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Mission City Council candidate: Pam Alexis

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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 that municipal government probably plays more on your daily life than provincial or federal levels of government. So it’s extremely important to get the vote out, because the decisions made often do impact your daily life. Perhaps not being able to access a road to get to where you are because a developer may want to purchase a part of it and thus your route is changed — simple things like that, or where you shop, or where you might get a job, or where you might find post-secondary opportunities. So these are kinds of things municipal leaders make decisions about, and I think if I can elaborate too, for this age level of voter, you have social media at your fingertips. And that, I believe is one of the ways that you can connect with the voter, and I believe that in Mission the social media element will be the game-changer. The Mission Hot Seat has been extremely valuable — what a fabulous way to reach, now plus-1000 people. I have found over time — this is my fourth election — that the all-candidates meetings are not of value, because we are limited with time, we’re limited because often the same questions are asked again and again and again, and there’s no creativity left, it’s just a standard pat yes/no answer often, so really, that’s not the way to get to know your candidate, and I believe reaching out through social media is the way to go, especially for this age group.

Who do you view as your constituents?

I have a very broad base of support, I do a lot of work with respect to events, with respect to pretty major community happenings. So for example I was vice-president of the BC Winter Games. Huge commitment, two-year commitment where I was responsible for 2000 volunteers, a number of very high-level tasks that had to be done in order to get the job done. So that’s just one element. Tomorrow I am the chair of Diwali in Mission, so I have 800 people coming to this event at the Clarke Theatre at Heritage Park Secondary. So I have that as a base. I believe I certainly have the community players, people that do things in the community. I also am the vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce and so I also have support from the business community. So I feel quite comfortable that I have a reach within a number of areas. I was also a school trustee for six years, so I have a track record that people trust. And I feel that support from those in the education system.

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

Really important, and I sense that we are not engaged at all. And I think this current council as a slate basically blind-sided the community when they were elected. It was a shock to the community, and consequently engagement has been extremely difficult for this particular council, because there wasn’t that backbone support. So the first order of business would be to make sure that there are mechanisms in place for people to feel that engagement. There is a recently hired community engagement officer at City Hall, and I would sit down with him and look at how we can get that support from the community on an ongoing basis. So that’s something that really needs some thought, because the traditional methods have not been terribly successful.

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

Other than encouraging my son’s friends to get out and vote … I love this opportunity that you gave to me, because I feel that young people really need to understand the process. This community and other communities in British Columbia only saw a 30 per cent return of the population of eligible voters, which is unacceptable. You have major decisions being made by a handful of people, and yet you’re inheriting all of that. So you need to be informed.

As far as how do you engage? We’re portable; we’ll come to you. And we’ll talk, we’ll answer questions. One things that I with respect to students have felt a real need for a long time is … some kids take longer to launch than others. Some students don’t embrace everything that high school has to offer and consequently miss the boat. The 10 per cent or 15 per cent go on, get scholarships, do whatever. But there’s a vast majority that aren’t embracing what high school has to offer. So I had this vision that I wanted to start a resource centre for students who finished high school who want perhaps some mentoring from professionals or some way to connect again, because they’re lost. They’re not really adults, they’re still living at home in the basement (and I can attest to that). They aren’t able to access the same kind of resources they could at high school. They’re ready now, their brains are ready to take that information and move on, but there’s no place for them to do that. Other than a skills centre where they’re actually going to look for jobs or whatever. So my idea was to match professionals with young people who may have an interest in, [for example], photography, but really don’t have any connections. Or may have an interest in chef training but just would like to know more about it and to take a look at it. So it’s like a means to try that next step. It’s not what parents were trained to do, it’s new territory, so we’ve got to figure out how we can provide that direction, because parents often don’t have that resource or information.

When you were school trustee, did you have this idea — what prevented you from doing it then?

Of course dollars, and is it the responsibility of the school trustee? I don’t know that it is. Because you get funding from K-12. Once they’re finished and they’re 19, you’re no longer allowed to count them, they’re no longer covered financially. I see this as something that a community needs to do, so that we actually build a community as a result. And I haven’t quite figured out how it’s all going to work out, but I’m also a Rotarian. The Rotary Club is a group of business leaders who want to do good in the community and internationally. And I see that there’s a role for Rotarians to play. We would need a place, so for example, maybe parks and rec has a little spot that where we could have a place and use the services that exist already. So it’s something that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg, and that’s why as a school trustee, I recognized the need, but I couldn’t implement a program or a plan because it’s not in the jurisdiction of the role of a school trustee.

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

This current council is making a tremendous number of decisions in-camera. When I was a trustee, we rarely had in-camera meetings unless it was legal land or personnel issues, which are in the charter that we must follow. I believe that everything should be out in public and if you have the information that you need to discuss it in public, then you’re good to go. And I think the different between this council and other councils is that many things are pre-determined at a pre-meeting prior to council. So we don’t get the crux, we only get a yes or a no vote in a council meeting. So for example when this current council was elected, they prided themselves on speed, so sometimes there were only 30 minutes or 45 minutes council meetings, because there were no discussions, it was passed. And so that became the norm, and that’s not the norm in real life. The first thing that needs to be done is the public needs to be brought into the process of decision-making.

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

I sat on the cultural resources commission for a number of years, and I believe we need a comprehensive busking bylaw that allows people to busk and actually receive funds for busking. And currently we have some odd thing in there that says a non-profit has to make the arrangements for a busker and it’s way too complicated. So that’s one small thing that I’d like to change. But a larger thing that’s just around the corner is the implementation of the Stave West Recreation master plan. And this refers to a huge number of acres with a working forest just west of Mission — between Mission and Maple Ridge — and the potential for recreation opportunities, tourism, working forest, education, many things. The first thing I would do is make sure that’s passed and implemented and we invest in that, because it will shape Mission’s future with respect to tourism and business and that kind of thing.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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