on November 14, 2014

Abbotsford City Council candidate: Gerda Peachey

Interviewed by Brittney Hensman.

Since many students will be voting for the first time, what would you describe as the role of municipal politics?

They are the boss of everything that is decided in the City of Abbotsford. Therefore, what mayor and council decide determines the level of taxation, it determines the quality of roads, the number of police officers, it determines where the parks are placed, how much children have got in terms of skating rinks and swimming pools — not just children, obviously adults as well. Council determines who gets to build, and how big, and where. Council changes the bylaws to accommodate requests put before them. Some requests are granted very easily some are denied. So who your mayor and council are is incredibly important. They’re like the lifeblood of the city.

What can city councillors actually do?

There are almost 1,000 people employed as staff at City Hall. They are hired on based on their education and their expertise in various aspects of running a city. So we have city planners, city engineers, parks and rec, and finance. They’re hired, they’re well-educated and they’re well-paid. So they really are City Hall. And you realize that to be the mayor or a councillor requires nothing, absolutely nothing. You don’t have to be intelligent. You don’t have to be educated. Nothing. So the heartblood of city hall is that staff. But no matter how good or how bad that staff is, all of that gets filtered through the mayor and council. So if they’re not quality people, it doesn’t matter how quality your staff is. And I think in past years, there are certainly many wonderful people on staff who have been banging their heads against cement walls. On the other hand, there have been some staff who have given very bad advice that mayors and councils have swallowed hook, line, and sinker without stepping back and doing any critical analysis of their own. So, we need to have a mayor and council who are intelligent, who do research for themselves, and who actually care about the whole of Abbotsford. What is good for the whole of Abbotsford. The accusation is sometimes made that it’s who you know. Well, that shouldn’t ever be true no matter what level of government.

Who do you view as your constituents?

The whole of Abbotsford.

How will you receive the views of the entire population instead of just those most active around City Hall?

Well, mayor and council should have telephone availability and email availability and so on. I know that there were a number of years in the past where there was a gatekeeper. He admitted that to me — I was in the company of someone else, but he admitted that the emails were filtered through him, and I wrote some very scathing letters to mayor and council and said, oh no, those are my councillors, and if they want to send me to spam, they’re welcome to do that. But I want to know that it’s them sending me to spam. There cannot be this filter, this gatekeeper. So I think that has changed, and none of their emails from the public are blocked now. I fully agree, councillors do not have to respond to every wacko that’s out there, and if they think that me or Joe or Sally is a wacko, fine. I think you have every right to protect yourself from abusive — or overabundance of nonsense emails or phone calls. But it must not be a staff member who is not elected. Straight to them, and if they want to deep-six you, go ahead.

Are you doing anything to address the lack of student interest in local politics?

If I could do anything to change voter apathy, whether it’s the young or the old — in fact, I send out many emails and I have a web page, and I constantly say, it’s not about whether you vote for me or not. Seriously, please engage yourself, inform yourself and engage yourself in this awesome, wonderful thing called democracy. I couldn’t agree with you more, I would love to see every 18-year-old student, whether the ones in this institution or the ones in the Fraser Valley or obviously in British Columbia and Canada. You people are bright — I’m not saying that to give you some stupid flattery, I’ve been at the university quite a bit myself taking courses over the years, and if you are not engaged with who your leaders are going to be — please, do it.

If elected, how would what you want to do as councillor be different from what council is already doing?

Big difference. Our council has not just dabbled, but has taken a deep dive into areas that were out of — should never have been in their mandate. I can’t see that the community has ever given them the mandate to do what they’ve done. This white elephant sitting over here [Abbotsford Centre], what a — it’s just a glamour project, it was just a way for mayor and council to go puffing out themselves up like we’re such big shots. We write these multi-million dollar contracts, and people are coming to us and fawning over us, like, please, let us in on the goodies here, give us this contract, let us — it’s appalling. The contract with the Abbotsford Heat. what a sham. I asked for those documents for nine months. I was always polite, I went in about once every month, once every month and a half, because we’d heard the contract was signed and that it would be finished by a certain date. I went in repeatedly to City Hall, I was never rude, and for nine months they never gave me that contract. Then we found out afterward that a whole nine-month period had passed from the final signing of us until they finally let the public see it, because they knew. They knew it was such a ghastly deal. Giving, guaranteeing, the Calgary Flames, the billionaire owners of Calgary Flames, and the private millionaire owners in Abbotsford, a $5.7 million guarantee — and then, Bruce Banman, who kept harassing the community, saying, “You’ve gotta get off your backsides and go to those games, gotta put your backsides in those seats, gotta support the Heat and then everything will be happy and hunky-dory” — then, without a word to the community, they never asked the community, he gave them a cool $5.5 million to get out of town. Not only that, I have read that we may potentially have to pay them two and a half million dollars more, because the thing is still working out its final details. Why were they dabbling in big name entertainment? By all means, give us arenas and swimming pools for our children. By all means, have local venues for the arts, for the children, because the schools do a pretty good job, but beyond the schools we can have — I’m not artistic myself, unless you call gardening and singing bluegrass artistic — I’m not artistic — but that doesn’t mean that as a council, whether you’re artistic or not, that’s why you need eight leaders, eight individual leaders, so you have that diversity of talent and interest. But even though I’m a flat-out dud artistically, I still think that it’s a healthy thing for the community to have viable arts and venues for that and outlets for that. So by all means, have things available for our community, but our tax dollars went to the Calgary Flames owners. And our tax dollars continue to flow to Global Spectrum in the United States to handle this white elephant. Why did we build something that we couldn’t run?

Do you have a specific project you want to prioritize or bylaw you want to change?

Oh yes, for years. For at least two decades I’ve been after city council. You write those bylaws, you’re the bosses, so you’re the ones who write those laws, so one would assume that if you write them, you would enforce them. But they don’t, they noticeably don’t. It’s very odd. Some people have the bylaws enforced with all the might of the power, and others, you can call them, you can send photographs, you can take them there — or you offer to, they don’t go — and in-your-face bylaw infraction, it’s huge. They turn their faces away. They don’t want to see. So my standard line is, write bylaws that are reasonable, doable, and enforceable. And if you do not intend to enforce them equitably, across the board, a level playing field, then scrap them for all of us. This uneven playing field in Abbotsford is serious.