It’s been a year since Bruce Banman emerged onto the political scene with an upset victory over incumbent George Peary.
However, the chiropractor turned mayor is now one-third of the way through his inaugural term and believes his first year, while filled with challenges, has been smoother than expected.
Banman sat with the Abbotsford News last week to talk about the past 12 months.
News: When you were elected, you said there would be a “steep learning curve.” How steep has it been?
“The learning curve has been pretty much vertical, straight up. There’s a lot to learn. In retrospect, I’m told by staff and people that have been in and out of city hall an awful lot, that I’ve done pretty good, that I’ve been a surprise. They were worried that having not had any government experience before, that I would stumble a lot. And much to my surprise, I haven’t stumbled much at all.”
You ran on a campaign of open and transparent government. Have you managed to improve those qualities?
“We’ve had town hall meetings in Bradner, in Sumas Mountain and even on Monday (Nov. 19) we did something a little extraordinary. We held a public information meeting, which was not a public hearing, in council chambers with regards to the Bradner area industrial park.
“I feel my job as mayor and as chair is to facilitate respectful dialogue on both sides.”
What’s the best part about being mayor?
“It’s going to sound funny but the best part happened early on. I got to go to South Poplar Elementary school and play hockey with the kids.
“I love talking with kids. Anytime I’m having a stressful week I kind of say I need to go into a school again and talk to kids, because it reminds me why I do this job. I don’t do it for me. I don’t do it for the accolades. I love being out in front of people. I always have, but I really do it for kids because I want to try and make this a better place for the next generations to come.”
What’s the worst part of being mayor?
“The worst part of the job is having to say no. There are so many worthy causes out there and (sometimes) … it’s either not our mandate or not our responsibility because it’s the responsibility of the federal or provincial government sometimes. Or the sad matter of the fact is there’s just not enough money to do everything.
“It’s that saying, if you do it for one, you have to do it for all. That’s the part I find most troubling … that’s the ones that keep me awake at night.”
Are you still a chiropractor?
“Yes, I’m still a chiropractor. I’m practising a whopping six hours a week. My practice has taken probably an 80 or 90 per cent hit but that’s fine. I said when I came in that this job (mayor) comes first. But also, this city has a tendency after one term to change leadership of late.
“I don’t mind serving, but I’d be foolish if I didn’t have a back-up plan and part of that plan is to maintain my licence.”
When you were elected, a proposed new water supply was the major issue. Is water still the most important issue facing Abbotsford?
“No. Water is not the number one issue in Abbotsford. And I want to thank the citizens of this city. What was not projectable was the fact that the citizens of this city could conserve water in such a short time. We are down more than 25 per cent on peak use days.”
Banman said thanks to conservation, the city does not need, nor can it afford, to spend $300 million on a Stave Lake water supply system.
“Stave Lake is not going anywhere. It will be there 50, 60, 100 years from now.
“What we can do in the meantime is look at ways to deal with those peak use days and conservation is what has allowed us to do that.”
He said one possible option is to create a plant to treat and filter water from the Fraser River.
‘That would not have been something that anyone would have even discussed before. But we can do that to deal with peak days for about $20 million.”
He said the Fraser is just an example of one of many options being discussed and nothing has been approved at this time.
Banman said the economy has played a big role in changing the water plan as well.
“2008 was a game changer. Everybody’s hurting. So we’re now looking at low-cost options that aren’t a big huge 100-year source. They are more of a temporary source.”
What is the number one issue in Abbotsford?
“I said going in that the single largest challenge that I would face as mayor is the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, Plan A, and the leftovers that has given this city. I am far from happy that we have a $1.76-million subsidy that goes to the Heat.
“There’s a few things about that that bother me. You know the old saying that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I think there were a lot of people who had good intentions about this, but I have said that I don’t think that cities should be in the arena business. But that’s the business that we voted for and there’s a lot of people out there that are really upset that this has not gone well.”
He said when the public voted for the arena, the turnout was low, but the lesson there is to “get out and vote.” Now that the building exists, Banman believes it’s easy to point out all the problems, but finding solutions is the challenge.
“We have contracts. I guess we could go to court and spend a bunch of money, more money that we don’t need to spend, when the solution is we need 1,500 more bodies to watch a game. It’s doable.”
He said the city is working on event-night problems, including parking and concessions, to improve the customers’ experience.
“We can stay angry and refuse to go, but who’s that hurting? It’s hurting our own.”
Some people have suggested just closing the arena. Is that possible?
“If I thought for one second that we would benefit by turning the lights out, I would do it in a heartbeat. But the reality is, that would cost us more money than what we’re paying now. It really would. I hate this supply agreement that we signed up for, but it’s the agreement that we’re into.”
When elected, you stated you could not run the city alone, but you could lead a team. How has your team responded?
“The team’s doing great. Clearly on council there is a huge dichotomy of opinions. We go from ultra-conservative to very liberal on our council and that’s a good thing.
“At the end of the day, council will vote the way that it votes. I don’t think it’s healthy when a council all votes the same way all the time, like a big block. I think it’s healthier to have the debate that people outside are thinking about.
“City council works really well together. We listen to one another, we make points with one another and we don’t make it personal. It’s not about the personalities, it’s about the issues in front of us.”
Knowing what you know now, if the election was tomorrow, would you run again?
“Absolutely, 100 per cent, all in, win or lose. Not only would I run again, I will run again. I love the job. I absolutely love it.”
Who is Bruce Banman?
“Bruce Banman is just a normal guy. I’ve been very lucky in my life. I’ve had more than my share of failures. I’ve learned from them.
“I have a huge heart. I go through life larger than life at times. I’m a huge extrovert.
“I enjoy being in the centre of a mess, or the centre of attention. I’m not scared of that. I enjoy speaking in front of others. I enjoy singing, I enjoy old cars and I just enjoy life.
“Life’s pretty short. I had a sister that, well, she passed away when she was 50. But at the end of her life she was full of dreams, and she was full of hope and full of passion.
“And I guess it sort of spurred me into that we’re really not here very long, so try and make a difference.
“One person can make a difference but you have to do something, anything.”