During this municipal election, key issues in Abbotsford include how the city deals with its homeless population and financial losses around ending its contract with the Abbotsford Heat hockey team.
This fall, a current city councillor is challenging the incumbent for the mayor's chair.
Bruce Banman, a chiropractor who has lived in Abbotsford since 1982, was first elected mayor in 2011. He has identified four major issues heading into the election: relieving the tax burden, creating jobs, safe neighbourhoods and building a family-friendly community. Abbotsford residents didn’t get a tax hike in 2014, which Banman lists as one of his biggest accomplishments. The city’s crime rate has fallen by 11 per cent since Banman was elected.
Henry Braun was elected to Abbotsford City Council for the first time in 2011. Prior to entering politics, he co-owned Abbotsford-based Pacific Northern Rail Contractors Corp. He has scored two key endorsements — former area mayors George Ferguson and Dave Kandal, who helped merge the District of Abbotsford and District of Matsqui into the City of Abbotsford nearly 20 years ago. Braun says homelessness and public safety are two of the biggest issues the city is facing.
Les Barkman (incumbent)
James W. Breckenridge
Joe (Joginder) Chahal
Moe Gill (incumbent)
Dave Loewen (incumbent)
Bill MacGregor (incumbent)
Patricia Ross (incumbent)
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Abbotsford built an 8,000 seat arena and attracted a professional hockey team. The Abbotsford Heat, the AHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames, opened the 2009-2010 season in the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre. It didn't go well. The team struggled to draw fans and the facility became a money pit.
This year, Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman, who inherited the problem from the previous mayor and council, announced the city spent $5.5 million to get out of its deal with the Flames, and the Heat moved to Utica, New York. The arena currently doesn't have a significant tenant, but hosts minor hockey league games and concerts. The venture has cost Abbotsford taxpayers about $12 million since 2010 and remains fresh on the minds of voters.
Another issue that has cast a negative spotlight on the city is homelessness. It all started in the summer of 2013 when city officials scattered chicken manure over a homeless camp on Gladys Avenue. Mayor Banman later came to the site to apologize to the campers in person. The city also launched a Homelessness Task Force to examine ways to solve the issue.
Earlier this year, BC Hydro served campers with an eviction notice, telling them they had to leave due to safety concerns. Many people are now staying at another campsite just down the road. The Pivot Legal Society is now arguing in court that the group has the right to camp in a city park. There are 151 homeless people in the city, according to a count that was done earlier this year, but advocates say the number is much higher.
In 2012, Abbotsford’s unemployment rate hit 10.5 per cent, well above the provincial and national average. The number currently sits at 8.1 per cent, but it will likely rise again as we head into the fall, since many people in the city have seasonal jobs in the agriculture sector and when winter hits, jobs tend to dry up.
As the Lower Mainland’s population shifts from Vancouver to Surrey, Abbotsford is becoming a crucial link for the entire region, with its border crossing and major airport. The next mayor and council should have opportunities for growth and economic development. Pursuing those opportunities while continuing to support agriculture, which makes up a significant portion of the city’s economy, could prove to be a challenging balancing act for the next mayor and council.