As a proud member who served in the RCMP for over 22 years, I thought I was used to just about anything that human nature could throw at me.
As the oldest elected councillor (noting that Councillor Steve Ferguson is the longest serving) in Langley Township, I have seen things that I never imagined, but every once in a while something still surprises me. Luckily I am at the stage of life where I can call ’em as I see ’em.
Fundamentally, I think it is a good thing for politicians to disagree and that the process of debate can lead to a better decision as all sides of an issue are fleshed out.
When I disagree with a council mate, I assume that they are acting genuinely and honestly and looking after the best interests of the community.
Thus it was with extreme disappointment that I reviewed Councillor Kim Richter’s surprising and distorted comments about the Langley Events Centre (LEC) expansion (letters, Sept. 13).
It appears that there is a tendency among some in Langley that if you disagree with them it is not because you may have a different vision, purpose or direction, but it’s because you must be engaging in secrets, you’re unethical or you’re diverting money from somewhere else. Or you simply make statements to label your opposition, to generally indicate they are bad persons, because there’s nothing that can go on without there being a secret or hidden agenda, or some other nefarious purpose. They are doing bad things to the community that only the ‘whistleblower’ can save.
This all appears to be a throwback to times gone by that I thought we had learned from. Those times were proven to be bad for this town did not add any value to our community. It’s a shame that we resort to labelling people, rather than commenting on the merits of their argument.
So, let’s instead talk about the crown jewel’ of the Township’s Recreation Culture and Parks Division, specifically our marvelous LEC.
LEC has been an unprecedented success. It is used by more people and on more days than almost any other facility in the Fraser Valley. Yes, there are bigger facilities, but I don’t think there are any finer ones.
So, what has council been up to? Well, with all this success, and with the opportunity to try to expand that success and take care of additional users, who may or may not be financial partners, we embarked upon an expansion. This expansion will not cost $7.25 million, but will in fact cost $7.725 million. Was this a surprise? Hardly.
Anyone who has seen the LEC knows its amazing success. In fact, I can think back to about June 11 (not July 23) when these discussions began with a certain urgency, because if we wanted to have the facility fully functional for a number of events starting next year, and accommodate new potential partners such as Wrestling BC, BC Lacrosse Association, Volleyball Canada, and others, we had to get down to work and get on to it.
Now a fair question is — how are we going to pay for this expansion, or will it actually detract from other projects? The answer is, we’ll pay for it from land sales and reserves, and no, it won’t delay or defer other projects.
We need to work on projects that balance the entire community and cannot simply work in one area to the detriment of the others. So as a consequence, when we develop our budgets we make sure that we have envelopes, or categories or accounts, if you will, that we can use to meet changing or moving priorities.
Do we seek to avoid those? Of course, but when opportunities arrive, as when we were able to receive a $15 million grant from the province for the LEC, we need to have the ability to seize on those.
Now why did this process start out behind closed doors? Well, part of the revenue to build both the facility at LEC and in Aldergrove will come from land sales. The Community Charter is quite clear that discussions on land sales at least have to begin in a closed session, so that no other parties are given an unfair advantage in knowing what lands may be available for sale.
If a local government sells lands in one area or buys in another, it can affect market conditions and it was with that backdrop that the process began.
Why not go through a lengthy period of public comment? Well, ordinarily when you are going to repair or expand an existing facility because it is bursting at the seams with use, you have a pretty good idea in terms of what the demands are on that facility and what people are going to say.
It may not be the best route to go and sometimes we do make mistakes, however I am satisfied we made the right decision at the right time because our priority is to be able to see kids on the courts or using gymnasiums before the next season. As a consequence, when the decision was made to proceed, staff worked quite expeditiously and went through a process with council’s explicit authorization to obtain bids on the building, as we do in almost all situations.
Don’t get caught in the semantics or the niceties or the twists of some fine words. Instead focus on the needs, process and the results.
How will this proceed without affecting other projects? Well, part of the land sale discussions involve a multi-year process to dispose of assets, some of which will go through a rezoning process, to ensure that we have funds available to maximize our returns and can contribute to amenities in all facets of the Township.
You can alarm people by saying that the money is going someplace else or it’s not necessary, or there is a hidden agenda, but in so doing you need to provide credible examples and alternatives or other solutions. Taxes will not go up for the capital costs of these projects. Services will not be reduced. Certain areas will not be favoured over others. And our youth, adults, and seniors will have facilities that they can use.
Perhaps the most alarming comment was “if we had this extra money, why didn’t we fast-track the new pool in Aldergrove instead?” Well, again we know what the needs are in Willoughby, but are accused of going ahead without public consultation.
Yet we are supposed to be able to fast-track the Aldergrove project without public consultation, and that is fine? Public consultation is underway, and there is still a great deal of debate about what needs to be built in Aldergrove.
We just went through a period of “ready, shoot, aim” politics and it saddens me to think that we may be returning to that. I am not perfect, my council mates are not perfect, but I think we all try to act in the best interests of the community.
When I disagree with my council mates who include teachers, retired police officers, and farmers, I assume that it’s an honest and sincere disagreement and don’t try to label them as being bad people, or doing bad things for ulterior motives. That has not been my experience in Langley.
Councillor Richter has said several negative and derogatory things about me, but I am not going to say or even suggest those things about her. I actually think she is a very intelligent person who is probably embarking upon a path that she thinks will better the community. She may be right.
Nevertheless, I would encourage her to stop labelling people whom she disagrees with and instead take a positive approach. If indeed she wishes to become mayor, she should to run a mayoral campaign at the right time, that is within a reasonable period prior to the next election, and not try to denigrate and diminish this fine community by making outlandish allegations, which are often incorrect.
She should instead lay out a platform or direction which is better than what we are doing now. If in fact she has a better idea than what we are doing, if we can improve how we can deliver projects and services in a more efficient manner, I am certainly willing to listen. I just hope that she is willing to listen and recognize our Langley Township deserves better.
Councillor Grant Ward, Langley Township