Making A Silk Purse Of A Sow’s Ear

Lost without influence at City Hall, the old power structure seems to have simply taken to talking to itself.

By Mike Archer. Making a silk purse of a sow’s ear just seems to come naturally to the old power structure in Abbotsford. And they just can’t seem to stop doing it.

After over a decade of pretending everything was OK and finding any way they could to either ignore important information they didn’t like or spin information they were forced to deal with, some of them are still at it.

Despite their complete lack of influence with the new council, the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce still seems to be relying on the old media to put a positive spin on things – especially when things don’t look good for them.

The Abbotsford News, which only seems to publish economic news when it can put a positive spin on it, just published a story about the abysmal employment situation in Abbotsford and Mission under the headline: “Abbotsford-Mission unemployment rate nears five-year low.”

The words ‘low’ and ‘unemployment’ simply don’t belong in a serious discussion about jobs in Abbotsford-Mission.

Omitting the fact that, as usual, we have the highest unemployment in Western Canada, the article really plumbs the depths of credulity as it seeks out a positive spin on our high unemployment numbers.

At 6.8 % our unemployment is higher than Alberta mind you … where the economy has been hit hard by the plummeting price of oil.

In fact it is higher than:

  • Vancouver 5.8
  • Victoria 4.9
  • Kelowna 3.9
  • dmonton 4.9
  • Calgary 5.0
  • Regina 4.6
  • Saskatoon 5.3
  • Winnipeg 6.0

Higher than … well, anywhere in Western Canada.

I doubt it was in response to our story “Local Unemployment Rises To 6.8%” or our opinion piece about the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce and it’s inability to create jobs.  Neither organization seems to have heard about us but we’ve been chronicling the economic indicators for Abbotsford for quite awhile now. It’s something most media do, except in Abbotsford, so as to inform our readers and allow them to make intelligent choices based on facts.

Again, not uncommon for most media, except in Abbotsford. The media in Abbotsford has never seemed that interested in our high unemployment, low housing starts, plummeting building permits, low quality employment or any other factual, undiluted, real information about the local economy unless any of those almost universally negative numbers experience a temporary increase.

Statscan Labour Force Survey figures for Abbotsford-Mission CMA

Statscan Labour Force Survey figures for Abbotsford-Mission CMA

Instead of selecting which economic indicators to report on; waiting until the economic news appears good; or, twisting and contorting the narrative to fit the headline, it would be easier and more honest to simply report the economic indicators, good or bad, as they are released each month … the way we have been for almost six years now.

Former Mayor Bruce Banman told us it was hard to convince people to invest here with all the negative news we published about unemployment and the other crucial economic indicators which tell investors how a city is really doing. It never occurred to him to fix those indicators (and he didn’t). All he could think of was to have us shut up about them.

Investors and astute business people don’t rely on media to tell them what is going on. Investors know all about economic indicators and where to find them. It’s only local voters who don’t bother to seek the information who don’t know about Abbotsford’s bad economic indicators

The economic indicators which measure our success are public information, easily available and instructive as hell if you’re looking to understand what’s really going on in Abbotsford. It’ll surprise you if you’ve been surviving on a steady diet of news from the Chamber of Commerce, Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) or any other self-interested body intent on ensuring you think everything is rosy under their management.

Have a look. It’s no secret to anyone who pays attention:

While the indicators are certainly not all negative it is important that a community make its decisions based on facts … not wishful thinking or spin. That’s how we got so far away from good public policy.

The article was interesting for more than the contortions the writer seemed forced to go through in order to justify a headline. Some of those interviewed in order to give the story credence appeared to have trouble with the apparent narrative of the headline – remember … the good news about our unemployment figures.

Among the classic quotes in the article:

“District of Mission Mayor Randy Hawes said he hasn’t seen any particular uptick in employment in the District of Mission.”

“To be honest, if [unemployment] has gone down, it hasn’t gone down a great deal that I can see.” – Mission Mayor Randy Hawes.

Was that a thinly veiled attempt to blame Mission for Abbotsford’s troubled economy? Former councillor Bill MacGregor tried blaming our unemployment on the 250 First Nations people in our midst … and that didn’t pay off very well.

Or this one …

“I think the bigger question is why are there so many more people [who] are not showing up in the labour force?” – UFV economist Sean Parkinson.

Then the following total indictment of the old guard, most notably the Chamber of Commerce which continuously tries to reduce business taxes in Abbotsford because, according to the Chamber, it is “… business and industry, who grow our economy and create jobs for our citizens.”

“I think the bigger question is why are there so many more people [who] are not showing up in the labour force?” – UFV economist Sean Parkinson.

Abbotsford News screengrab showing no change in jobs despite population increase.

Abbotsford News screen grab showing no change in jobs despite population increase.

We’re Headed In A New Direction In Spite Of The Old Guard …

… Not Because Of Them

Instead of continually selling the dead duck about how great things are going in Abbotsford, why can’t the old guard just face the fact it has done a miserable job building  a city which can’t even find jobs for its children.

Instead of pretending our singular approach to criminalizing poverty, mental illness, addiction and alcoholism has worked, why can’t the old guard seem to figure out that by ignoring everything except its own self-interest it broke the city in which it is trying to make money?

Allan Asaph. Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce.

Allan Asaph. Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce.

Why doesn’t the Chamber of Commerce tell us exactly what it has been doing in order to deserve the reduction in the taxes of its 800 members for which it keeps clamouring instead of dressing up the worst unemployment in Western Canada as though it were good news?

The other 5,400 businesses in Abbotsford may be getting a little tired of the focus the Chamber keeps bringing to the business community’s complete lack of job creation in Abbotsford. Residential taxpayers are most certainly getting tired of continually being asked by the Chamber to shoulder more of the burden of paying for a municipal government which is in a financial mess of the Chamber’s creation.

The Chamber hasn’t created a single job in the last five years … and they call themselves job creators and use that claim to justify their desire to make more money through a reduced share of the local tax burden?

After supporting every single bad idea in the last ten years which has almost bankrupted their fellow citizens they choose to make a stand on their record as job creators in order to try reduce their own taxes and have residential taxpayers pay more?

It’s almost as if they still think anybody is listening to them.

And the coup de grace is that, as Sean Parkinson points out above , they’ve even managed to convince a record number of citizens to stop looking for work because they’ve demonstrated, year-after-year that they just can’t seem to provide any jobs – good or otherwise.

Making the worst unemployment in Western Canada and a decreasing participation rate in the labour force sound like anything but a failure does a disservice to those trying desperately to fix this broken city.

Silk purse indeed.

city Hall - council

A Bright Future Based On Truth And Reality

We do have a bright future ahead of us and it is in spite of organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, the ADBA and any other self-interested remnants of the old power structure who believe that information is supposed to be molded to fit their own, narrow agenda.

The new mayor and most of his council campaigned against precisely the kind of parochial, self-interested decision making based on narratives built out of thin air to satisfy those with access to power. Mayor Brain has always prided himself on making principled decisions in politics. The new councillors got into politics in order to fix a city which has been badly broken by decisions arrived at by amateurs with no grounding in either fact or reality. And the old newspaper media has reliably cheered every big, dumb and costly idea the old guard ever came up with.

Mayor Henry BraunBecause of a new fact-based, principled approach to decision-making, our new council is making every effort to remove politics and fiction from the process. Rather than having requests for favours, complaints or important information come to individual councillors in the hopes they can influence matters – the new council is in the process of developing a proper, streamlined approach to information sharing which involves all councillors and helps council make educated decisions.

The City has committed itself to fixing our broken planning and economic development functions and reduce the number of unelected people and bodies with access to power.

It is making great strides in the right direction.

Mayor Braun has also committed to moving away from a process which, for all intents and purposes, puts highrises in farmers’ fields and industrial developments wherever a developer happens to own property.

Pretending we knew what we were doing is how we got into most of the messes we got into over the last decade. We’ll be paying for that incompetence for a long time. Continuing the pretense that all is well and choosing which parts of reality we want to believe in may get some people to sleep at night but it doesn’t make for good public policy.

Let’s not start our new council off on the wrong foot. So far, they’re doing a good job trying to get to the bottom of just how public policy got so messed up in Abbotsford.

Let’s keep self-interested unelected individuals and bodies out of public policy and allow our elected politicians do their jobs unencumbered by the kind of self-interested, unadulterated BS with which organizations like the Chamber and the ADBA have infused the public agenda in Abbotsford for far too long.

You lost the last election. You almost lost a city into the bargain. Stay on the sidelines where you belong and stop pontificating about things you don’t understand.

P.s. We received this question from a reader this week –

“How is it that when I read the economic news from an unbiased media like you or the internet freelance writers and go down the street and see all the vacant buildings, the economy seems in trouble, but when I read the [local newspapers], they [seem to] say we have the highest employment and such.

“If these people are working, what sector of the economy are they working in?”

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