A three-hour all-candidates meeting on Wednesday focused on police and fire services, transportation, and waste and recycling, giving members of the public another chance to listen to some of the 30 candidates seeking seats on council.
Only one candidate, Ward Draper, was absent from the meeting at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium, which was sponsored by the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board and the Fraser Valley Indo-Canadian Business Association.
Each candidate was given a minute to respond to each of the three questions.
The evening started with a question on Abbotsford’s police and fire services, which accounts for about 25 per cent of the city’s budget. The question stated that over the last several municipal budgets, funding for those and staffing levels has not matched the growth in the community, or kept pace with inflation.
Candidates were asked about their specific goals for police and fire in regards to funding and staffing levels.
Ross Siemens said the city must work in partnership with other organizations, such as schools, on gang prevention. He suggested the possibility of precinct policing.
He said the city must take a serious look at abuse in overtime pay. He added that the court system must be utilized better and “not waste police officers time being tied up in courts.”
Paul Redekopp praised Abbotsford police and said the city should also be encouraging citizen patrols and Neighbourhood Watch so police can do their work.
Aird Flavelle said that compared to neighbouring communities, Abbotsford’s funding and staffing levels are appropriate. He said the cost of public safety is impacted by downloading from the provincial government. He maintained that only 30 per cent of police work is directed towards criminal code offences, with the rest related to social crime issues.
“We are using our policemen as frontline social workers. That’s not our job, that’s not the job of city property taxes.”
He added that the majority of fire calls are not for fires, but for medical problems.
Raji Butter said council needs to listen to the needs of police and fire services. She said if their evaluations suggest the organizations need more police or firefighters to keep the community safe, then “we should provide them with their needs, as long as it is reasonable.”
Candidates were asked about the city’s transportation master plan, what aspects are a priority and what steps the city should take to fund and implement them.
Raymond Kobes said councillors making decisions on public transit are not often the ones taking the bus and people using transit need to be contacted for their ideas.
Brenda Falk said there are no easy transit solutions in a large geographic community like Abbotsford, but said as younger workers flock to urban cores and don’t want long commutes, the city needs to create infill development and build along transit routes.
The issue of congestion on the two-lane Fraser Highway was raised by Rick Barkwell, who said the issue needs to be a priority for the city.
Dan Bue said the city can do something different with bike lanes, and should look at European models such as two-lane bike lanes with curbs, or using one side of sidewalks for pedestrians and the other side for bikes.
The issue of smaller buses and buses that run on liquified natural gas and other fuels was raised, but incumbent Dave Loewen said BC Transit makes decisions on which communities receives which buses and the city has lobbied for other vehicles.
David Sahlstrom said transit is ineffective and inefficient and needs to be looked at. He said the city needs to improve its walkability through the way it develops. He added that some transportation problems are a result of poor development decisions, which haven’t looked at how people get to and from developments.
Candidates were also given eight questions to answer in advance, covering their position on balancing the fiscal, economic, environmental and social needs of Abbotsford, the contracting of public services, slate politics, user-pay models for transportation, the business vote, parking issues and flood preparation. Their answers can be found online at abbotsfordchamber.com.
A webcast of the meeting is available on the city’s website at abbotsford.ca by clicking Mayor & Council, then Agenda and Meeting Schedule then Archived Streamed Council Meetings.