Abbotsford mayor swept out with water project

Incumbent George Peary loses seat as P3 proposal soundly rejected

Mayor George Peary (right) congratulates mayor-elect Bruce Banman on Saturday night

Mayor George Peary (right) congratulates mayor-elect Bruce Banman on Saturday night

Abbotsford voters crushed the Stave Lake water project referendum on Saturday night, and replaced Mayor George Peary with political newcomer Bruce Banman.

More than 74 per cent of voters (23,649 vs. 8,119) said no to the plan to create a public-private partnership (P3) to create a new water source and treatment plant at Stave Lake.

Just over 38 per cent of the Abbotsford’s 86,736 eligible voters went to the polls, up from 33 per cent three years ago, and compared to a provincial 2011 average of 29.6 per cent.

Peary said while it’s hard to pinpoint just one thing, the public backlash against the P3 proposal was likely a major reason for his defeat.

“I was a champion for the P3 water project and it went down dramatically. It was way, way worse than I thought it would be,” said Peary.

Banman was opposed to the project.

Despite replacing Peary, voters returned all incumbents to city hall. The top two vote-getters, Coun. Patricia Ross and newcomer Henry Braun, both campaigned against the P3 plan.

Ross said speaking to voters prior to election night had her convinced it would be a no vote, but she was surprised by the three-quarter margin.

“People weren’t comfortable with a private company running our water for 30 years,” said Ross.

And she said people wanted to know more about the city’s options, and needed more time to learn about the issue.

“People didn’t feel comfortable with the information they had.”

She said the project got off on the wrong foot, with Abbotsford council “disrespecting our partners in Mission,” by deciding to proceed with the project despite the neighbouring municipality not approving the plan, even though the water line would be built through Mission.

Telling voters the city would run out of water by 2016 if the proposal didn’t pass was seen as applying pressure, rather than a credible assessment of the situation, she said.

The question now is what happens next?

Newly elected mayor Bruce Banman said city staff have done a lot of work and deserve to be recognized for it.

“What they were asked to do was, go find us the biggest, cheapest source of water, and go get your hands on as much federal money as you can. That’s exactly what they did … Where the train fell off the tracks was after that point.”

He said there was too much secrecy surrounding the issue.

Banman believes other options, listed in the 2010 water master plan created by AECOM for the Abbotsford Mission water and Sewer Commission, need to be examined.

Other sources examined include both Harrison and Chilliwack lakes, the Fraser River and increasing the capacity of the current water system, Norrish Creek.

“Clearly, we have people’s attention with regard to water, now is a good time for people to get involved … I’m going to be asking a lot of minds to give ideas. We need to listen a lot.”

He also plans to get Mission back at the table to discuss a joint project.

Banman said a new water supply still needs to be found.

“We are going to find a  solution to this because we have to. Our children’s future depends upon it, business depends upon it.”

The new mayor said people were against the idea of a public-private partnership and the fact that the federal government was willing to provide funding only under those conditions.

He believes other funding will be made available when needed.

“I’m sure Mr. Fast (MP Ed Fast) is going to try and find us some more money.”

Candidate Lynn Perrin was unsuccessful in her bid to become a councillor, but was still thrilled with the election results.

She is a spokesperson for Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford, which has been campaigning heavily against the P3 proposal since it first came to the public’s attention.

Water Watch will not be disbanding, and she said she’d like to get involved with the discussions of a new water supply.

Perrin said the group never had a problem with Stave Lake as a new supply, rather it was the “how and when” that was the issue.

“We should look at improving our current system first,” she said.

The water source  issue will now be put on hold, at least for the coming weeks.

City manager Frank Pizzuto said staff will not take any action other than to brief the new mayor and councillors.

He explained that in the first quarter of 2012, council will spend a lot of time on orientation, strategic directions, the 2012 budget and the water source issue.

“At that point I suspect council will give staff some direction  … so I don’t think it’s time for us to step out anywhere, other than getting council up to speed,” said Pizzuto.


Mayoral Candidates

Bruce Banman 13,837

George Peary 12,694

Gerda Peachey 2,449

Meghann Coughlan 1,619

Travis Daleman 1,443


Councillor Candidates

Patricia Ross 19,710

Henry Braun 15,649

Les Barkman 12,222

Simon Gibson 10,175

Bill MacGregor 10,168

John Smith 9,876

Dave Loewen 9,868

Moe Gill 9,686

Kevin Chapman 8,554

Vince Dimanno 8,306

Jati (Jatinder) Sidhu 8,189

Doris Woodman-McMillan 7,627

Mark Rushton 7,454

Lynn Perrin 7,259

Daljit Singh Sidhu 7,241

William Aird Flavelle 6,171

Anne Graham 6,054

James W. Breckenridge 5,732

Dave Derkson 5,600

Moe Gidda 5,421

Terry Stobbart 4,231


School Trustee Candidates

Cindy Schafer 12,087

Stan Petersen 11,630

Korky Neufeld 11,215

Shirley Wilson 11,189

Rhonda Pauls 10,962

John Sutherland 10,870

Preet Rai 10,793

Freddy Latham 10,015

Matt Thiessen 9,894

Uultsje DeJong 9,874

Balbir Gill 8,855

Arlene Ambrose 5,998

Aeriol Alderking 4,986

Ralf Landsberger 4,087

Graham Evan MacDonell 4,041

(Elected in bold)