Election 2014: All-candidates meeting hosted by local non-profits draws crowd

Candidates for council seats asked about environment, arts and culture and social services

An all candidates meeting drew crowds to city hall on Tuesday.

An all candidates meeting drew crowds to city hall on Tuesday.

Homelessness, transit and the environment were among topics discussed during an all-candidates meeting Tuesday evening, which drew about 300 people to Matsqui Centennial Auditorium to hear the opinions of 29 council hopefuls.

The event was organized by local non-profits, including Abbotsford Community Services, the United Way of the Fraser Valley, the Abbotsford Community Foundation, the Abbotsford Arts Council, Women’s Resource Society of Fraser Valley, MSA Museum Society, The Reach Gallery Museum and the Fraser Valley Conservancy.

Some candidates were asked about the city’s decision to end its waste management agreement with Metro Vancouver and what Abbotsford should do with its garbage.

Lyle Caldwell said he thinks Metro’s plan to build a new garbage incinerator is “pretty much dead” after the province rejected Metro’s proposed bylaw 280, which opponents said was used to justify the incinerator. He said people need to be educated about composting and encourage higher diversion, while the rest of waste goes to transfer stations.

Vince Dimanno said with a new waste removal contract, the city needs to think about its neighbours.

“We also don’t want to be exporting our garbage to the United States or to the Interior, so comprehensive recycling programs are great, but we also need to look at who we are contracting our garbage removal to and where that garbage is going.”

Candidates were asked how to assist with bus service issues and reducing pollution due to car use.

Hank Roos said that buses are only going to be used if the city develops in a way that buses are convenient.

“You can’t just put more buses on the road, you have to plan so that people can actually do without their automobile.”

Patricia Ross said that what is also needed is less-polluting buses, such as hybrids or those that use liquified natural gas.

Ken Wushcke said Abbotsford is not planning well for transit, maintaining that development is taking place ahead of transit, and cited the lack of direct bus service from some areas to destinations like Highstreet, where driving takes a fraction of the time.

“We have to plan our development in conjunction with development, not after the fact.”

When asked about supporting arts and culture, Ward Draper said there is a lack of venues for youth, for music in particular, and “they need a space to perform and to bring us the gifts they have.”

Candidates were asked about the high cost of child care and how they would assist working families with the issue.

Rick Barkwell cited the importance of creating growth in the technology sector in the city, as employment in that sector can help with home-based work hours.

Some candidates were asked about how to address homelessness in Abbotsford.

Daljit Sidhu said people on the streets need assistance and the city needs affordable homes. He added that the city needs a temporary shelter now, as currently sitting outside in the rain is not a good option for the homeless.

Doug Rempel said he has worked with Habitat for Humanity for 12 years and has partnered with the city in the past to provide affordable housing. He said Habitat is also assisting by providing supplies to the Dignity Village project – a proposal to build cabins to house the homeless on a plot of land on Valley Road.

“I would like to pressure the provincial and federal governments for funding, but I also want to engage with the organizations that do the job well already.”

Ross Siemens said it is a complex issue and the city needs to start with an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team to meet with those on the streets and assess their needs. He said the city needs a housing-first project, adding that the ACS housing proposal, which was rejected by council in February, should have already ground broken. He added that the Dignity Village proposal has a lot of merit.

After answering questions prepared by the organizers, the floor was opened for audience questions.

Tina Stewart was the focus of many queries, regarding her opposition to the ACS housing proposal, her thoughts on how to address homelessness and her plans to hold her position as the executive director of the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) if elected to council.

Stewart said she believes all homeless people deserve an equal opportunity to get off the streets. She explained that she has family members who are addicts and said she strongly believes we need detox in Abbotsford.

Stewart said that she opposed the ACS proposal, both as the executive director and personally, as she objected to its placement in the downtown C7 zone – which specifically prohibits supportive housing use.

She also explained that she is an employee of the ADBA, which doesn’t own a business or property.

The only council hopeful absent from the panel of candidates was Tim Felger, who sat in the audience and asked a question.