. Sometimes I’ve seen — everyone’s seen it on television, how people will basically say, “I’ll vote for this if you vote for this, and that way I can get it done.” I don’t want to call it buying votes, but making deals to get their vote passed, and they’ll actually vote yes on something they might not agree on because that person is going to vote with them.
If elected, how would what you want to do as councillor be different from what council is already doing?
I’m not sure what you mean by that question.
This would be the first time you’d be elected. Do you see what you’d be doing as a council different from how it currently operates?
Basically as soon as I put my hat in the ring, the dynamics changed for this council. Like I said, there’s the eight items that I’m in total agreement with, that I want to see something happen, but as far as the rest of it, each one of us has a different view on different things. We all bring something different to the table. I’m in the food and beverage industry with background in security. So as far as that goes because a good portion of my [food and beverage industry] experience is locally. I’ve done things for the businesses I worked here that’s never been done out here.
And not to brag, but I brought Canadian Pickers out to Mission to a business that I was working at. They had national exposure.
One of my biggest traits that everyone knows me for is I’m honest. If I don’t like you, I might not say I don’t like you, but you’ll know that I might — I’ll easily tell you, “I don’t think that’s right.” I’m not going to back something that I don’t believe is good for the residents. I’m a resident. I want to make sure things here are good for me, my family, my kids — I want my kids to move back here. My kids are all grown up, and most of them [have left], two of them still living here in the Mission area. I’d like to see them all come back here. They’ve had to move because there wasn’t jobs, the schooling wasn’t adequate. There’s a lot of things that have to change in order to keep our kids down in Mission, to keep them employed, to give them a place to maybe buy their first home.
Do you have a specific project you want to prioritize or bylaw you want to change?
The thing is, there’s so many things that a city needs done. We’ve talked about so many different things, like better transit, for instance, in Mission. Our transit system is pretty poor out here, and we’ve got to find a way of getting people onto the buses. In a community that’s quite rural, people rely on their vehicles and they have to, and it’s — I’m going to say an old saying that probably isn’t true anymore, but it’s like pulling teeth, trying to get somebody out of their vehicle to get on the bus to travel. What have we got to do to get that happening?
Well, we have to make it so there’s things, for instance, downtown, get that revitalized, get businesses down there where people can actually get on a bus and it stops downtown and you do your shopping in downtown and you get back on the bus and you go home. Or if you want to go for a cup of coffee, the same thing. Maybe buses that have more space for bicycles, because Mission is a hill. It starts at the top and everything ends at the bottom, and if you ride a bike, you’ve got a long hike to go back up, so people can ride their bikes downtown and then take the bus home. I mean, that’s something you have to look at, but you can’t just throw money at something. We have really no control over the transit . We pay [BC Transit] X amount of dollars year to have that here, and they decide on what buses, what routes, things like that. We have input, we can suggest, we really can’t tell them how to do it. So in order to get more buses out here, we have to find ways of getting people to stop taking their vehicles, so bring business to town, bring schools to town where kids, adults, seniors can hop on a bus and get to where they’re going without using a vehicle. I’d love to see that. Can I make it happen? if I get elected, I’ve got four years to work on it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
*UFV executive director of campus planning Craig Toews says this is not true. “UFV is aware that the District of Mission has purchased land in downtown Mission and that the district would like to see the land used for post-secondary education, but there are no plans currently underway to make that happen in partnership with UFV. There may be opportunities in the future for UFV to collaborate on this initiative,” he wrote in an email.