By Mike Archer. Monday night’s council meeting provided a classic example of how Abbotsford has managed to get itself into so many messes when it comes to planning, finances and decision-making.
Councillor John Smith, whom most everybody would agree has been the most powerful Councillor over the last decade, chose his old, reliable method of getting what he wants by simply running roughshod over staff recommendations and our own zoning bylaw.
The particular issue before council was a simple rezoning regarding an objection from the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) over the proposed use of two pieces of property. The report to council from staff included recommendations which would satisfy the ALC but, perhaps more importantly, the staff report indicated that the proposed use conflicts with Abbotsford’s own zoning bylaw:
“It is planning staffs interpretation of Zoning Bylaw that the Agri-Tourism use in its current proposed form (meaning 2 parcels of land as opposed to 3 which is what Recommendation 1 a) was addressing), does not comply with our (meaning the City’s Zoning Bylaw), definition of “accessory use”.”
Paragraph 10 in the report remedies that non-compliance, which led to Recommendation 1 a) of the Report. Councillor Smith’s motion deleted that remedy. Paragraph 11 deals with the addition of the 3rd property which increases the total farm area so that the proposal would meet the accessory use definition in our zoning bylaw.
In layman’s terms – Smith removed and replaced, changed and mucked about with parts of the recommendations in order to get the proposal through despite objections from the ALC and City staff. While his remedies may end up satisfying the ALC, he seems unconcerned about our own zoning bylaw.
Setting aside or circumventing the rules in order to get something done, while it may seem a commendable way of doing things to an individual or a company wanting to get something done, is not the way to run a city.
If John Smith, or any other Councillor, doesn’t agree with the City’s zoning bylaw he or she should gather the support they need in the community and around the council table to change the zoning bylaw. Smith has certainly been in public life long enough to have developed that support and could have changed the zoning bylaw to reflect what he thought it should reflect. How is it possible that nearing the end of his third term as a councillor he is still resorting to such tactics in order to get things done for people?
If we look at the biggest problems we face as a community all of them can be traced back to exactly this kind of thinking.
Plan A was rushed through a referendum that was deliberately tilted in favour of Plan A by using City staff to phone people and ‘get out the vote’ on referendum night. Spending three times as much promoting the ‘Vote Yes’ side while denying funds to the ‘Vote No’ side, running ahead with the proposal without either a proper business plan or an anchor tenant; telling citizens Abbotsford was a “hockey mad” city when real research would have shown they could never dig up enough fans to keep the gigantic arena from losing money; ignoring the miniscule margin of success in the referendum and steamrolling over any objections or warnings which have all turned out to be true … these are the hallmarks of John Smith’s political career.
Who was it that, along with then-Councillor Bruce Beck famously told Pastor Christoph Reiners to stop feeding the poor and the homeless? Who was it who told the national news he had instructed the Abbotsford Police Department to begin dealing with the homeless problem downtown? Who was it that ran the Abbotsford Social Development Advisory Committee in such a way that absolutely nothing got done to solve homelessness during his tenure?
Properly run communities are managed by consensus, not bullying. Properly run communities are inclusive, not run at the pleasure of the rich and powerful. Properly run communities have politicians who understand the meaning of leadership.
We don’t need quick-fixers on Abbotsford Council. We need principled men and woman who follow the rules, obey the law, stick to their jurisdiction and make things happen anyway.
For that is the true skill set of a useful politician. Making things happen while following the rules and having the courage and the ability to change them if they need to be changed are hallmarks of successful politicians.
Crafting bylaws which are illegal (Anti-Harm Reduction); exceeding ones jurisdiction or authority (stopping a pastor from feeding the poor, directing the police to criminalize homelessness); ignoring loud and legitimate objections and warnings in favour of pushing ahead based on the narrowest of victories in a poorly attended referendum (Plan A) … all of these actions represent the kind of thinking which has left the City of Abbotsford in ruins as a result.
As a direct result of the decision-making driven by such thinking Abbotsford has some dubious distinctions:
- Only city in the Lower Mainland to have a negative balance in our DCC fund and no meaningful infrastructure improvements to show for it
- Some of the highest taxes, water rates and service charges of any municipality in BC with no visible improvements in roads, water, sewer or services to show for it.
- A 7,000-seat hockey rink which nobody can use except our money-losing hockey club and all too few concerts to make any sense of the millions of dollars we have spent on Global Spectrum which, like the Abbotsford Heat, just can’t seem to stop us from losing money.
- A planning process that is an absolute mess because developers can’t make money and realtors can’t make a living.
- A Chamber of Commerce whose main goal seems to be keeping competition out and lowering their share of the tax burden while virtually assuming control of the decision-making process at City Hall. The Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce has been on the wrong side of every issue of importance for over a decade and John Smith is consistently appointed the Council Liaison to the Chamber.
- One of the highest rates of HIV and Hep C in Canada
- One of the highest rates of drug use in schools in Canada
- Not a single example of low barrier housing in the entire city despite hundreds of millions of dollars of provincial money – all of which has been funnelled to high barrier shelters which help the ‘right kind of people’
This is a dysfunctional city and a large part of the blame for that lies at the feet of one man – John Smith.
He should bow out gracefully before next fall’s municipal election, pick up his obligatory exit feature in the local paper and enjoy his retirement while more competent men and women clean up the many and significant messes he has left for his friends and neighbours.
A foot note from Vince Dimanno:
Please don’t forget that every time John Smith exercises his form of governance that at least 3 other Councillors vote in favour of his motions. We have joked previously on AbbotsfordToday that Councillors Barkman, MacGregor and Loewen don’t know how to vote until John Smith tells them. This is, in effect, true. While there have been some notable exceptions to this trend by Councillor Loewen of late, the voting block of Smith, Barkman and MacGregor is actually statistically impossible to defend. There are no 3 people on this planet that agree so uniformly on so many issues. Not one single word of debate between the 3 of them … ever. That is impossible and can only come out of collusion. However, I’m sure that Councillor Smith will let Barkman and MacGregor know that they should disagree with this statement.