The future of Abbotsford’s water supply took centre stage tonight (Nov. 2) as the five mayoral candidates faced the electorate during an all-candidates meeting at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium.
Incumbent Mayor George Peary took plenty of heat from the four challengers, all of whom have already stated their opposition to the city’s plan to create a new water supply at Stave Lake as a public-private partnership.
“We have examined the alternatives … and come up with what we believe is the most economical and from all the studies we’ve done this is the best route to go,” said Peary.
He said there is no private ownership of water because the city of Abbotsford will own it.
Other candidates challenged that position.
“This is not a decision we should rush into lightly. It’s not something we should rush into at all,” said Bruce Banman.
He said there has not been enough “educated debate” on the project. Banman also commented on the city’s information campaign.
“It’s appropriate for me to tell you what my opinion is, as the city has done. It is not appropriate for me to scare the tar out of you so that you do what I say so I can fill my wallet at your expense.”
He said voters are cynical because they were “taken down this garden path” before.
Banman said the cost difference between a P3 and a publicly run facility would be about $2 million a year.
“If I remember correctly we subsidized a hockey team for $1.4 million … what’s more important – hockey or water?”
Banman also took issue with a letter he said the city sent out to people who receive water from the Clearbrook water works district, not from the city.
“It basically in a nutshell says, ‘Hey, you should vote for P3 because you don’t have to pay for it, but you get all the benefits’ … this is just outrageous to me.”
People who are on well water, or are part of the Clearbrook water works system (which has about 1,800 customers), are allowed to vote in the referendum, even though they do not pay city water rates.
Peary said “the reality is” the letter merely invited people to a public information meeting.
“If they vote in favour of this, what it means is the City of Abbotsford won’t be drawing water out of the aquifer and drawing down the wells from the Clearbrook water works. So it makes some sense for them to support this.”
Other mayoral candidates questioned the motives of big business and asked why the city hadn’t chosen another route.
“No international company is going to want this job if it’s just a little bit of profit,” added Gerda Peachy.
“If we looked at alternative methods like some sort of rain catchment, where we are harnessing the water we are getting, because Abbotsford is the fourth wettest city in all of Canada. Why are we running out of water?” asked Travis Daleman.
But Peary said funding is available now and the city should take advantage.
“$65 million from the federal government. If we turn down Stave Lake we lose that, it’s just that simple. The public will decide … and that’s how it should be.”
Public safety was another hot topic as candidates differed on their view of how effective the Abbotsford Police are using its budget to fight crime.
Meghann Coughlan told the crowd that crime prevention is a key issue.
“It’s nice that we aren’t the murder capital anymore, but we’ve had 12 robberies since September. I think we really need to look at how you prevent that from happening.”
She suggested back-to-work or abuse programs might be a step in the right direction.
“We have to get in, rip everything down to the bones, and figure out where we are making mistakes,” she said.
Banman said the police have done a fantastic job, but do account for 47 per cent of the budget.
“That budget, like all budgets, has to have a good hard look at to find ways that we can make that dollar stretch even farther than it is. They need to be open to suggestion and open to change.”
Peary said the police have made “dramatic strides” in terms of reducing crime. He also spoke to the chief of police and asked if any of the other mayoral candidates had contacted him. None of them had.
“One would think the police and their role in the community is really an important thing for all candidates to be aware of … I’m proud of the Abbotsford Police Department; they do amazing work,” said Peary.
Questions, 32 in all, were taken from the audience and ranged in topic from taxation to transportation, high density to secondary suites.
For more on the mayoral all-candidates meeting, check back at www.abbynews.com or read the Friday edition of the Abbotsford News.