COLUMN: No sudden moves from council, or Abbotsford electorate

City should have followed other municipalities and made it easier for those without cars to vote

Six months ago, I thought it would be extremely difficult for anyone to defeat Mayor Henry Braun and the incumbents serving on Abbotsford council.

The past four years, frankly, just hadn’t featured enough discontent and scandal.

The city was no longer publicly at odds with its homeless community – arguably the biggest issue in 2014. And there was no controversial plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars – the thing that doomed George Peary in 2011.

It was growing relatively quickly, and the issues that did crop up didn’t really seem to affect large numbers of ordinary people.

The last council was aggressively and broadly middle-of-the-road. If it had a motto, it would be “No Sudden Moves.” There was simply little opposing room for opponents to stake out.

Then election stuff started happening.

Moe Gill put out a provocative press release. Eric Nyvall began knocking on thousands of doors and floating ambitious ideas, and many people started talking about how they didn’t like the existence of a slate, any slate.

As a reporter paying very close attention to all this, I started thinking there was a chance that all those incumbents could be at risk of losing their seats.

W-R-O-N-G.

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As results came streaming in, it quickly became clear that the campaign activity of the last month didn’t change much of the electoral calculus. Voters may have paid attention, but they, too, seemed to feel no urge for sudden movement.

Part of it was the fact that mayoral challengers Eric Nyvall and Moe Gill both took the position that the city could and should be growing faster. That idea perhaps has traction in certain business circles, but among the common voter, I have heard few say Abbotsford wasn’t seeing enough development. If anything, I heard the opposite – that new developments were changing the city too quickly.

No one ran hard on that idea, probably because it was doomed to fail in a pro-growth city like Abbotsford.

The public’s general satisfaction – Braun’s victory can only be read that way – ended up carrying over to the council vote, where independent incumbents thrived, and AbbotsfordFirst candidates hung on to their own seats fairly easily.

Four years will be a long time. It will be interesting to see how Bruce Banman’s return changes the dynamic of the council table. Although Gill challenged Braun for the mayoralty, before his campaign, he was neither a frequent dissenter nor speaker at the council table. Will Banman be a thorn in Braun’s side, like Braun once was in Banman’s?

Certainly, it’s not in either man’s nature to be silent. But it’s also possible both men simply may not have too much to spar about. Braun’s process-driven approach to governing is set to stay, while Banman’s campaign call for quicker amenity spending could challenge council’s fairly rigid capital planning process, but is not exactly the thing grand political battles are made of.

Then again, I’ve been wrong in the recent past.

• • • • •

One other thing to note:

The voter turnout of 35 per cent was exactly in keeping with past elections.

We can condemn people for not voting all day long, but at some point it’s worth acknowledging that many people don’t see the value in voting.

Either they don’t know what the city government does, or they don’t know enough about those running.

I sympathize. I actually live in Chilliwack, but for weeks, I was so consumed by the Abbotsford race that I frankly didn’t have much idea what was going on there.

People are busy. In Abbotsford, many don’t have roots here and aren’t as familiar with the various candidates. Millennials often don’t vote not out of apathy, but because they just haven’t lived in one place long enough to form deep political beliefs.

Many places offered free transit on election day. Abbotsford did not. Its central polling places were removed from several major bus lines. And there were also fewer places for people to vote than in 2005, when Abbotsford had 15,000 fewer eligible voters. Advance voting was held in only a single location.

If the city wants to make it easier to live in Abbotsford without a car, it should also make it easier to vote without a car. This year, it failed on that count.

Tyler Olsen is a reporter at the Abbotsford News.

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