Some Straight Talk About Abbotsford From Someone Who Knows

By October 27, 2014Municipal Politics

By Mike Archer. Don Campbell is a respected real estate investment professional. He is the Founding Partner & Senior Analyst for the Real Estate Investment Network (REIN) and has a well-established and consistent record of getting it right when it comes to real estate values.

He’s also an Abbotsford resident with a great deal of familiarity with economic development, City Hall and the issues facing the city.

I had the opportunity to listen to him address some 200 concerned residents at Tanglebank Gardens Wednesday night at the invitation of the AbbotsfordFIRST team of political candidates.

Don Campbell at Tanglebank Gardens. Win Wachsmann photo.

Don Campbell at Tanglebank Gardens. Win Wachsmann photo.

Turning Around Negative Economic Indicators
Among the problems he focused on were economic indicators which, he pointed out, have been almost universally negative or, at the very least, under-performing, for Abbotsford for over a decade.

“We can’t keep blaming Mission for the fact we have the highest unemployment in Western Canada; as if nobody in Mission goes to work,” he said.

The issues of homelessness, affordable housing, unemployment economic stress, Campbell argued, are all symptoms of a much deeper set of problems.

Campbell pointed to a dysfunctional municipal government as the main source of Abbotsford’s economic woes which are, he argued, directly linked to the growing social problems the community is facing.

Getting Our Priorities Right
But it was not a message of doom and gloom.

It was a message about getting our priorities right. Successful communities make it easy and clear for the development community to understand what they want to look like; what they expect of developers; how developers can make money while helping the City to build the kind of community it wants to be.

“We are moving in the right direction,” he said, referring to a new sense of youthful vigour and excitement in the planning department and a more open, welcoming attitude to businesses wanting to invest in Abbotsford.

The development community across Canada will not wait forever for Abbotsford to get its act together and we need to become a community which welcomes investment, outside businesses, and families who want to live and work here, or we will continue to flounder.

Some Have Had The Inside Track
As far as the power structure at City Hall, Campbell was blunt, “There has been a very small group of insiders, operating, not at a political level, but just behind the politicians, who have bullied this community for their own benefit,” he said.

He described the atmosphere around the economic development department, until new City Manager George Murray began to make changes in the spring of 2013, as one in which developers were left with the clear impression that some local businesses had the inside track and no one was really interested in helping them get their business done.

‘The bullying has to stop,” he said.

Campbell’s statement received a spontaneous burst of applause and, though his examples were anecdotal, they were from firsthand experience and they are backed up by a survey conducted by Sherril Guthrie published in January of 2013 which found a significant number of participants who were afraid of their names being associated with the survey for fear of recrimination and punishment from City Hall.

Win Wachsmann photo.

Win Wachsmann photo.

He called on the community to stand up to the small group of insiders who have been effectively running things from behind the scenes and take control over their city back.

Abbotsford, he said, is no longer the little city in the country. Campbell said that we are no longer just a community of 30,000 people which can allow such dysfunction to continue. We are a big city of almost 140,000 and we have an incredible opportunity to be the economic hub of the Fraser Valley. Our chance to take advantage of that opportunity must not be missed.

His message about bullying was also clearly meant to include online media like Abbotsford Today and he beseeched Today Media Group to be part of the solution and raise the level of discourse above the politics of personality and get back to dealing with the issues.

The Way Forward
Abbotsford simply doesn’t have the infrastructure, the financial capability or the resources to handle the growth which is anticipated in the Fraser Valley over the next decade. It is going to be a very tough row to hoe just to get Abbotsford back into a situation where businesses, other than established, well-connected local businesses, can prosper here.

Sandy Blue

Sandy Blue

Campbell singled out AbbotsfordFIRST candidate Sandy Blue, who is the Economic Development Manager for the City of Maple Ridge, as a shining example of someone who ‘gets it.’

“Maple Ridge is one of the best performing cities in the country,” said Campbell, and put the responsibility for much of that success at the feet of Sandy Blue.

Back in 2010 Campbell ranked Maple Ridge fifth in Canada (behind Calgary, Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge, Edmonton and Surrey. He told the Georgia Straight at the time that, “In the 18 years that he has been ranking cities’ real-estate investment potential, he has never put a city as small as Maple Ridge so high on the list. In deciding his rankings, Campbell relies on objective measurements, such as whether or not the city’s average income is rising faster than the provincial average.”

Campbell’s message was clear. Abbotsford has a great deal of potential. Because of some bad political decisions; the absence of cohesive or meaningful economic development strategy; sloppy and haphazard planning and a closed power structure which has controlled the political process, we have simply not built the infrastructure or the economic framework for anybody but a small group of well-connected local business people to be able to benefit from the advantages we possess.

Campbell’s biggest piece of advice? He urged everyone, no matter who they vote for, to take two friends with them on November 15 in order to help begin the necessary change towards a new Abbotsford which can live up to its potential.

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