Coun. Les Barkman says the lack of dissent at Abbotsford’s council table isn’t necessary healthy, and suggested the AbbotsfordFirst slate’s control of four votes has resulted in less independent thought among local politicians.
Last week, The News reported that Abbotsford council had voted unanimously on 96 per cent of the 2,400 motions cast at public meetings over the last three-and-a half years. The analysis prompted reaction from several people gearing up for campaigns as the fall’s municipal election approaches.
Markus Delves, the president of the AbbotsfordFirst elector organization that boasts four council members, wrote to The News to say the unanimity was a sign that city hall “is functioning well, both at the staff level and at the council table.”
Mayor Henry Braun and AbbotsfordFirst Couns. Kelly Chahal, Brenda Falk and Sandy Blue only found themselves in the minority on an issue on three occasions or fewer. And Coun. Ross Siemens only dissented a few more times.
Independent Coun. Dave Loewen, whose found himself in the minority on a similar number of issues to Siemens, wrote on LinkedIn that the agreement stems from work early in the term to clay out an agenda and vision for the coming four years.
“Speaking for myself, if I know that a given proposal matches council’s priorities and meets all the requirements set out in policies and bylaws that we as council have already accepted, it becomes a more straight-forward process of approval and eliminates frivolous debate,” Loewen wrote on LinkedIn. “In short, this council has been the most effective council I’ve served on.”
But Coun. Les Barkman suggested the presence of four AbbotsfordFirst slate members on council – and their consistent agreement with Braun, who isn’t a member – has made votes overly predictable.
The slate’s four members haven’t always been in agreement with one another, and have said they have independence to make their own decisions and deviate from their colleagues. The News’ analysis found slate members have disagreed with one another very rarely, but also that no vote has come down to four AbbotsfordFirst members on one side and four independent councillors on the other.
Barkman has been the most frequent dissenter on council, casting minority votes on 30 different issues – nearly always either alone or with just one fellow councillor. He had been on vacation and couldn’t be reached for comment before the original article was published.
“I have nothing against the people in the slate,” he said, before saying independence leads to better decisions. “I think the rest of council can get complacent and maybe not do as good a job on homework or researching things when you know that there’s always five people who can vote the same way. I don’t think that’s good for governance.
“I just can’t believe that on 99.9 [per cent of] things, everybody is thinking the same way.”
Mayoral candidate Gerda Peachey also says more debate is needed.
“If nine people who were elected to represent all of the city, sit down to publicly deliberate on important matters brought before them, then the public should reasonably be able to anticipate there will be some robust discussion on the motion at hand,” she said.