Mayoralty candidates ran the gamut of Chilliwack issues and concerns during the all-candidates’ forum.
The overheated room at the Hampton Inn was packed last Thursday night as it was the first chance for the Chilliwack public to meet the people running for mayor.
Incumbent Sharon Gaetz and candidate Cameron Hull showed up in person, while candidate Raymond Cauchi, was on a work trip in Kelowna but took part through Skype.
Hosted by Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce with support from the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, the event drew a standing room only crowd of more than 120 people.
Candidates were asked to comment on the one of the more controversial decisions taken unanimously by council last year — approving the location of the proposed waste recycling plant near the Fraser River.
Hull said based on his experience of “20 years in the waste business” is that the proposed Aevitas plant “has no place” on the river.
He reminded people that opponents of SE2 showed stewardship by raising the “incredible stink” against that project that was once envisioned for neighbouring Washington State.
“There was reason for that,” Hull said. He warned if something went wrong with the waste recycling site, everyone who relied on the river would suffer, and the salmon runs would be “decimated” for decades.
Gaetz explained council had to conduct the hearing using the same exact process it always did. Council was “compelled by law” not to entertain any views about the waste plant rezoning after the public hearing, but the entire rezoning approval process was “flawless,” Gaetz said.
“And as far as the word ‘hazardous’ goes, that’s before the courts,” later adding in an effort to reassure the crowd: “We would never put the community at risk.”
Cauchi’s main contribution about the plant location was asking the question, “Why there?” and added it was a decision made by all seven council members, but he didn’t understand why.
Laura Reid of the Chilliwack Heritage Association wanted to know if the mayoral candidates supported a council-appointed Community Heritage Commission.
Cauchi and Hull both said “Yes,” they would support that, with Cauchi adding, “if people want to take stewardship, I don’t know why we would stand in the way.”
But Gaetz countered that the city is well served in that way.
“We have lots of people working on heritage,” she said and thanked Reid for the heritage conservation work she does. “I’m not a fan of duplication.”
One of the questions was geared to eliciting candidates’ views on salary increases for council, would they support them, or would they rather see those extra funds go to a group like one providing “restorative justice,” for example.
Gaetz replied that mayor and council “earn every penny” of the council remuneration they receive. The late Dorothy Kostrzewa worked almost 40 years as city councillor without a pension she noted, as “no one on council gets a pension.”
Paying people “what they’re worth” is key and picking a salary in the “middle of the pack” seems to work, Gaetz said.
Hull said he’d support raises, and from what he’s seen council members don’t only work part time but work full time hours but are paid as if it were a part-time job.
“I don’t believe any politician does it for the money,” he said.
Cauchi said he was not in favour of raised the salaries and would be better diverting the funds to restorative justice, “particularly when the job is to serve others.”
Candidates weighed in on roads and infrastructure, heritage concerns, and youth engagement, along with whether or not they would follow City of Vancouver’s lead in recognizing that B.C. cities were developed on “unceded” aboriginal territory.
Cauchi said “absolutely” Chilliwack should follow Vancouver’s lead and acknowledge the unceded nature of the territories.
Gaetz said she thought the topic was “complicated” and underlined that Chilliwack has been actively developing relationships with the 22 Sto:lo bands in the area.
In terms of the using the word “unceded,” Gaetz said she “didn’t know” what the implications of that would be on “fee-simple” land.
Some council decisions came up, with no new information coming to light, like the city purchasing the failed Candyland site on Luckakuck Way, and the $18 million spent to purchase homes on the Eastern Hillsides built on a former slide.
They were quizzed by the emcee, and questions also came raw and unedited from the floor, on environmental concerns, city hall transparency, as well as topics like breast-feeding, and the Canada-China trade agreement.