The voters of Abbotsford have spoken, and they have decided that no change was required at the Council table. I’ve taken a couple of weeks to digest and parse this out, but it really should have come as no surprise to anyone.
It certainly was no surprise to me.
Since Abbotsford amalgamated in the 90’s, it is very rare that any changes take place at the Council table. In my recent memory, it was Abbotsford First who was able to generate enough votes to see Bill McGregor removed from Council. What is more common is to see Councillors installed for life, with examples like Simon Gibson, sitting at the table for more than 30 years.
This is not so with the Mayor’s chair. That position changes often, but usually that change happens because there is a controversial issue in town, and the voters put all the blame on the Mayor.
A couple of things then, have become very apparent to me after watching politics play out in Abbotsford for more than 20 years.
Firstly, the voters really don’t pay any attention to the issues of the city. Regularly, you vote against your best interests. You have proven this time and again. For example, when a controversial issue arises, you re-elect the Councillors who created the mess, but punish the Mayor, even when that Mayor speaks out against it. This was true with Plan A, the Abbotsford Heat, the Stave Lake Water Project and so many others.
In this election, property taxes and fees simply had to be the most important issue of the day, and you re-elected a Mayor and Council who have amassed more than a $190 million surplus on the backs of overcharging you on your Property Tax bill. In the 2014 election, both Henry Braun and Abbotsford First made promises about responsible taxation, lowering water rates, and that they would insure that the Property Tax statement you received would detail the amount owing for Plan A so that when the debt was paid, you would know it.
Not only did they collectively not keep any of those promises, instead they have compounded tax increases by raising rates in addition to the huge property value increases homeowners have experienced. This action has created the massive surpluses they have been enjoying…which they would still have received even if they had set property tax increases at 0%. They have also twice raised water rates, and have done so in contravention of the laws governing those rates. Finally, the Plan A debt, and your contribution to it, still does not appear on your property tax statements.
It is also apparent that despite regular denials, the distribution of voting lists and voter influencing does go on in this town. One Councillor, who’s own web site in 2014 had not been updated since 2011, told some supporters that he doesn’t do anything special to get votes because he relies on his church to support him. He has no problems getting elected.
For this, and many other reasons, I have come to the conclusion that I owe some people an apology.
As background, you should all know that the long-time Editor of Abbotsford Today, Mike Archer, left Abbotsford many years ago. Since his departure, we have been very spotty with posting of stories and writing editorials. In 2014, I helped to create the Abbotsford First Party, and then the campaign, that saw all my colleagues get elected. That effort took an entire year. During that time, and after the election, I thought it was inappropriate to write any editorials.
In retrospect, I was wrong. I should have begun writing immediately. However, right at that most crucial moment in time, I had some family issues to deal with that needed my full attention… and Abbotsford Today suffered.
In 2016, I began to bring my attention back to the site and started to plan a new look, layout and features. I migrated all the old stories to the Archive and got ready to write again.
Fast forward to this most recent election, between my experiences during the campaign, and the conclusions I’ve come to above, I have one clear message for the people of Abbotsford…
I should never have stopped writing. When Abbotsford was reduced to a single newspaper, publishing only 2 days per week, the writing was on the wall. They simply do not have the ability or manpower to hold our local politicians to account. The need for Abbotsford Today has become more important in the last 4 years than perhaps ever before. I have let the people of Abbotsford down. For that, I am truly sorry.
I also need to apologize to George Peary and Bruce Banman. As Mayors, they both suffered at the hands of Abbotsford Today. Henry Braun has had no such scrutiny placed on him until now.
I firmly believe that Abbotsford Today compelled Mr. Peary and Mr. Banman to be better Mayors. I also think that by highlighting the atrocious decisions made by Councillors such as John Smith’s “Friendship Garden” that subsequent Councillors knew we were watching, and didn’t repeat the same mistakes.
In other words, we held our local politicians to account.
A great example of this is last year, water rates were increased twice. It was in the newspaper, but no one held the Mayor or Abbotsford First to account for promising they wouldn’t do this. Now the Water Operational Account has a surplus and they are not allowed to carry a surplus. The City is only allowed to charge you what it cost to deliver water to you and maintain the system.
When they are asked why the increase, some Councillors have let it slip that they are saving for a new water source. Setting aside that you voted against the Stave Lake Water Project, they are not allowed to build up the Operational budget for Capital projects. A new water source should be funded by Water DCC’s.
If they use this money for a water project, it is classified as “internal borrowing” and is a debt that incurs interest according to the Local Government Act and the Community Charter. Abbotsford First, in 2014, loudly and publicly stated that internal borrowing should be avoided at all costs. This was a central part of their campaign.
Not only do they now seem to be OK with it, they are going to use this money, and the surplus property taxes, to go ahead and build a water project without your approval.
How? you say…
Previously you voted against borrowing $330 million for the Stave Lake Water Project. If the City has enough surplus, they don’t need your approval next time. However, because it is still internal borrowing, the City still owes itself interest. In other words, you are going to go into debt. You will be liable for interest on that borrowed money, but you will never get to approve the loan, or the plan.
This is one of many issues that has not been properly researched, scrutinized and criticized. That’s what we do in a democracy folks. It only really works if we debate the issues and all the information is in front of the voter.
This last election clearly shows that voters have no idea what is going on in their own town. If you don’t know what is going right and what is going all wrong, you never know when you need a change.
To those of you who have occupied the Mayor or Council member’s chairs in the past…you have my apology that this latest Council has been let off the hook.
To those of you who have been re-elected, it is time, once again, to answer for your decisions.