By Rochelle Baker, The Times November 8, 2011
Water, specifically the proposed P3 Stave Lake water project, was the number one topic of the Abbotsford mayoral candidates debate at a packed Matsqui Centennial Auditorium last Wednesday night.
But other issues such as increasing property taxes, the Heat hockey team subsidy, housing, transit, crime, and the Taboo sex show at Tradex also surfaced during the event.
As incumbent and the sole mayoral candidate to support the Stave Lake project, George Peary repeatedly found himself in the other four candidates’ lines of fire.
In her opening statement, Meghann Coughlan, who opposes the P3 Stave Lake project, positioned herself as the candidate for the working class and marginal populations, citing ever-increasing property taxes, a lack of affordable housing, homelessness and the problem of crystal meth in the community.
Referring to the Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre and the city’s supply fee agreement with the Heat Hockey team owners that cost taxpayers $1.3 million this year, she said the “public was paying for the legacy dreams of council.”
Noting he inherited the annual $6.5 million debt service payments for Plan A projects and emptied capital accounts, Mayor George Peary said he and council “rolled up their sleeves and got to work.”
He highlighted the $125 million of federal and provincial funding secured for infrastructure projects such as the Clearbrook and McCallum exchanges and the local airport expansion. Abbotsford taxpayers did not pay for the city’s portion of both projects, which was raised by development cost charges or user fees at the airport, he said.
Crediting the work of the Abbotsford Police during is term, Peary noted the ecreasing crime rates, pointng to zero murders this year and a 30-per-cent drop in property crime.
As a rebuttal to Coughlan’s criticism over the lack of affordable housing, Peary referred to the award-winning Flex Harmony affordable housing project that also included suites for seniors and people with disabilities, and the Christine Lamb Women’s Residence currently under construction.
Candidate Gerda Peachey admitted her bid for mayor was motivated by her opposition to the public-private partnership procurement model being pursued by Abbotsford for the $291-million Stave Lake water project.
The project – which involves the city entering into a 28-year contract with a private business to design, build, partially finance and operate the new water facility – will be decided upon by voters in a referendum during the election on Nov. 19.
The federal government also recently announced that Abbotsford will get up to $65.7 million in funding for the infrastructure project, contingent on voters approving the P3 plan.
Peachey accused the city of taking an “alarmist approach that is not founded in reality” to convince voters to support the project.
“I can’t understand why we are being pushed to tie ourselves in with multinationals for our water supply,” she said.
Seventeen-year-old candidate Travis Daleman said his primary goal in running for mayor was to get the younger generation more aware of and interested in politics.
“I just want everyone, and the younger generation, to be aware of the issues and what they are getting themselves into.”
Candidate Bruce Banman highlighted Abbotsford’s need for sustainable development and a business-friendly environment.
Stating the importance of the city driving its own economy, Banman said new jobs brought by business allows residents a good quality of life when they live, work and play in the same community.