The issue of trust on city council almost took over Thursday night at the Chilliwack Mayoral Debate.
It was near the very end when boos broke out from some of the capacity crowd at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre.
The forum organized by the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Chilliwack BIA saw more than two hours of fast-paced and diverse questions.
Mayoral candidates offered their take on topics ranging from housing, economic development, transit, crime, addictions, cycling infrastructure, doctor recruitment, the downtown and public safety.
Voters can watch the entire live-streamed event online, at ChillTV.ca, where all five candidates mapped out their mayoral visions.
The atmosphere on-stage was fairly collegial — that is until incumbent mayor Sharon Gaetz said something as a joke, and later drew boos as well as applause from the crowd.
At one point she asked for more time to answer because of the heckling.
Gaetz tried to make a little joke, “unless there are criminals on council,” she said, when asked about the city’s responsibilities which don’t include other levels of government.
Later when the mayoral candidates were given their choice of questions to tackle, despite moderators having warned at the outset that some topics were off limits such as unresolved or unsubstantiated accusations, the matter of a sitting councillor’s council expenses came up.
“What I want to say first of all, some of you really will not like,” Gaetz prefaced her answer with, about two and half hours into the event.
The question she chose was: “A team without trust on council is not really a team, it is just a group of individuals working together, how would you, as a leader, build the trust that it needs to flourish?”
“I need to tell you that trust is broken on city council, and I know that Coun. Popove would agree with me, and every councillor that sits here today would agree the trust has been broken.”
“Healthy councils talk about these issues,” Gaetz said, her voice breaking with emotion.
“What has happened is that a serious issue has been referred to the RCMP by our council. And you need to know about that.
“The issue that is being referred was referred by the entire council, as trustees of the public purse, and they said there would be a complete forensic audit of Sam Waddington’s expenses, they also asked for a police investigation not only for his expenses that were incurred in this term,” Gaetz recounted, “but for…”
Boos could be heard coming from the audience.
“So the thing is….” she said when the booing started.
“I know, boo is right, absolutely,” the incumbent mayor said, as the moderator demanded the crowd to be respectful of the candidate’s time.
“I would boo too, but it’s rude,” Gaetz said.
“I do want to go on to say, that it is not just in regard to the items that were brought up, and lies that were told to Coun. Chuck Stam in a public forum, but council agreed to send this off for a forensic audit and the RCMP for the entire term,” Gaetz continued.
“This is a serious issue. It is not about overspending,” the incumbent mayor stated.
“Please do your homework and think about what it took for your council to make that decision, and for the union to pull support.”
Some whistles and clapping ensued.
When Waddington was just about to be asked the next question, more applause ensued, to which he started off with: saying, “Let’s talk about our city.”