Feature Story                                                                         Monday, November 17, 2014


Chilliwack Chooses

Battle of the ballots 2014 elections held some surprises

Staff/Voice photos


Candidate Phill Bruce (C) along with his wife and family enjoyed themselves at the Royal Hotel Saturday. Below, Patti MacAhonic and Dan Coulter.


t was an exhilarating climax to Chilliwack politics Saturday as 14,883 voters made their way to the polls to elect 17 City Hall candidates, 2 Park Board Commissioners and 7 School Trustees.

In 2011, most candidates running in that election congregated at the Best Western for some camaraderie. This election night, they were all over the city. Sue Attrill was at Garrison Bistro, Ken Popove was at Society House, Chuck Stam was at the Capitol Restaurant, Patti MacAhonic was at the Ann Davis Society offices with Dan Coulter, Stewart MacLean was on one side of the Royal Hotel and Phill Bruce was on the other side. Cameron Hull said he would probably just be relaxing at home.

There were some surprises in this horse race. For instance, the 24-year-old Sam Waddington, astonished when he bushwhacked the other contenders by finishing in first place with 8,680 votes above Lum who finished in second with 7,842 votes. By the end of the evening, incumbent Stewart MacLean found himself out.

Not surprising, was Sharon Gaetz being elected to her third term as mayor with 10,183 votes cast in her favour, over newcomer Cameron Hull who closed with a surprising 2,731 votes. The other newcomer in the mayoral race was Raymond Cauchi, who finished a distant third with just 1,066 votes.

Chris Kloot garnered 4,916 votes to fill the 6th and final seat over Patti MacAhonic who reeled in 3,783 votes from supporters.

Incumbent Chuck Stam, slipped in popularity slightly, but came in a solid 4th with 7,132 votes behind a scrappy Ken Popove in third with 7,548 votes.

One of the shockers of the evening was the stalwart Stewart MacLean who finished just behind MacAhonic in 8th position with 3,631.

In his second attempt at City Hall, Dick Harrington surprised by finishing 11th in the pack with a substantial 3,030 votes. He was followed by another shocker which saw Phill Bruce tallying just 2,453 votes also in his second attempt at City Hall.

FVRD Election results saw Wendy Bales lose to Alec Niemi 138-167 in Area C, Lloyd Forman lost his Area A seat to Terry Raymond 85-97, Orion Engar rocketed by Leanne Herrick 204-42, Taryn Dixon beat Maxwell Newhouse and Rolf Soth 171-131-109 and Rural Area School Trustee Shelley Carter beat out Earl Babych 174-126

Patti MacAhonic gets a peck on the cheek and a rose from a supporter at her office on election night Saturday.

Results for FVRD Electoral Area Directors and for School District No. 75 (Mission) Rural Area Trustee will be posted here by November 19.

A total of 14,883 made the trip to the polls, compared to 9,343 in 2011. There were some complaints that just one ballot machine at Evergreen Hall wasn't enough at peak voting time, and also some confusion over which website was going to have the live results.

The Voice caught up with Patti MacAhonic just prior to the results coming in.

She spoke about how much it meant to her and the Ann Davis Society to get the BC Ministry of Justice Community Safety and Crime Prevention Award which she picked up recently on behalf of the Ann Davis Society.

"An organization like ours, where we have a really long-term, committed, dedicated staff get recognized for the work that we do. We see people that not everybody else will see," she said.

MacAhonic, who ran and lost in the last provincial elections, says she came into the municipal elections not knowing what to expect. What she takes away from this election are insights and appreciation for some of the candidates she says she got to know a little bit better these past few weeks.

"There's a couple that we've had conversations with that we've gotten to know through the campaign and shared ideas and values," she said. "I think what it is, is that you're working in public service, you're working with the people, the community, and even when I worked at the Chamber, people said, 'Well, isn't it different like between the Chamber and the BC Wildlife Federation?' Not really because, really small business owners are people. It's all about people and relationships and people doing their best and just recognizing that everybody's just doing the best they can, and how can we work together, how can we make that fit."

MacAhonic kept working at Ann Davis throughout her campaign busily trying to meet grant-writing deadlines and other duties.

She also said she wasn't sitting on the fence with her views and has been vociferous in making them known to voters and feels good about what she's accomplished in local politics.

It's been interesting. One thing that I think is I'm a mature person, with a lot of experience. I'm quite comfortable standing up and saying what I believe in and even if it's not the "popular" thing to say, a lot of times I'm finding is that people are talking about things in conversations but I'm not actually hearing it said out loud. Things I've said out loud in the all-candidates meetings, I'm happy with. I really am comfortable in the campaign."

She said it was a bit of a roller coaster ride on election day and when asked how confident she felt waking up Saturday morning, MacAhonic admitted "confidence" wasn't in her vocabulary.

"I think I am cautiously optimistic. But, there's such a big slate, and such strong candidates, so it depends on who gets out to vote, it really does."

Four years as a councillor is a huge commitment, but MacAhonic says she was ready for it. "Yes, and I put a lot of thought into it. I took a long time to thing to make my decision. That's why I declared at the last minute because I really wanted to make sure that I had the time and that I could make it work. I actually sit on a committee for the City, the Chilliwack Child and Youth Committee for Ann Davis and we've just been invited to the Healthier Communities Committee."

One of the first things she would be looking forward to as a fresh new face on council, is interacting with colleagues on the issues.

"Just looking forward to seeing what the agenda is, and I love debate. I love working together and having diverse opinions and coming to really informed decisions, getting research."

MacAhonic gives the example of when she worked for BC Wildlife Federation and 20 years as an advisor with the Canadian Workers Alliance.

"I had a 23-member board, and pretty much all male, and we worked on huge issues in Victoria and Ottawa depending on the portfolio, and with the debate we sometimes beat the issue to death. But, we came to good decisions, and I really love that part of it.'

Stewart McLean relaxes with supporters at the Royal Hotel on Saturday. Below, Phill Bruce kisses his wife, Menu.

MacAhonic is particularly proud of being the only female candidate endorsed by the Chilliwack firefighters.

"It's really heartwarming to know that people are willing to look at your values and where you're going with that. They approached me, which was really nice, and also, I used to be a volunteer firefighter and started a volunteer fire department and was a training officer up in northern BC in between Shelley an Prince George," she said. "It was a little small community and we didn't have fire coverage for our insurance, so I literally went around in my gumboots and did the first grant I ever wrote. It really, really means a lot to me."

MacAhonic also has some backing from the Fraser Valley Labour Council.

The Voice met up with Phill Bruce who was with family and friends the Royal Hotel, some of whom traveled from as far away as Vancouver Island to be in Chilliwack on election night.

Phill Bruce advertises on his flyers that he's socially responsible.

On Friday, he held a silent auction at Mike's Pub on Young Road for the Meadow Rose Society which assists mothers with supplies to care for their babies. He kept that under wraps until the final week. None of the other candidates did a fundraiser for a local group.

"Instead of actually having a campaign fundraiser, I donated all of our silent auction funds to Meadow Rose," beamed an enthusiastic Bruce. "We had a bunch of items that everybody brought in, and we were able to raise several hundred dollars for Kathleen Kessler's organization."

Next year, Bruce says the Fire Department, BC Ambulance, Police and the hospital staff are actually going to work on an assortment of projects that will help them out.

The election results were encouraging for Bruce who doubled his 1100 votes he got in 2011.

"It was interesting to see what the election turnout was and where everybody kind of sat in the end. Ironically, I thought the top six were the top six but I didn't expect Sam Waddington to get into first place overall," he said.

He figures you just don't get handed a seat on council and that a candidate has to earn the community's trust and faith.

Phill Bruce calls this photo his Oreo Cookie shot.

"You've got four years to prove yourself and that's what it's all about," said Bruce.

He said one of a candidates challenges is to find a ways to get the information to people to make it easier for people to actually make better decisions. Sometimes even name placement on the ballot can mean more votes. Candidates may get 2 per cent more votes just by having their name higher on the list, votes that matter in a close race.

"People think it's too complex right now and they have a hard time figuring out name recognition, and I'm not talking about myself, I'm talking about everybody else out there, its finding out what they actually believe in and how do you meet them and how do you get the information to make an informed decision about politics. For me, its going to be about getting a little more organized, and my people behind me."

He gave no definitive answer when asked about the possibility of running again in 2018.

"You know what, I have a family, and they're not really impressed with the amount of time I spent on this," he said with a chortle. "And I have to think of them first before I think of my aspirations.

As a paramedic, Bruce is out there dealing with street people all the time. He's knows where they are and what they're doing almost before they do it. The overpass area and MacDonald's is a bit of a problem area.

"Four years is a long time and there's other things I can do in the future," says Bruce who adds he is going to work with the Downtown Chilliwack Business Improvement Association (DCBIA) project underneath the overpass. That area has an abundance of problems and is a focal point for homeless. What I'd like to do is get it cleaned up and create some kind of theme like a skate park under there with some lighting and change that whole concept around there."

According to Bruce, the BIA has already announced a plan and a concept for the area and Bruce says he wants to run with it.

"I don't want to take responsibility or credit for it, it's their idea. The BIA has the concept and I would like to tackle it," he said.

For instance, Bruce says getting the hedges removed from around the Macdonald's Restaurant in that area would go a long way to improving the situation.

"The reality is the BIA recognizes that people should not have to live without proper living conditions, housing, toiletries and food." said fellow paramedic Chris Buchner. "We have to change that we as a First World society believe that it's okay for people to live under there. It's not."

Dan Coulter was elected trustee for his second term to the Chilliwack School Board.

Buchner knows Bruce better than anyone. He's worked with him for 22 years.

"When I go out on a call with Phill, I never worry about what happens behind me or in front of me, because he is always with me, beside me," explained Buchner. "As far as a candidate goes, Phill has a heart for the city. He know what it's going to take to move this city forward into the future. He has one of the biggest hearts to make an improvement with our downtown core, our homeless problems, our big business versus small business."

Buchner has complete faith in his partner's ability.

"He is phenomenal. Can a person be any more simpler than Phill?" asked Buchner. "I don't think so. When Phill says something, Phill means what he says. He says what he's going to do and he follows through. If the community of Chilliwack gives him an opportunity in 2018 to be one of their council members he will do what he says he will do."

The character and tenacity these 2014 candidates exemplified throughout their campaigns should set precedents for years to come.

In the end, Phill Bruce will go back to saving lives on the street. Patti MacAhonic will go back to putting shattered lives together.

Will we see them in the 2018 elections? We certainly hope so.








Copyright (c) 2009-2014 The Valley Voice









Thanks for looking.