Disingenuous … Or Just Wrong?

By Mike Archer. In a piece published on the Abbotsford Times entitled, ‘Current bylaw does not allow for ACS housing project,’ Mike Welte, the president of the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, says that the debate over the proposal for a Supportive Housing Project by Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) has so far focused primarily on one of two different and distinct issues.

1) The issue of homelessness
2) The Land use issue

Welte is correct in so far as the huge outcry on behalf of the homeless which has resulted, primarily, from the international attention the City received from the Abbotsford Chicken Manure Homeless Incident, has made it a dangerous PR move to oppose efforts to help the homeless, even if only due to the bad optics.

And, as a business lobbyist he is within his rights to make the case for his organization. But there is a difference between making a strong business case for his members and wading into a public policy debate over social issues on which neither he nor his members have any standing or any particular knowledge.

Just like the ADBA, the Chamber of Commerce is a business organization and, as such, can certainly make its views known, but the Chamber has to start learning from a decade worth of its own mistakes and step back from the influence it has clearly misused in the realm of public policy in Abbotsford.

In trying to be adept at influencing the public agenda, Welte seems to be arguing that, since there are several solutions to the homelessness issue and, like all those opposed to the ‘Housing First’ approach he refers to the issue as ‘complex,’ we should put the homelessness part of the issue aside for a moment while we address the more important issue – that of land use.

It is a commonly used argument in Abbotsford. ‘Some of my best friends are homeless; drug addicts; alcoholics …‘ the statements usually begin, only to be followed by some sort of drivel about how complex the issue is for mere mortals to address.

The solution to homelessness, it turns out, is not at all complex. It simply involves finding the homeless a place to live instead of letting them live on the streets. What makes homelessness ‘complex’ in Abbotsford is that nobody within the power structure is prepared to allow any provincial or local money to be spent on any solution which does not include a moral or religious component.

A central tenet of those who control the purse strings in Abbotsford is that men and women who have fallen on hard times must pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. It is an approach which has proven time and time again to have failed and led to exactly what we have in Abbotsford – a large and growing population of people which the community simply refuses to help because they have mental issues, alcohol issues or drug issues.

Simply put; they don’t deserve to be helped.

The solution is very, very simple and the ACS, BC Housing and the City of Abbotsford thought they had it figured out when they proposed a Supportive Housing Project right beside Abbotsford Community Services where the residents can ostensibly receive all of the help they need – except for addiction services, which ACS inexplicably moved to Clearbrook.

That is a central part of the argument put forward by the City, the ACS and BC Housing in favour of the location being proposed. In light of the ACS’s decision to move one of the main services it offered to street people – addiction services – to Clearbrook, those who oppose the location are right to question the assertion by the ACS and the City that residents of the proposed project would be near the services they need.

Welte correctly states that the proposal goes against the current zoning for the property. Rather than any sort of monumental problem this simply involves council voting to rezone the property – something it does for developers, despite vocal opposition from local residents, with such regularity it tends to fill up the majority of the agenda at every council meeting.

He also correctly states that the businesses in the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) “… have invested a significant amount of their savings into operating a business with the hope of making it work and have invested emotionally and financially in the improvement of the downtown core.”

I’m sure the same can be said for just about every business owner, home owner, farmer or rancher in Abbotsford and it is not a valid argument against the proposal.

If the ADBA and the Chamber are to be believed when they keep reiterating that this is not a case of NIMBYism they really ought to come up with something other than their hard work and investment of money to make their point.

While there is a certain need for secrecy surrounding efforts to find another piece of property within easy access of ACS it must be said that members of the ADBA are actively trying to find an alternative solution to that proposed by the City and ACS.

The ADBA has found itself caught between a rock and hard place and seems to have been left to twist in the wind by the City of Abbotsford, ACS and BC Housing.

Welte finishes his argument with a flourish, “The question remains where it should be built to address the best interests of the community as a whole.”

Mr. Welte should look back at the last ten years of positions his organization has taken on major political issues in Abbotsford. They have all, without fail, been contrary to the good of the community and his members.

Every major initiative which succeeded between 2006 and 2008 was supported by the Chamber of Commerce and the newspapers and has led to a financial disaster at the City of Abbotsford that will take generations to untangle.

Every major initiative which has been defeated in Abbotsford since 2008 has been supported by the Chamber of Commerce and the newspapers and fought by a community trying to wrest control of their city back.

Business organizations and social policy make for very bad social policy and Abbotsford politicians and business organizations have to stop playing together with their friends’ and neighbours’ money. It has proved disastrous for the friends and neighbours.

Based on its track record, The Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce does not seem to have the interests of the larger community at heart. To pretend the best interests of the larger community have anything to do with their position on the ACS Supportive Housing Proposal sounds disingenuous. Disingenuous or simply wrong, as the Chamber has been for over a decade.

Represent your members’ interests as much as you want but stay away from social policy. You are in over your heads.

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