Feature Story Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Candidates Square Off
Chilliwack City Hall election heats up with huge draw to Monday forum
Chilliwack City Hall candidates put their best foot forward in front of a packed house Monday. Below, Chamber pres Kirk Dzaman emceed.
ot voting in elections is endemic across most of the developed world. Municipal elections seem to draw the least amount of interest with about a 30 per cent turnout. In Chilliwack, that number is even less at 17 per cent.
People donít vote for a variety of reasons. It may be lack of interest, or a negative attitude toward politicians and politics. Some people may feel that their vote doesnít matter. But on Monday, about 450 voters showed up at the Cultural Centre Monday evening to hear a full slate of candidates speak at the largest and most well-attended forum in recent memory in Chilliwack.
Questions were drawn, as were candidateís names, who answered with timed responses from 1-2 minutes. The forum was hosted by the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Business Improvement Association.
Later, candidates were given the option of one minute to answer a question that had already been discussed, ask for a new question, or speak on a topic of their choosing. Incumbent Ken Popove was the only one to ask for a new question.
On Wednesday, Chilliwack BIA executive director Kyle Williams told The Voice in e-mails that they wanted to clear up any misconception that may have arisen over the selection of questions/candidates.
ďWe tried to be as transparent as we could with drawing the names and the questions,Ē wrote Williams.
The following are the questions and candidate's answers. The free-for-all round as well as opening and closing remarks have been omitted.
Q. What do you plan to do to improve relations between first nations and meaningfully include First Nations interests in the community planning process?
The City of Chilliwack should not support the extinguishment of Aboriginal rights, but rather support and implement joint land use, planning and protection of traditional uses. Additionally, the City should acknowledge the unceded Aboriginal land co-management for our shared destiny. We should celebrate our heritage, but we should also look forward to the future. I have been at Stolo Nation and have had conversation with a lot of friends... I'm originally from Toronto, I was not brought up that way. I'm shocked about the stereotype that happened. We've all heard it and I have sat with really good friends of mine that are high up in Stolo Nation and I have actually been to Stolo Nation in the past and they invited me to Remembrance Day ceremony tomorrow, which I will be at and my children will also be at.
Having grown up around a lot of First Nations people and having them as part of my family, I think that we need to embrace them a little bit more and meet with them and see how we can work together. That's what I'd like to do and because I have a good relationship with First Nations people I'd like get together and let's join together, letís be a community.
The obvious, in order to improve our relationship we need to sit down face-to-face and talk openly and honestly. That's the best way to improve any relationship. I have worked with many First Nations people both through social work and my current business in the funeral home and I spent a lot of time on the prairies in other communities. I've also been, for more of the six years I've been on council, I established the Aboriginal Relations Committee of the Fraser Valley Regional District. So I've worked in that area as well, and again, in building that relationship, you have to talk face-to-face, that's the best way to accomplish any relationship. If you're not honest and open and willing to sit down and talk then it won't happen.
Q. Regarding Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion, in case of a spill municipalities will likely be first responders and possibly saddled with a portion of the cost of cleanup. Where do you stand on expansion and do you think the risks are worth it?
I don't believe the City of Chilliwack would be saddled with the cleanup costs. Kinder Morgan being a private sector corporation and they would be getting a fairly hefty bill from the City of Chilliwack if resources are expended to affect a cleanup.
Kinder Morgan's been operating in the community for a very long time. They own the right-of-way. We have some concerns; we've outlined those concerns very clearly to Kinder Morgan. Most of the questions have been haphazardly answered. Not all of the questions have been answered to our satisfaction. We're resourcing the regional district as an intervener in the NEB hearings and there's a lot more information coming forward.
I have some concerns when I hear Chuck say that the questions have been haphazardly answered it concerns me a great deal. In their situation, you would think the company would be very quick to respond.
I don't think the risks are worth it. I know there's an economic reason to have it, etc. etc. but I think the potential for a leak in the future is such that I don't think the risks are worth it, no.
I don't think the risks are worth it. Right now, with what's happening in Burnaby, the municipality of Burnaby was involved in a court case because Kinder Morgan cut down trees in the park and it was overridden by the National Energy Board and what I'm worried about is that if something happens in our community, and our municipality has a problem with that, are we going to get overridden by the National Energy Board. There's a precedent set here. I think it sets our at risk and not having any power resonates in our community.
Q. What update to infrastructure will be needed to accommodate all the truck traffic on Lickman Rd.?
There needs to be some work done. Congestion is going to occur there with more expansion of development. We need to partner up with our provincial government and do some work on some overpasses and fast track that and press our MLAs for that on Lickman Rd and also Prest Rd. I think we need to fast track that, I can't see it 5 or 6 years down the road.
This is kind of part my platform and I think when we take a look at some of the congestion happening at Lickman, I think when we start planning some of these businesses and developments, we should look into infrastructures before we commit to building or expanding any of our existing businesses. Not just only for Lickman overpass but some of congestions around Watson, congestion around Prest Rd. and congestion around the new (unintelligible) crossing. All that's congested and its all back to basics for us and as a council member, I would look into improving those infrastructures because without proper infrastructures and roads, we can't continue to develop.
I can't speak specifically about that overpass. To me this highlights how little information is available on the (City) website.
I don't know what update to infrastructure is slated to accommodate the increase, or the anticipated increase in truck traffic. However, I do know the building of community infrastructure for the future is the single most important role of a City councillor.
Q. The city of Chilliwack has a strong agricultural connection; will you support and maintain industry of agriculture in our community?
Of course I'm going to support our agricultural community. I think we're looking at somewhere around $800 million that we are involved with when it comes to the amount of money actually made in the agriculture industry. So, it's really important to concentrate on ALR land, keeping it in the ALR.
As I've said before, agriculture is so important in our community. It's not only the bringer of 1-in-5 jobs, it's also a big part of who we are in the community. I am definitely for agriculture. Currently, I sit on the Chilliwack Agriculture Commission and the Agriculture Advisory Commission and I have seen so much politicking going on in our agriculture industry and looking at updating the processes and taking it into the future. We will not build on agricultural land.
I am an active farmer and absolutely support that and that being said, I'm passionate about agriculture, I'm passionate about what the economy produces here in Chilliwack. I actively volunteer my time to sit with the City Agriculture Advisory Committee and have concerns about what happens if land is removed from the ALR, what are we going to do, expect California to feed us? I'd also like to see the urban planning ventures, circle farm tours, encourage and it would be great to see an increase in farmers markets in this community. We have so much around us. We need to capitalize on that.
Q. What is CEPCO (Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation) and does Chilliwack need to be associated with them?
CEPCO is the envy of many municipalities. It's a municipal corporation with a board of directors appointed by City council, so it's a direct arm of the City and it enables the City to do things we would not be able to do and it's an amazing tool. We can thank CEPCO for many of the businesses that operate in this community and our traffic here for the Pacific Regional Training Centre development and to the University of the Fraser Valley operating here now on our their new campus, so does it need oversight from government? Certainly it does, but fundamentally what CEPCO does is a core piece to Chilliwack strength and our economy.
CEPCO is an arms-length corporation owned by the City of Chilliwack and a Class A shareholder in the City of Chilliwack. Does Chilliwack need to be associated with them? Absolutely. Chilliwack is integral to be associated with them. CEPCO has brought millions and millions of dollars of investment into this community. They've created jobs. Do they have to do a better job of sharing the good work that they do? Absolutely. A few years ago, when I first ran for council, I wanted to learn more about CEPCO so I walked through the office and started asking questions. In fact, they were very open about sharing the good work that they do and I think that we need to continue to support CEPCO just as they continue to engage and tell the community about the good work that they're doing on our behalf, which includes millions of dollars of investment, donations to the university, to the hospital etc.
I'm supportive of CEPCO and I'm thankful for all the businesses that they have brought to Chilliwack. In all together, I think it's been a very positive thing for Chilliwack to help Chilliwack grow commercially. Keep up the good work CEPCO.
We need them to explain in plain language so that we know what they're doing.
Q. What role does council play with employment, homelessness and immigration?
When these people are living in town and they crash an empty house and live in there (unintelligible) with neighbours. We have organizations in place to help deliver a good economy, with immigration we have community services to help new immigrants to learn language and the employment, I think CEPCO is also involved because its bringing in businesses to town which bring employment, so I think the City is involved in all these things and should be involved in it continuously.
The role of council is going to be as ambassador for all these areas. For poverty, we've got various homeless shelters in the community and they should be making sure that they know that these services are available so the gentlemen who are down under the bridge by the MacDonaldís there, the City staff has to go down there and talk about some of the services that are available. This information also needs to be available on the (City) website. People need to be able to find this information so that anyone can go up to these gentlemen and have this conversation. As for schools, we've been getting a lot of international students and part of that is immigration. And the employment, CEPCO is a key financial in how we run our businesses and set up our city to work for businesses are key factors.
We have a project currently on the street right now asking these people (homeless) what they need. If you build it will they come? There are many partners that are in (unintelligible); the Salvation Army, Ruth & Naomiís and the newly opened Cyrus Centre which all have outreach to go out on the streets and talk to these people. We're not immune to this; every community has got their social issues. We are totally involved. We are in it. We are trying to establish some kind of a homeless shelter and housing possibly and our Health Contact Centre which is totally involved.
Q. In March of this year, the province published a report on the state of flood protection including Chilliwack, have you read the report and do you think that flood protection should be a priority?
"Read" would be an overstatement if any of you have seen that report. I have looked at it (laughs) Certainly as every Chilliwack resident knows, our history shows that Chilliwack in a flood plain, much of it is. It has flooded before and the protection of our community is integral to the health of our economy, our society. We can't operate unless we have security, knowing that we're not going to be flooded. So, certainly it is, but I think our community is well on top of it. We watch our flood levels very closely and I think we've done a great job thus far to keep prudent, but we're on the right track.
No, I haven't read the report. But it needs to stay a priority in the City. If we let it go, eventually you're going to pay for it. So lets stay on top of it every time we think about it.
I have read most of the report. A fairly in-depth report of areas that are relevant in Chilliwack. It's a good blogging document for discussing the flood matters with the federal and provincial government. Yes, I support flood protection and various methods of doing it. We need to keep our river clean and flowing. We have about a $35 million deficit in terms of infrastructure, diking, flood protection (unintelligible). It's a project that we do every year in partnerships with the provincial and federal governments and if you have any say with your MLAs and MP, please keep that issue front and centre. It's an environmental issue, it's human protection, it's infrastructure and it's protection of our agriculture having flooding in this community, would be absolutely devastating and we need to keep that front and in focus in (unintelligible) planning.
As an educator working for the Justice Institute of BC and the paramedics, I have done quite a bit of study and yes, I have read parts of it, some of it tends to put me to sleep, but emergency preparedness, we have a 1-in-50 chance of having an extremely large flood here which will absolutely devastate this community. A 1-in-50 chance over the next 50 years. It's really, really important to lobby the provincial and federal governments to get our dykes up to par.
Q. Recently, a mail out from CUPE BC was sent in the mail recommending that members vote for specific candidates. When some candidates receive backing from special interest groups, how can the voter be reassured that the councillors will fight for the needs of the majority and not just for special interest groups?
I did not receive the mail out. I'm not being represented by special interest groups. I'm an independent operator. I will bring independent and critical thinking skills to my role as city councillor.
I've been a little left out. I'm not going to deny that. I did not receive the CUPE BC mail out. So I am not being backed by anybody. I am a single mom with children and they happen to be teenagers, I think everybody knows how difficult that can be. Reading a whole bunch of Facebook comments probably made people realize I was not going to be a person to be bought. So, I'm here for the people and thatís who I represent.
I'm not supported by any special interest groups. My supporters are grass roots and they come from all different walks of life and so I will be making conscious decisions when I get into council.
Q. What issues are there in putting a hazardous waste facility in close proximity to the Fraser River?
My position is that I believe it's terribly unfortunate that the public was not aware of exactly what was being proposed at this location. (Applause)
It is obviously before the courts. The courts have to decide if prudent leadership was done in this respect and if this city followed its course. It's also an option I understand, I don't know all the issues surrounding this because I'm not on council, its also an option I understand to look at a different location within the community and we need to await the courts to decide if the city can go ahead with it. Then we as a council and whatever you do decide to (illegible), there might be some new ideas, some new visions. Should you take the time to elect some new people to council and I know I want to look a this very carefully because I don't know if I'm in favour of it being this close to the Fraser River.
As has been stated, it's still before the courts. We don't know what that decision is going to be yet. If the courts were to decide that the City did it's due diligence in it's thought process, then the Ministry of Environment will still have an opportunity to speak about that and air their opinion. Beyond that, the City is requiring Evitas to sign a very, very detailed covenant regarding how the community will be protected in the case of a flood or other incident. We did not go into this with our eyes closed. We did our due diligence as council, we found all the facts and now it's been decided upon by the court and then the Minister of Environment whether or not it will proceed or not.
If the decision is that it can proceed... (cut off for lack of time).
This question is a difficult one for us and our website has a whole lot of information on this which I would suggest that all of you read (applause) because there is a lot of information out there. Secondly, as a council, yes we did vote in favour of it but we really felt that they would've met every environmental possibility. If in fact it goes back to your City Council, then your council will definitely look at it again and we will go into it with an open mind, but right now it is in front of the courts so it's difficult for me to go into too many details on it, but I would really encourage you to go to our site and read all about it. There's so much detail on there and then decide for yourself and don't always necessarily always believe everything you hear out there. That would be my stance.
Q. The City of Chilliwack has set in motion a plan to bring more vitality downtown including the development of property at Five Corners, what steps would you take to continue supporting the revitalization of the downtown?
I've been supportive of what is happening downtown with Walas Concepts and what they're currently doing. I think what we need to do as a city is follow through with the plan all the way through from A-to-Z and I find that we do that, follow the plan, from a recognizable company like Walas we can actually plan for a better city. I know things are in motion to do that, but we can got to take that one step further and actually follow through and I think that's what we haven't been doing in the past. That's why we're seeing our downtown half-finished and half-unfinished.
I definitely support downtown revitalization. I'm not 100 per cent sure, I look at what's happening with the Walas Concepts and the idea of the City buying all the different land and redeveloping. I don't really know 100 per cent if that's the answer. I took up an idea with CEPCO a couple of years ago with Jack (unintelligible) who developed (unintelligible) BC and we're talking about the 100 Mile Diet and doing like a 100 Mile Market. We are so setup for that. We have agriculture. We have every type of Agriculture that we can think of and I think it needs to be more a mixed use and we really need to incorporate what we have, but I definitely support it. I would like to see more information on the Walas Concept. I've been doing my research and I'm not sold on that's an answer and I do have a problem with bringing someone in from the Netherlands and I'd like to see someone from Vancouver ... (cut-off due to time)
Yes, I support downtown revitalization projects. But I think it's just as important that we support downtown revitalization, it's important to understand the issues the City should be and should not be a part of. The work we're doing to assemble property and redevelop, clean it up and get it ready is good work. We will continue to do that. I will support that. We need action. But there are seven problems with the downtown that we need help on. We need to work with the provincial government, the federal government on issues around mental health, poverty (unintelligible) and that you too can be a part of the solution of downtown and help revitalize it by going and shopping there Do not wait for government to revitalize it. You can be a part of that positive change. (applause)
See more candidate photos below. Download The Voice's audio of the free-for-all question round here.
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Thanks for looking. Good luck to all the candidates on November 15, 2014.