Abbotsford mayoral candidate Eric Nyvall presented the most wide-ranging slate of promises at Tuesday’s all-candidates forum. But he also faced questions about the accuracy of several key facts.
In his opening statement at Tuesday’s meeting, Nyvall said he wanted the city to set up a designated camping area for the homeless, eliminate annual business licence fees, sponsor a trade delegation to India led by the mayor, and improve social infrastructure. He also said he would support electrified passenger rail service linking Chilliwack, Abbotsford and other Fraser Valley communities through the InterUrban line now used by the Southern Railway of BC.
But Nyvall also took aim at Mayor Henry Braun, saying he had denied funding that the Abbotsford Police Department had sought in order to set up a gang enforcement unit. Last year, though, the APD received a funding boost to hire four new officers and now does have a specialized “gang crime unit.” Asked by The News to clarify, Nyvall said he was referring to a 2012 vote against increasing the police budget. Braun had then said a decreasing crime rate reduced the need for more police funds.
Braun told The News Wednesday that council had acceded to every police department budget request during his time as mayor. The News has not been able to independently confirm the 2014 vote.
Questions during Tuesday’s meeting came both from a panel of business representatives and members of the audience. One audience question challenged Nyvall to back up an assertion made in a Chamber of Commerce questionnaire that the city had lost out on $700 million worth of business opportunities.
Nyvall said he was unable to fully do so, saying he had heard stories from “contacts” in a range of fields in Abbotsford, but many were unwilling to come forward. He said one opportunity was that of a hotel chain that decided to locate elsewhere because of a lack of available property in Abbotsford. He also mentioned the Molson’s brewery that was looking for property in Abbotsford but unable to find space.
“Projects that big … are just really tough to lose,” he said.
Braun questioned Nyvall’s response, saying, “I noticed the question wasn’t answered.”
“I would like to know where the other $500 million of businesses are, because I don’t think they exist.”
Nyvall didn’t respond to that contention Tuesday, but when called by The News Wednesday, he said he wasn’t backing off the statement.
“I stand by the answer,” he said, but he added that he couldn’t name names because those who had told him hadn’t granted him permission to speak on their behalf. He did cite a greenhouse company he had been told of that was willing to locate itself elsewhere in the Fraser Valley, but not Abbotsford.
Nyvall also stood by his assertion that friends and business partners of Braun had done hundreds of millions of dollars worth of development deals in the city over the last seven years. Nyvall said he didn’t think Braun had improperly voted on any issues in which he held a conflict of interest, but then suggested there was some hazard in having Braun’s son, Darren, who is the city’s director of development planning, function as Abbotsford’s approving officer.
When Nyvall made the claim Tuesday, Braun had called the assertion “nonsense,” and suggested that his mayoral opponent should “be careful what he says in public” – an allusion to the legal risks of making false and damaging statements.
Braun said he was not a developer and not an investor in any development companies.
“I have no idea where Eric is getting $250 million.”
On Wednesday, Nyvall said he was primarily referring to the work of Diverse Properties, a major developer operated by Ron Funk. Funk was once a partner in a ranch owned by Braun in the Cache Creek area. Braun says Funk sold his interest in the ranch two years ago.
Braun said Wednesday that he was “flabbergasted” with Nyvall’s assertion.
Nyvall also said Abbotsford was the murder capital of Canada in 2017. In fact, Thunder Bay, Ont., had the highest murder rate. The Central Fraser Valley still did have a particularly deadly year, with Abbotsford-Mission area finishing with the second-highest murder rate in the country among census metropolitan areas, and Abbotsford – as a city, alone – itself close behind Thunder Bay.
Nyvall acknowledged the error Wednesday. He was correct in noting the region has seen rising crime since 2014, as measured by the region’s crime severity index.