Abbotsford mayor believes city prepared for prosperity, defends P3 projects

Abbotsford's P3 water proposal took a prominent role in Thursday's third annual mayor's breakfast.

While the address usually entails an annual review, coupled with a look to the future, Abbotsford mayor George Peary took time to address the growing debate surrounding the proposed public private partnership for a new water source and treatment centre involving Stave Lake.

Abbotsford mayor George Peary spoke to a sold out crowd during the third annual Mayor's Breakfast

Abbotsford mayor George Peary spoke to a sold out crowd during the third annual Mayor's Breakfast

Abbotsford’s P3 water proposal took a prominent role in Thursday’s third annual mayor’s breakfast.

While the address usually entails an annual review, coupled with a look to the future, Abbotsford mayor George Peary took time to address the growing debate surrounding the proposed public private partnership for a new water source and treatment centre involving Stave Lake.

Abbotsford council is scheduled to discuss and vote on a revised proposal that could see the city apply for a $66.5-million grant from PPP Canada, which represents 25 per cent of the now-downsized project, worth about $284 million. (Mission recently backed away from a larger joint project, valued at $300 million.)

Peary told the crowd “red flags” have been raised by the national CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) office and “people from the extreme left.” He maintained that despite private involvement, control of the water would remain with the city.

“The water will be owned by the City of Abbotsford. The plant will be owned by the City of Abbotsford,” he stressed.

He called the proposed 25-year contract to operate the facility a warranty that would protect the city.

He also defended other P3 projects, including the Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre. Peary quoted the provincial auditor general’s report that stated the P3 hospital created “$39 million in savings to the public purse.”

Peary also called Auguston school, which was built by the developer who created the community, as Abbotsford’s first P3 project.

“I am a fan of public private partnerships because I know they work,” he said.

The rest of Peary’s presentation was based on the three aspects of the sustainability triangle – social, environmental and  economics.

He praised the Abbotsford Police force for its efforts to reduce crime. Last year, Abbotsford averaged 69 offences per 1,000 residents, well below other cities including Surrey, Pitt Meadows and the township of Langley.

“The 2010 data will see that rate drop even farther.”

He also praised the police work in the community to educate students about the dangers of gang involvement.

Other social successes included the Harmony Flex townhouse development on McKenzie Road, which allowed lower income families to purchase a home, including a basement suite designed for people with disabilities; the recently announced apartment complex for homeless men, to be run by the Kinghaven/Peardonville House Society, and a new, 41-unit supportive housing project for women and their children.

Peary also stressed the need to protect the environment.

“We must all become environmentalists, we cannot continue to soil the nest we live in.”

He praised local businesses for promoting environmentally friendly activities including Bill Vanderkooi of Bakerview Eco-Dairy who is planning to build a second anaerobic digester to process animal waste; and Larry Wiebe, owner of Vedder Transport who is in the process of replacing 50 diesel transport vehicles with natural gas units.

Peary went on to discuss the city’s economics, noting in 2009/10 Abbotsford received a total of 80 grants worth $105 million, which he said has helped build the community.

He pointed to a sharp increase in building permits as a sign of continued success in Abbotsford. In 2009, the city issued $156 million worth of permits. That number jumped to $207 million in 2010.

“I’m predicting, with confidence, that we’ll hit $300 million in 2011.”

Other initiatives, including examining the possibility of leaving the Fraser Valley Regional District, agricultural and public transit strategies, combined with the recent improvements to the airport, Clearbrook and Abbotsford interchanges, have put Abbotsford in a good position, according to Peary.

“We are setting ourselves up for the next decade of prosperity.”

Will Peary play a role in that future?

He said people are always expressing their resentment, but rarely their appreciation. He invited the public to contact him, and express their thoughts about the job that has been done. He wants to hear from the community before the fast-approaching municipal election in November.

Peary said he has a big decision to make – whether to continue to invest his time on behalf of Abbotsford, or “become a better grandfather to my grandchildren.”