Challenge for the mayor’s chair in Abbotsford

The first debate is over, and voters are getting a better grasp on where Abbotsford’s mayoral hopefuls stand.

Pictured at Wednesday night’s mayoralty all-candidates meeting are (left to right) incumbent Mayor George Peary

Pictured at Wednesday night’s mayoralty all-candidates meeting are (left to right) incumbent Mayor George Peary

The first debate is over, and voters are getting a better grasp on where Abbotsford’s mayoral hopefuls stand.

Bruce Banman is opposed to the P3 proposal.

“We hold water very dear to our hearts, as dear as we do our health care. The more I learn about P3  … red flags get tossed up in front of me.”

While he would not commit to any alternative plan other than more discussion, Banman is interested in former city engineer Ed Regts’ idea to increase the volume being taken from Norrish Creek, although that is seen as a temporary solution.

“Right now we are paying off another huge capital expenditure. Maybe it would buy us the time so we could look at the other options.”

By putting off the Stave Lake project, Banman said the cost could go up, but more federal funding, other than for P3, could also become available.

Banman said the only reason there is still funding available for P3 projects is  because it’s “the ugly duckling that nobody wants.”

Public safety is another big issue for citizens. On Wednesday night, Banman indicated he wanted to cut the police budget.

He has no plan to cut officers; in fact, he wants more on the streets. However, he feels there is too much bureaucracy and it needs to be trimmed.

“I’d much rather have a police officer on the ground than somebody shuffling paperwork.”

Incumbent Mayor George Peary said it’s easy to talk about budget cuts.

“Eighty-five per cent of the budget is officers. So when he’s talking about cutting the police budget, he’s talking about laying off police officers … I don’t think the community wants that.”

There is no fat to trim, said Peary, who wondered how Banman can be so sure when he’s “never been to a police board meeting” and “never talked to the police chief.”

The current mayor said he’s proud of what the city has accomplished in the past three years, noting the creation of the new industrial lands and the High Street commercial development. He said those two projects combined will create thousands of jobs. The three infrastructure projects (McCallum and Clearbrook road intersections and the airport renovations) were completed with two-thirds funding from the provincial and federal governments.

Peary believes it’s easy to criticize, when you have never had to do the job.

“They’ve (other candidates) never been involved in local politics and while they seem to have lots of ideas, they’re long on theories, precious short on practice … They all seem to have this idea that somehow the mayor is omnipotent. The mayor is, as I keep reminding them, one vote at a table of nine.”

Meghann Coughlan felt the all-candidates meeting was a “fluff fest,” saying questions remained unanswered or avoided. She wanted to hear some hard answers from her fellow candidates regarding the issues.

But she admits she will have her own learning curve if she becomes mayor.

“I don’t know what to expect when I get in there … my goal is to tear everything apart and just inspect everything,” she said.

If the water referendum fails and Coughlan becomes mayor, she plans to take a closer look at the other proposals besides the P3 option.

“Not just me, because I’m not an engineer. I don’t know what they mean … those proposals would probably look like Greek to me,” she said.

Affordable housing is another issue high on Coughlan’s to-do list.

“I realize I can’t take municipal funds and spend them on things that I’m talking about. I’m not naive that way.”

But she does think the city could take a look at what land it owns and what could be donated for that type of project.

Travis Daleman, the youngest candidate for the mayor’s chair, said the water issue isn’t his primary concern.

“It is the biggest issue financially right now and everyone is focusing on it,” he said, but other areas are equally important.

“I believe we have to be looking at taxpayer waste.”

Risky projects like Plan A need to be avoided in the future, says Daleman, with the focus placed on infrastructure. Transit and even a rapid rail system are high on his list.

Daleman said if the water referendum passes, the will of the people has to be honoured, but he prefers the conservation approach and promotion of rain catchments.

Gerda Peachey believes if the referendum fails, there’s “no problem.”

“I and the other councillors would say to the staff, ‘OK, now we have to get real’ … now let’s do what we’ve always done.”

She said the city has to approach it like it’s their own business, with no need to involve a private partner. She would move ahead at a steady pace and, in the meantime, enforce conservation.

One of her major concerns is preventing any expansion of the Tradex facility. “We do not know where the economy is going. We cannot keep saying ‘let’s dig the hole deeper.’ That is madness.”

She has also voiced her opposition to the annual Taboo Sex Show held at Tradex.

The enforcement of bylaws, or lack of them, is another major concern for Peachey.