Abbotsford mayoral and councillor candidates discussed their respective visions related to the city’s sports, arts and culture and parks and recreation in front of a packed house inside the Abbotsford Sports Legacy Centre on Tuesday evening.
Every mayoral and councillor hopeful was in attendance for the event, except for councillor candidates Harry Manocha and Harvey Jongsma. The reason for their absence was not known.
The event, which was hosted by Sport Abbotsford, the Abbotsford Arts Council, Tourism Abbotsford and CIVL Radio opened with each candidate introducing themselves to the audience.
Prior to the event, candidates were sent four questions by the meeting organizers and they had 60 seconds to answer. Mayoral and councillor candidates both received the same set of questions.
QUESTION ONE: What do you see as the City of Abbotsford’s role in improving the current sport culture?
Councillor candidate Vince Di Manno stated that Abbotsford is short two pools and swimmers often have to leave Abbotsford to train. He said Abbotsford is behind its neighbours in terms of numbers of facilities.
Councillor candidate Josh Reynolds said better maintenance and investment of the current sports facilities is needed, the culture around city hall needs to improve regarding sports and invest in capital assets. He urged to invest now.
Mayoral candidate Eric Nyvall said he pledges to move the agenda forward and avoid a 20-year plan to build facilities.
Mayoral candidate Nadine Snow said better use of facilities is key, adding that groups need to work together to share what we have.
Mayoral candidate Henry Braun said the solution to the problems are money and land. He added he has helped the city’s finances since coming aboard as mayor and they now have financial stability to do things.
Councillor candidate Paul Redekopp pointed to Sumas Mountain as a potential big draw for mountain biking.
Councillor candidate Kelly Chahal stated that sports are everyone and now that the city’s fiscal house is in order they can allocate resources accordingly.
Councillor candidate Bruce Banman said to start spending some of our reserves on sports, arts and culture now. He said a master plan is great but advocated having an action plan.
QUESTION TWO: How will you ensure that local grassroots arts organizations are supported by the city?
Councillor candidate Patricia Ross said she would advocate to increase funding for local arts groups, and to promote and attend local events.
Councillor candidate Ross Siemens stated as the city grows a separate arts and culture council department would be something he works for.
Councillor candidate Sandy Blue said facilities and management should be kept separate from programming and to build on what is already there.
Councillor candidate Jas Anand suggested creating more events where artists can display their skills.
Banman said there is more to a city than sidewalks and sewers and those in power must listen more to the grassroots.
Councillor candidate Les Barkman said the city is too hooked up on policy and procedure and focus on common sense and get some action done.
Councillor candidate Aird Flavelle stated he would put more money into the culture budget, noting that of the $34 million allocated to the PRC budget is $34 million and of that money very little goes into culture.
Councillor candidate Dave Loewen questioned whether culture should be lumped in with parks and recreation in the budget, and that doing that would sharpen the city’s focus on culture.
Mayoral candidate Gerda Peachey stated she has been experimenting with wild mushrooms and feeling under the weather. She shared her unhappiness with the usage of the Abbotsford Centre.
Mayoral candidate Moe Gill said his grandchildren love the arts and he wants to continue working with local arts groups.
Mayoral candidate Trevor Eros said his professional wrestling training is a great combination of sports and arts, and he wants to support and listen to the local artists.
QUESTION THREE: What are some solutions you propose to drastically shorten the timeline of new sporting facilities?
Braun said the city is ready for grant applications as soon as the federal and provincial government lay them out, and the plan in place will help move things forward.
Redekopp said DeLair Park is the perfect location for a Kamloops-style baseball park, and Abbotsford has the potential to draw teams from all over the province and can be the new tournament capital of B.C.
Loewen said using partnerships that come with money will help shorten timelines. He shared that, according to community feedback on the master plan, trails and not baseball is what the community was asking for.
Councillor candidate Brenda Falk said taxes would have to be increased drastically to fulfill all the dreams people have, but that using partnerships when available and sticking to the current plan of maintaining facilities is the most wise use of tax dollars.
Chahal admitted that some timelines are long, but she said the city needs to be flexible and responsible with taxpayer’s money.
Barkman said he has been working on the DeLair Park deal for over two years, and that we should act fast when people want to spend money in our city.
Banman said what you’re hearing from mayor and council is that savings in the piggy bank is more important than our kids. He added there is a lack of vision for the future.
Anand said a stadium at UFV would be a big benefit for the community and its athletes.
Di Manno said a focus group he participated in for the master plan did not discuss trails, but that the group’s number one priority was a new swimming pool.
Siemens said respectful relationships with senior levels of government will help shorten timelines.
Councillor candidate Dave Sidhu noted partnerships with organizations like UFV and senior levels of government would help shorten timelines.
Ross recalled visiting Abbotsford’s sister city in Japan and that after building new sports facilities they saw a decrease in crime. She said she won’t promise to drastically shorten timelines, but will talk about the chances of doing that.
Reynolds said there is enough room in the budget to move forward priority projects now. He brought up the YMCA being turned down by mayor and council and the stalling of the Grant Park project as concerns.
Nyvall stated he wants to move these projects forward immediately, and that growth will come after they are built.
Snow said we need to build community centres to create things for young people to do. She proposed youth centres with basketball courts and skateboard park and indoor amenities for young people.
Peachey said she was against the YMCA deal, and stated more onus should be on sports people to generate money on their own and not ask the city for money.
QUESTION FOUR: Has the city of Abbotsford shown that it does more than just receive and record concerns and complaints in their public consultation process? If so, how? If not, what needs to be done?
[Responses were shortened to 30 seconds due to lack of time]
Sidhu said listening to citizens is important and pointed to the consultation with the OCP as the city listening.
Siemens pointed to the infill consultation as evidence that council has listened and will continue to.
Blue said write to mayor and council if you have any concerns.
Di Manno shared a story about the Abbotsford Olympians swimming club being rejected for land that was talked about for the YMCA. He urged staff to listen.
Chahal said the OCP is the culmination of the public’s input, and urged the public to contact staff through social media or other methods.
Falk said it’s about collaboration, partnerships and communication and that staff can’t fix what they don’t know is broken.
Redekopp said through his door knocking he is hearing that people are not being heard.
Braun said he thinks people are being heard and there has been unprecedented feedback on the OCP. He said everything sent to mayor and council gets a response.
Peachey disagrees that mayor and council listens and responds.
Snow said people feel they are not being heard because there is a lack of information sharing system. She said much of the reading is dry and questioned how to better communicate that information.
Gill said the best thing to do is listen and act upon it.
Eros said mayor and council is not listening to every voice possible and pointed to the poor voter turnout as evidence.
Nyvall said he was told in school that we have two ears and one mouth and use them in that proportion.
Reynolds said the voting patterns of council prove there is a lack of open dialogue and added elect candidates who will provide input.
Ross said they have adjusted plans based on community input and would appreciate suggestions on how to do things better.
QUESTION TO NYVALL, BRAUN AND GILL: What will you do to promote a multi-sport complex?
Braun stated the surplus money in the budget is allocated for things like sanitary, storm, water and those kinds of things. He said money and land are what is needed and that DeLair Park will not get built unless the ALC lets that land out. He would like to move it all forward and if there are ways to do it he is all for it.
Gill said people are telling him Abbotsford swimmers are going to Langley because they have better facilities. He said there is a shortage of land and we need to figure out how to solve that problem. We need these facilities yesterday.
Nyvall said theses facilities are needed today. He added that the time to take action is sooner rather than later. He advised not waiting to build.
Loewen rebutted and said Plan A still has $55 million owing (debt). He said the community may question why we are spending so much money on sports when there are other needs.
Siemens rebutted and said a proper business plan is needed by any groups wanting new facilities.
Banman rebutted and said it’s about priorities and that council and mayor have said that infrastructure is more important than sports and arts and culture for our kids.
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