By Mike Archer. It was a one-sided debate for more reasons than one Thursday night at Matsqui Centenniel Auditorium as, for most of the evening, over 250 listened to one candidate debate the issues raised by a panel in the mayoralty debate sponsored by Abbotsford’s non-profit organizations.
Councillor Henry Braun dealt with questions raised by the panel on topics about the environment, the arts and and social services in Abbotsford.
Cover: Moderator Justin Goodrich and candidate Henry Braun at Thursday’s mayoralty debate.Win Wachsmann photo.
Much of the discussion Thursday evening revolved around the Kinder Morgan plan to more than double the size of its pipeline through the Fraser Valley and questioners from the audience like Lynn Perrin received little comfort from Braun over their concerns that yesterday’s ruling that municipal bylaws do not outweigh federal authority.
“We live in a world dominated by oil and there has to be a balance between the environment and the economy. I would fight tooth and nail against Kinder Morgan if what they are doing proves to be against the interests of Abbotsford residents but until we have the answers from the 223 questions we have sent them, I can’t tell you that I will do something the City simply doesn’t have the jurisdiction to do,” Braun told the audience.
Braun told the audience he believes Abbotsford is the economic hub of the Fraser Valley but that it needs to get it’s act together if it is actually going to benefit from that position.
“We are no longer the City in the Country. We are city of 140,000 people and unless we start acting like one we will be in trouble,” said Braun. He went on to describe the economic outlook for Abbotsford which, he warned, contains some tough decisions and difficult years ahead.
During the portion of the debate over affordable housing and the ACS/BC Housing supportive housing project (which Mayor Banman stepped in to kill at the beginning of the years), Braun said that a city the size of Abbotsford should have at least three shelters like the one proposed and funded by the provincial government.
On many of the questions on funding for the arts Braun said that, while he believes that the arts are the heart and soul of the community, there are a few difficult years ahead for the City from a financial point of view and any additional funding for the arts, as well as many other things, will have to wait until the City is back on more secure footing.
“We used to be a leader in the Lower Mainland. Something went off the tracks (in the last decade) and we have to do better,” he said to a round of applause.
“We need to enter into a meaningful dialogue with the citizens of this community. People have become disengaged because they feel they are not being listened to,” he told the audience.
On planning and transportation issues Braun said that, in Abbotsford currently, “You can pretty well build a high rise wherever you want. That has to stop.”
Braun argued that the City will not have a proper, functioning transportation system until it stops developing at the fringes, forcing people to drive cars, and invests in its core.
“We have to build our core and make it pedestrian friendly,” he said.
When asked whether he would commit to providing City workers a living wage, Braun said that, while he understands the stress of families trying to live in the Fraser Valley on less less than $17 an hour, he was reluctant to say ‘Yes’ without knowing the financial repercussions to taxpayers. When pressed by moderator Justin Goodrich, Braun committed to looking into the matter during his first year as mayor.
“Absolutely,” he said, adding,”The reason the middle vclass feels squeezed, I believe, is that the real rate of inflation is closer to seven percent rather than the one or two percent they are reporting. If you take into account and measure all of the things the average family actually spends money on, the cost of living is going up much faster (than what is being reported).”
On the issue of the Abbotsford Homeless Crisis and the infamous Chicken Manure Incident, Braun said that what is happening to the homeless in Abbotsford ” …should not be happening in a civilized society.”
“Housing is a basic right. It breaks my heart what is happening down on Gladys Avenue tonight out in the cold rain,” he said.
Braun said that a completely new approach to homelessness is required in Abbotsford.
“Other cities have made this work. Other cities have homeless problems. It is an issue across the country. Our challenge is to face the fears of the unknown, learn from their example and have the courage to do the right thing,” he said.
The debate over homelessness brought Braun back to his central theme for the evening. “We need to do better,” he said.
“If we don’t get our economy going get some jobs into this community the homeless situation is just going to get worse.,” he said.Heading in the Right Direction
“We’re heading in the right direction, largely due to the new City Manager (George Murray), but we have to stop directing this community from above and let those who know what they are doing do it.”
Mayor Bruce Banman, who showed up late and left early joined the debate for an hour and extolled the virtues of the Homeless TAsk Force and its report.
“I believe that with the hiring of a new homeless coordintor it will be a great catalyst,” he said.
Braun used the opportunity to use one of his five opportunities for rebuttal to disagree with Banman.
“In my experience in government, when you don’t know what to do you have a task force. My fear is that we’re going to create another department and only five cents of every dollar will ever get to the people who need it,” he said which caused the first of many outburst of loud applause from the audience.
Asked if they would increase arts funding both candidateswere circumspect withg Braun taking the lead in saying, “If money were no object I would promise a lot of things but we have to start asking what it will cost the taxpayer, before we commit to things. We have to learn to find out what things will cost before (italics ours) rather than afterwards.”
Banman’s response was, “I am an ardent supporter of the arts. Arts enrich our lives. I’m concerned about the impact for our children but we can’t go spending money willy nilly.”
Lynn Perrin asked both candidates what they propose to do in response to yesterday’ ruling that the federal National Energy Board’s rulkings superced local bylaws, Banman told the audience, “:I can be a little bulldog and we will fight hard for Abbotsford and look into this.”
Braun respoinded to Perrin saying, “All we can do is what we are constitutionally allowed to do under the Municipal Act and the Community Charter. We can’t keep doing this kind of thing. We went ahead and committed ourselves to the Vye Road expansion and now we’re stuck with a mess due to the Railway Act. We can’t just do anything we want. We can’t keep going in like a bulldog and trying to push other people around,” he said.City Committee Structure
Both candidates were asked about the failure of the Abbotsford Social Development Advisory Committee (ASDAC) and both said that a review of the committe structure at City Hall is needed. When first elected Banman had stated he would review the committee structure and change the councillors who headed up those committees. What followed was a 90-day period during which no changes were made and then, after intense behind-the-scenes lobbying, the structure was basically left the same.
Braun said that a complete review of how the committee system runs and how the information from committees gets to to council is in order.
Banman was asked if he had any regrets about his decision to kill the ACS/BC Housing supported housing proposal and he respionded by saying, ” I stand by my decision on the C7 zoning and I support all the small business of the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA).”
Braun, once again, used one of his rebuttal cards and explained, “There is a difference between the Business Improvement Area (BIA) and the C7 zoning. The BIA is a 20-year agreement between the City and the businesses of the downtown area. C7 zoning is not. We make changes to zoning at every council meeting. Zoning changes are the purview of council – not of an un-elected business association.”
In response to Banman’s contention that the $15.3 in promised funding for the shelter proposal he killed has still not been spent anywhere else, Braun disagreed that the money lost was somehow waiting for Abbotsford to spend it.
“The first thing I will do is go to Victoria and get that money back.”
Stave Lake and Accountability
The biggest issue of the last election came up and was discussed at some length length. Questions were raised about how the P3 Water Referendum centered on how each candidate had dealt with the issue and why only one councillor (Braun) seemed to have asked the right questions and revealed the truth about the non-existent case for the water crisis.
Banman told the audience there was not enough information available at the time to make an informed decision before the last election.
Braun said that simply wasn’t true – that the information was (italics ours) available and that, once it was revealed, it clearly showed there was no case for an expenditure of $300,000,000 on a new water system; that the low mark being used to justify the proposal was an anomoly and that water consumption was actually going down.
“I saw the light before the election when senior bureaucrats (former City Manager Frank Pizzuto and Economic Development Manager Jay Teichroeb – both now gone) took the unprecedented step of writing letters to the editor in the Abbotsford News and I phoned them to find out why.”
“A lot of people lost their jobs over not being prepared to tow the party line and I lost friends over it. But you simply cannot build things (based on faulty information). I’ve been called anti-business and all sorts of things but I fought tooth and nail to protect taxpayers (from that expenditure),” he said to a loud and sustained burst of applause.
Banman left the debate at 9 pm while Braun continued to interact with the audience until the end.
Published 08:37 am 10/24/2014
Updated 09:21 am 10/24/2014
Updated 09:45 am 10/24/2014
Updating live and ongoing
Join the discussion One Comment
Finally! A mayoral candidate with brains AND the work ethic required to use them! Nice Work Henry Bruan.
If all our elected officials would be willing to take the time to be fully informed in advance of voting on complex issues, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.