Abbotsford council hasn’t exactly become a cauldron of conflict since the last federal election, but unanimous votes are no longer quite as prevalent as during Mayor Henry Braun’s first term as mayor.
About eight per cent of all non-routine votes involved at least one dissension on council, an analysis of a year’s worth of votes after last October’s municipal election shows. And despite the appearance of just one new face on council, that’s a sharp increase from the four years prior, when about 96 per cent of such votes were unanimous.
As in the previous term, Coun. Les Barkman has been the most frequent dissenter, with 13 minority votes. Coun. Bruce Banman, who assumed outgoing Coun. Moe Gill’s seat following the 2018 election, has the second-most nay votes, at seven. (That’s roughly on par with Gill’s above-average rate over his final four-year term.)
AbbotsfordFirst councillors have also found themselves splitting from their colleagues more often. In the first year of the current term (this analysis does not include the last two council meetings), Couns. Ross Siemens, Kelly Chahal, Sandy Blue or Brenda Falk have failed to vote the same way on eight different occasions. That only happened nine times through the entirety of the last council term.
Siemens said he and his AbbotsfordFirst colleagues, while focused on the same governance issues, don’t caucus before votes and inevitably look at issues differently.
“We come from a diverse background, so we will have a different lens or different emphasis we put on different issues that come forward,” he said. “I think that manifests itself in how the votes are.”
Braun has also found himself in the minority on three issues – the same amount as his entire first term.
(Coun. Dave Loewen was the only councillor to be on the prevailing side of every vote, while Coun. Patricia Ross cast four opposing votes, in line with the previous term.)
Although dissension is more common on council, it’s still not the norm. The vast majority of council votes are still unanimous, and, with a couple exceptions, those that aren’t, rarely involve city-wide issues or policies.
Barkman’s record of opposition, for one, is magnified by the fact that he has frequently cast lone dissensions on individual development applications – particularly those involving parking or traffic issues. Like Siemens, the voting record inevitably reflects his background, particularly his experience as a former city worker.
Braun said the predictability of council is valuable, particularly on large issues, because it provides reassurance to investors, businesses and residents who apply to the city for various reasons.
He said the focus needs to remain on the underlying rules and regulations that influence how city staff deal with applications before they get to council.
“We now have laid out a plan that is predictable, so you should be treated the same as someone on the other end of town on the same thing.”
Braun said dissensions that conflict with developments that meet city guidelines and rules should be redirected toward those underlying policies.
Notable dissensions from the council’s first year:
• April: Braun and Chahal vote against increasing the amount of money spent on celebrating 25 years since amalgamation. (Loewen and Barkman were absent.)
• June: Banman, Barkman and Chahal vote against changes that reduce the maximum height and size of homes in central neighbourhoods. (Ross was absent.)
• October: Braun, Falk and Siemens vote against considering We Town in the McKee Peak neighbourhood plan.
• October: Siemens votes against a new solid-waste plan that would see the city continue to pick up waste for half the city, while contracting out the other half.
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