Chilliwack city council on March 16, 2021. (City of Chilliwack)

Chilliwack city council on March 16, 2021. (City of Chilliwack)

LETTER: It’s time for Chilliwack to expand from 6 to 8 city councillors

‘Having more voices on council allows a greater variety of perspectives to be heard’

Chilliwack has changed a lot over the past four decades but the amount of representation on city council has remained stuck at six councillors and one mayor since amalgamation in 1980.

This is despite provincial guidelines in the Local Government Act, that a “city or district with a population of more than 50,000 must have a mayor and eight councillors.” Under provincial law, if a council wants to maintain a smaller council size than that justified by population growth, it must achieve the assent of the electors. The citizens of Chilliwack deserve a council that can better reflect the diversity and growth of the community.

Abbotsford has eight councillors; Kamloops has eight; Nanaimo has eight; Chilliwack has six.

That means that each councillor is representing more than 16,000 people. Each Kamloops and Nanaimo councillor represents about 13,000 people. Chilliwack’s population has increased by more than 12 per cent over the past five years and it hasn’t stopped growing. By 2035, Chilliwack is expected to have 125,000 people, a significant increase from the 2021 population of 93,000.

Our current council attests that it doesn’t need to be larger, that it is comfortable with the workload. But the purpose of council is not to be comfortable with its workload, it is to represent the citizens effectively. A city council should reflect the demographics of its citizens. The current council does not do this. Where are the women? Only one of our six councillors is a woman, even though women make up more than 51 per cent of our population. What are we doing to support First Nations and other underrepresented groups? They constitute almost 20 per cent of the population but the current council is entirely white. The quality of governance is reduced when large segments of society are not represented.

It could be argued that Chilliwack’s council was chosen by the voters but when only 23 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot, the current selection of councillors is not an overwhelming endorsement by the citizens. The current council says it welcomes diversity yet with having only six council seats for a city of almost 99,000, it is a lot like inviting dozens of guests for dinner but only having six plates. It is not welcoming to prospective councillors.

For as long as I’ve been paying attention to these things, Chilliwack’s council has been dominated by businessmen, mainly developers or Realtors. These are the people who make decisions about rezoning and development. These councillors are good at what they do but they are inherently biased. They can’t help but support more construction, more taxpayers, and more development cost charges. They don’t support stricter building codes that are designed to reduce our fuel costs and carbon emissions, because of the increased cost of construction. They don’t see those improved building codes as an important part of action against climate change and that building better homes is an investment in our future.

We have all seen the massive increase in housing development in our city. Increased density is something we all agreed to in our official community plan, but the current rate of development is ignoring community values. For example, the city doesn’t seem to enforce its own tree management (land development) bylaw that requires a minimum of 50 trees per hectare. In fact, many of the new developments do not have a single tree and there isn’t even room left on the lots for a tree. Having more voices on council allows a greater variety of perspectives to be heard.

City council needs to set more places at the table to create room for a broader input of opinions and to encourage deeper discussion about change and the future of our city. We need eight councillors.

Debora Soutar

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