By Mike Archer. Before you send the emails asking me if I’ve taken leave of my senses, I believe Darryl Plecas is one of only two politicians in Abbotsford right now who stands a snowball’s chance in hell of solving the Abbotsford Homeless Crisis or any of a number of other divisive issues which have proved beyond the rather limited capabilities of the current crop of men and women who are on City Council or other prominent positions in the community.
The other one is Henry Braun.
Neither man has a vested interest in any of the entrenched positions which have been clearly marked out and occupied by the various sides on so many issues in this community for so long that nothing ever gets done.
I think Plecas is going to surprise some people.
Editor’s note: For those new to Abbotsford Today the author and Dr. Plecas have fought, openly and sometimes bitterly over drug policy, policing and issues surrounding the criminalization of social issues. At Dr. Plecas’ suggestion the two sat down for an hour-and-a-half of frank and open discussion about some of the issues facing Abbotsford.
Homeless Protest Camp On Gladys
An immediate and explosive issue which has not yet been discussed in public was quietly negotiated behind the scenes by Plecas with the help of The 5 and 2 Ministries and the Salvation Army. Not reported in either the old media or online was a request delivered to the City of Abbotsford by BC Hydro to have the residents of the protest camp at the TeePee opposite the new MCC building on Gladys Avenue removed.
Plecas, who is the Liberal MLA for Abbotsford South, intervened and bought some time for the Sally Ann and 5and2 to try to find housing for the occupants of the TeePee.
Spiritual Care Leaders
Another long simmering issue of contention which has seemed unresolvable in this community was the decision by the Fraser Health Authority (FHA) to eliminate the position of Spiritual Care providers in hospitals. After both sides dug in their heels and the issue languished in the ‘unresolvable’ file, Plecas arranged a symposium at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), attended by some 80 healthcare professionals, on the role of spiritual care in the healing process.
As a result, the FHA has decided to reinstate the position at hospitals within the Fraser Health region.
Residents along Highway 1 in Abbotsford, who have been bitterly complaining about the unlivable conditions they have been forced to endure since the widening of the highway are, according to Plecas, are now going to get a protective sound barrier wall to protect them from the noise.
UFV Pride Society
The Pride Society at UFV has been fighting for recognition and respect ever since they began organizing their first parade.
A controversial issue in the buckle of the Bible Belt, many politicians and community leaders have shied away from the issue preferring to remain in the obscure zone where votes can’t be lost.
Plecas decided to wade right in and got all of those involved together in order to resolve their differences. Politicians, business people, educators, religious leaders, and community leaders met at Plecas’ constituency office, to discuss the issues faced by the LGTBQ community in Abbotsford and what happened next was exactly what Plecas and his team had hoped.
Plecas says he wouldn’t have been able to make as much progress as they did without the full support of Tina Stewart and the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA).
“When you bring all of the people involved in an issue into the same room and have everyone agree that together they are going to resolve their differences, it is amazing what can be achieved,” he says.
These are just a few of the issues Plecas has worked on and managed to arrive at a resolution but he says there are more on the way.Plecas say he is working on a couple of other major issues in Abbotsford on which he hopes to be able to report some progress soon. He gives a lot of the credit for what he has accomplished in his first year in office to his Community Outreach Coordinator Surjit Atwal.
“Surjit created our whole Community Outreach strategy and many people warned us that it wouldn’t work,” says Plecas.
Atwal’s strategy, plain and simple, is to invite anyone and everyone involved in a cause, an issue or a dispute to Plecas’ constituency office board room at the corner of Marshall and McCallum, and talk things through.
“It is all based on social justice,” says Plecas, pointing to the Canadian Charter of Rights on the wall of his office.
“The issue should never be whether or not we are going to do this. It can only be how we are going to get this done,” he says.
“It is amazing what can be achieved when all of the people involved in an issue are brought together in one room and told to solve their differences. Sometimes the people who are seen as the cause of the problem end up being the ones who ultimately offer the solution,” he adds.
When asked about his years as a criminologist at UFV and some of the positions he took, particularly regarding social policy, the drug war and law enforcement, Plecas is quick to say that with all of the mounting evidence surrounding some of the harmful outcomes which have resulted from trying to legislate solutions to social problems, “I don’t think there is anyone truly holding on to old thinking. What matters now is commit to solving the problems we have.”
Darryl and I have disagreed a lot over the years but I must say that, of all the politicians in Abbotsford, almost all of whom prefer to play in the ‘safe zone,’ and prefer to shy away from contentious issues that could cost them votes, his approach to conflict resolution is refreshing and, based on his track record to date, it holds out some hope that many of Abbotsford’s logjam issues may some day be resolved.