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Mission City Council candidate: Barry Jeske

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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?

I think the course of municipal politics needs to change a little bit. What voters need to do is they need to look at the candidates that are running, they need to choose their mayor and councillors based upon the person they’re voting for — based on their code of conduct, their ethics, their dignity. They need to pick seven people that they think are going to listen to them the most, discuss and decide with the best interest of the community at heart and then govern and make those decisions for the whole community.

In regards to a lot of the issues, I do not pretend to be somebody that has all the answers — I don’t think anybody is, but what the community deserves is people that are going to listen to them.

Who do you view as your constituents?

I’m running in Mission — everyone. It’s youth, it’s seniors. Mission has this term of being a bedroom community because a lot of people live there and then work outside. And I’m not going to say if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. My wife and I, we started our businesses out here in the Valley, and we came out here for a reason. It’s a nice place to live.

I think that everybody in your community can and should be involved. Now, statistically that’s not quite frankly the way it happens, only a certain number of people vote. But I still don’t believe that represents the people that don’t care. Everybody should care about some issues, especially the issues obviously that are important to them. Again, when a community picks councillors and a mayor, we’re not all going to be strong in all aspects. I’ve been so fortunate to spend some time with some of the potential councillors that are running for election, and I mean some of them have such great insight into more of the social issues. Maybe I have a little more business acumen. But the overall choice of those seven people, as long as you have every group represented, I think those seven people can collectively make the decisions that need to be made.

How will you receive the views of the entire population instead of just those most active around City Hall?

Mission’s small enough that fortunately if you go down Main Street and have lunch or go down Main Street and have dinner, you should be able to talk to people on a daily basis. I want to be the type of councillor that when I’m driving down the street and I see two city trucks doing work, I’d love to be able to pull over and see, not what they’re doing, but how, as a councillor I can help them do a better job, because I think so much of the disconnect between the politician and people and also district employees results from not knowing the people that are out there with the boots on the ground on a daily basis doing the work. Sometimes they have the best ideas on how to do the simple things, but it gets convoluted in paperwork and process, and then they get frustrated. So that’s what I want to do, I want to be out and meeting people.

Are you doing anything to address the lack of student interest in local politics?

I think when we talk about why youth aren’t voting, who is listening to them? How many candidates are coming down and doing presentations to the schools? How many student bodies of the schools get to go into a city hall in one of their municipalities and watch the protocol of how a government meeting works?

If elected, how would what you want to do as councillor be different from what council is already doing?

Well, I would hope to be extremely approachable via social media, which is relatively new. I’m not a dinosaur when it comes to it, but I prefer to talk to people face to face. I would not hesitate my cellphone ringing with somebody wanting to talk about an issue. And I don’t know what hours councillors keep within an office within the city hall itself, but I would like to know that if I’m a councillor I would have for sure a set time when I’m in that office that the general public could come and visit that office.

Do you have a specific project you want to prioritize or bylaw you want to change?

There’s a number of contentious issues in Mission right now, and I don’t want to oversimplify them. With the traffic issue in the revitalization of downtown, it seems to be oversimplified of one-way or two-way traffic on these two streets that are going to be drastically changed: First and Railway. I think the project as a whole is not just about changing traffic, it’s not just about revitalizing downtown: when you’re investing that kind of money in that project, you’re investing in infrastructure that you will hopefully use for another 30-50 years, so I want to look at, when we make a decision, not just how it affects us today, but how it affects you guys that are graduating and your kids down the road.

Because that infrastructure is going to allow development, and when I talk about that downtown core, there’s also huge developments that are proposed for Mission out in Silverdale, the Genstar, which you know, we’ve been all hearing about that for many years and still plugging along. The Hatzic bench area, there’s talk of some development up there, I know some of our Hot Seat questions that are coming out today talks about development up in Hatzic. Well, up in Hatzic there’s arsenic in the water, and the septic isn’t working, so you’ve got people up there that are getting into a situation where they’re probably going to need crucial help at some point here. If a developer is willing to come in and put in a neighbourhood and run in the infrastructure that you can then tap into to provide those people with water and sewer instead of being on septic, you have to look at how every project or everything that we consider, how it affects everything. When we talk about development of the downtown, that can relate to social issues like housing. How can we develop the downtown, but also make sure that we have affordable housing in those development projects?

Ever cross the Junction onto that waterfront side that’s kind of abandoned? I mean, to me, I look at that as a diamond in the rough, that area. I look at it as if somehow it could be a combination between Granville Island, because you’ve got the water, and the corridor of Great Northern Way where you have all those wonderful artist live-work studios, where people just aren’t living, but they’re actually making a living in their own building. Again, as a councillor, I’d really like to focus on the waterfront and the potential development down in that waterfront area.

How would you get this from an idea stage to something that’s actually happening?

I don’t think all those things are possible in four years. One thing I am a little disappointed with is I do go through the history of some of the things that the district has done and I see RFP after RFP after RFP [Request for Proposal] being awarded to out-of-the-province firms, which I think is somewhat disappointing. It’d be nice to keep the business local, at least within the province. We might not have expertise within the district, but you would think within the Lower Mainland or the whole province we would have the expertise. And study after study, yet not a lot seems to get done. So rather than trying to accomplish everything, try and focus on a few issues that the community wants to get dealt with and concentrate on those, and those would be the things we would work on for the four years.

Is this idea of what you would like to do something you’re hearing from the community?

I hear a lot of different things, I mean everyone I talk to says their taxes are too high. I’d like to change that, I’d personally like to see, somehow, to lower taxes. Mission seems to be taxed extremely high compared to other municipalities. I think that sometimes I maybe even oversimplify things. When it comes to things like high taxes, running a district is not just about running a business. Running a district is about running a community, and in that community are people. So you can’t just look at the balancing the cheque book aspect, but you have to look at the community and people.

What I would like to really look at too is indiscriminate spending. I know of a company that was willing to donate trees to the district. So full, relatively mature cherry trees. The trees themselves would have been at least $3000, the installation another $2000. So that would have been a $5000 donation to the district. For years, that company had been talking to the district about these trees. The issues that came up were who’s going to prune the trees, who’s going to cut around the trees, who’s going to water the trees. And eventually some trees did show up, and it turned out the city had put them in and I was like, “Was that company contacted for financial assistance, because they were willing to put something toward it?” “No, no.” The quote more or less was “It was in our budget, we kind of had to use it otherwise we were going to lose it.” And you know, that’s a common phrase, and that confuses me.

Because when we look at our taxes, we look at a simple thing like $5000. I think the District of Mission’s about a $55 million budget. Let’s say we want to try and cut our property taxes by five per cent in four years. So we got to come up with about $670,000/year in savings. For that $5000, that’s 1/130 of that. If we could find 130 other little things that could save us $5000, we could cut our taxes by five per cent in four years. Is that oversimplifying it? Maybe, but that also relates to stopping and talking to those municipal workers, because maybe the way they do things, they have a better idea themselves that can get it done faster, more affordably, and save the district a bit of money.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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