By Elsie Neufeld. Election 2014 is only nine months away, but I already know I won’t be voting for Mr. Banman as mayor. For many reasons.
In June of last year, following the “manure incident” (which the mayor on March 4, 2014, said “we need to stop festering about”), a wave was unleashed in Abbotsford. A wave that swept underneath the feet of us all. Some immediately swam to shore and fled in an opposite direction. Others went into a place of complete denial, or worse, convinced themselves, “it was only a little truckload of manure.” Others, my self included, have been unable, and unwilling to get off the ride, and have become involved directly, and/or indirectly, as advocates for the homeless. That, in my opinion, is the ultimate redemption of the manure incident. Engagement with and for those who were so violated.
Like it or not, the mayor and city council were swept along, too, and unable to drift away, as the order to manure the homeless came directly from within city hall. Thus, any attempts to swim away, were, and continue to be met with resistance by Abbotsford citizens who refuse to forget and just “move forward” as the current mayor repeatedly advises we do. This, though he has yet to spell out the detailed pragmatics of how to “move forward,” i.e. how to move forward in providing a low barrier, Housing First Model of supportive shelter for Abbotsford’s homeless who don’t, for whatever reason, “fit” into the existing “housing” being offered by various agencies (not criticizing those).
The mayor and Councillors Barkman, Smith and McGregor opposed the first step towards “moving forward” when they voted against supporting the proposal put forward by BC Housing & ACS to build a 21 unit apartment for 20 homeless, or at risk for homelessness, men on land owned by ACS.
On March 10, 2014, these same four elected officials all opposed the second step towards “moving forward” when they voted against the motion put forward by Councillor Braun to revisit that decision. The mayor denied any opportunity for Councillor Braun to explain why he made that motion. The mayor also overrode Councillor Ross’s concern that no opportunity was given for Braun to explain his motion.
The vote on March 10, 2014 was identical to the first vote: Four in favour; four against.
If the consequences of that oppositional vote weren’t so tragic, it might have been comical as the “no hands” rose with such syncopation, they appeared robotic.
But enough has already been said about those two missed opportunities.
What hasn’t yet been said publicly is what took place during a meeting I had with the mayor on Friday, February 21, when I went to city hall to obtain a special events permit from the deputy city manager for a rally held on February 24, 2014, in response to the first no vote on February 17.
It was an impromptu conversation, one that cemented my decision to not vote for Mr. Banman in the November 2014 civic election.
It went like this. As I was walking to the city hall steps, past the auditorium, I had a sudden thought. Call it instinct. Call it an epiphany, one you don’t understand, but choose to heed. “Visit the mayor. Invite him to attend the rally.”
And just as that thought completed, I rounded a corner and there, before me, coming down the outside stairs, was the mayor!
“Mr. Banman,” I said. I reached out my hand to shake his. “I’ve come to invite you to attend Monday’s rally.”
“I have a previous engagement,” he replied. He shook my hand, without coming to a full stop, as if in a hurry to get elsewhere.
“I came to tell you that this rally is not about bashing the mayor or city councillors who voted no, neither to bash the ADBA or the Chamber of Commerce.”
“Well, it sure feels like it is,” he said.
“I want to tell you that if you attend, I will stand beside you. If there is anyone who wishes to bash you, they’ll have to get past me,” I said.
“Walk with me,” he said. And so I did. Turns out the mayor’s destination was an outdoor hockey game, with city staff playing against a team that I no longer recall.
And so we walked. And he talked. And he talked. Told the story of why he voted against the proposal, much in the same way he continues to tell it. I won’t repeat it here; that narrative has been published and aired on radio and televised.
We didn’t get past the fountain. I stopped. He hadn’t yet asked me a question. I told him I needed to get to city hall asap, to pick up a special permits event.
“You don’t need one,” he said.
“I’ve been informed I do,” I said. “And we want to do this by the books.”
I shook his hand again, and again invited him to the rally on Monday, and again, assured him I’d stand beside him. He thanked me, and said “I might be able to get out of part of my meeting.”
I proceeded to the reception desk in city hall, only to be told that Deputy City Manager Jake Rudolph had just left to play hockey.
Barely had the receptionist conveyed that information, when the mayor appeared. Said, in friendly tone, that he’d met Jake outside, and told him I was looking for him, and that Jake asked him to convey to me that he’d return in ten minutes or so and not to leave.
The mayor invited me to come watch the game. I declined, expecting him to leave. Instead, he stood with me, like a neighbour might stand with a neighbour, one on either side of the fence, chatting.
I joked about our respective disinterest in sports, and he mentioned excelling in theatre, and I managed to insert “Theater? I suppose that would be an asset for a politician.” He didn’t flinch. He kept talking.
Mostly about his childhood, youth, and young adulthood. He referred repeatedly to the influences of an aunt and his two grandfathers. Their values. Then he went on to outline all that had “prepared me for this”, i.e. his being mayor. The preparations included theatre, yes, but also being in clubs that taught him Robert’s Rules of Order. And there was more, much too much to include here.
A good personal historian listens with all five senses. Attends to the pauses in speech, the words not said, the changes in tone and inflection, the eye movements, the hand gestures, even the hair – the colour, and style. How it is kept in place. With or without product. How much product. Whether the hair moves freely or is kept, hair by hair, in place – regardless of weather.
There was a pause after the mayor, somewhat sad-toned, mentioned missing his grandfathers. I said something about never having one, that one had been executed, and the other had starved to death. But what a good Opa my father had been. I shared an intimate detail about a scene at my father’s viewing.
There was a pause. Then another. And into that prolonged silence, I slipped in a question. “So, Bruce. If you died tomorrow, and someone who knew you intimately were to place three objects onto your grave that would reflect who you were as a person, what would those objects be?”
There was a long silence. The mayor turned away. He thought, and he thought. He scratched his head. “When I was a child,” he said.
“No. No stories. You may only name an object.”
The mayor thought some more.
The clerk behind the desk on which we both leaned, moved closer. She kept busy with her hands, but the air was rife with her listening.
Finally, he said. “Bag of laughter.”
I remained silent.
The process of his silent thinking continued. I waited quietly.
“I can’t think of an object, but I would have to say it would be integrity.”
I remained silent. He remained silent.
“And the third?”
He remained silent for another long while.
“Family. I guess it would have to be family,” he said.
“So, perhaps a photo of your wife and children?”
“My grandfathers and cousins and my aunt. All of them.”
“What an interesting question,” said the clerk.
I nodded. “It’s one I ask people in our first meeting when I teach life-story writing. It’s very telling.”
The mood shifted suddenly. “I’ve played the game about the words I’d like on my gravestone,” he said. And I heard, but no longer recall the details, except that he laughed. He left then, returned outdoors to watch the hockey game.
I’ve thought about his answer to the question often since that conversation.
The mayor didn’t show up at the rally, and someone there said his office window overlooked South Fraser Way, not the Thunderbird Stadium where 300 persons met on the worst weather day of the year to show support for ACS and to commit ourselves to being a voice for the homeless. According to the police, City Hall was on lockdown throughout the rally. Keyless entry only, and the elevator out-of-service also. Perhaps the mayor went out for lunch; perhaps he ate lunch at his desk between 12-1pm.
Should Mr. Banman choose to run for mayor again, he will not receive my vote. He may think it is because he voted against the proposed supportive housing for 20 men. It is, but it also is not.
I won’t vote for the mayor for two other reasons. First, his reply to my question re three objects representative of who he is. 1) Yes, laughter is essential in life. 2) Whether another person has integrity is not for me to say. I am not the judge. A person’s actions and narratives are conveyors of evidence for or against, or the mixture of each. 3) Family is important. The best kind of family is one that isn’t limited to biological connections, i.e., it includes all persons as brothers and sisters. But in his reply, Mr. Banman made no reference whatsoever to community, nor did he refer to his love of, or passion for, service. That is troublesome.
The second reason I won’t vote for Mr. Banman as mayor, is because, in our visit, he asked not a single question. How can a mayor represent the people of his community if he doesn’t ask them questions?
I am a privileged person: I am an intelligent, attractive, well-dressed, articulate woman – of middle-class income. If the mayor doesn’t ask me a question, is there any reason to believe he would ask a question of a person less privileged, and who has no address?
I wish Mr. Banman well. But my vote for him as mayor will be no.