Councillor Braun Announces Run For Mayor
Welcome, good morning and thank you for taking the time to be here.
My comments will be approximately 10 minutes in duration, followed by a 20 minute Q & A session.
With that, let me begin by saying that my journey leading up to this day has roots that go back 25 years. It began with Henry Teichrob, a District of Matsqui Councilor who encouraged me to think about serving in public office. During the ensuing years many more added their voices. However, as President and C.E.O. of Pacific Northern Rail Contractors Corp (PNR), Canada’s largest privately held railway construction company and employing 350 employees with offices located across Canada, I simply felt that I could not give the time that was necessary and so my response was always “no.”
That all changed when I retired in 2003, following the sale of PNR. Fast forward to the summer of 2011 and a time when I became increasingly concerned with some of the things that I saw happening in Abbotsford.
I have lived here for 60 years, and I care about Abbotsford. This is where my children and grandchildren were born and live. In fact, it is the only home that I have known. At the age of 13, my parents fled from the Mennonite villages of the southern Ukraine during World War II and ended up in Paraguay, where they married and where I was born. We immigrated to Canada in September 1953, lived in Steinbach, Manitoba for a few months and then moved to Abbotsford, where I have lived ever since.
During my time here I have met many wonderful people who contribute to the life and vibrancy of this city, which makes Abbotsford one of the best places to raise a family, despite some of our more recent shortcomings.
When I ran for public office in 2011, my campaign message was “forward thinking/fiscally responsible,” coupled with the need for greater transparency and accountability to taxpayers and residents.
I believe that elected officials are servants of the people and NOT masters of the people! We bemoan low voter turnout and rightfully so; however, we need to examine why many voters are disengaged. Have they concluded that the elected leaders are not listening? Have they concluded that their best interests are not being represented?
Being a servant to the people means that we listen and then make principled decisions which will serve the interests and needs of Abbotsford as a whole and not only special interest groups, or that we do not build monuments to ourselves with no thought about how it will impact citizens, as well as future generations. We must weigh all of the competing interests and then make decisions based on principles supported by our citizens and achieved through public consultation.
During these past 2.5 years, I have asked many hard questions: questions that should have been answered before proposals came to Council. Was it easy? No, but through it all, I made decisions that I believed were in the best interests of Abbotsford. This is my pledge for as long as I am in office.
I have enjoyed my first term in office, although I acknowledge that the first 15 months were more difficult than I had anticipated. Whether I succeeded in making a difference and whether this has led to some positive corrective changes, I will leave that to the people of Abbotsford to decide.
Since our new city manager arrived in February 2013, changes I whole-heartedly endorsed and advocated for early in my tenure, are being implemented, especially on the fiscal side. Structural deficits that were embedded in our Master Plans have been corrected; however, we still have a ways to go.
Policy and governance is not glamorous work. It is hard and difficult work! And it is absolutely necessary work for an entity that employs 800 people and annually expends $250,000,000, to be organized, efficient and one which provides good value to taxpayers.
When we enact policies and bylaws, we need to adhere to them ourselves before we expect adherence from others. If we are not prepared to enforce them, we need to change them so that we will enforce them. When we simply ignore them or set some aside, we designate winners and losers, which is unfair. The playing field should be level for everyone. To favor one person or special interest group because it may be to our political advantage is not the way government should be run, especially when they are incompatible with our policies, including those from other levels of government who have jurisdiction over specific matters.
When we blatantly disregard these, we not only confuse our staff, who are charged with the responsibility of carrying out policies and bylaws that we enact, but we also confuse others who are watching flagrant violations without any consequences taken by the City. This is not the fault of our staff; rather, this is the fault of Council who send mixed messages to the point where our bylaw enforcement staff does not know what is expected.
If we create policies and bylaws, but will not do anything when they are violated, we mock the very principles that undergird our democracy. In other words, if our citizens see that others do not follow policy and obey bylaws, they understandably wonder why they should.
We must also improve efforts at demonstrating transparency and holding ourselves accountable to the public. There are many matters dealt with in closed Council session that in my view should be discussed in an open forum so that the public is aware of what is being considered and have the opportunity to engage and provide input before decisions are made which often affect them, sometimes in profound ways. We are unjust to our citizens when they learn about our decisions after the fact and when it is too late to respond.
I have repeatedly stated that we have lost trust with the majority of our citizens and that trust has to be re-established. We have to earn it all over. Without the trust of the people we serve, it is difficult to move Abbotsford toward a preferred future.
The Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Complex, the Abbotsford Heat contract, the Stave Lake Water Referendum, the YMCA, and the defeat of the 21 unit Housing First proposal by Abbotsford Community Services have all contributed to a steady undermining of the people’s trust in local government. Despite a massive PR campaign by City Hall, costing taxpayers $320,000, the Stave Lake Referendum was soundly defeated and rightly so. I dedicated an enormous amount of time researching this proposal and, while many other candidates seeking a seat on Council in the last election were on the “No” side of the referendum, I was the only one who came out and stated that I was voting “No,” because the actual data did not support the “drumbeat” that we had a water crisis, nor did we need a new water source for another 15 – 20 years.
The $5.5 million payout to the Calgary Flames was the lesser of two evils – pay $5.5 million now or pay $12 million over the next 5 years. One of the many questions that Kevin Mills of the Abbotsford News asked me during his interview and reported in his January 2013 article was this, “The Abbotsford Heat hockey club has cost taxpayers millions. Is there any way for the city to solve the ongoing problem?”
My reply 18 months ago was: “That’s going to be a little harder to fix. There are solutions but they are all going to cost money. The question then becomes how much money. Maybe we should cut somebody a cheque for five or six million dollars.”
We also need to increase the level of respect for our community – the shame and embarrassment that the chicken manure fiasco has caused our citizens is undeserved and deplorable! This is not who Abbotsford is and we have a lot of work to do to rebuild our reputation and standing with regard to how we treat the homeless.
I could go on but these are some examples of the colossal failures and poor decisions that have made or were about to be made had it not been for some very probing and relentless questioning during my term, especially during the first 15 months.
In closing, Abbotsford has enormous potential…we are a city in the very heart of the Fraser Valley, surrounded by the most productive agricultural land in Canada. Unlike Metro Vancouver cities, the urban core of Abbotsford is not attached to any other city, which makes us very distinct in the Valley. We already have many of the ingredients that other cities are envious of. It is now time for Abbotsford to capitalize on our strengths and begin to plan a City that is livable and walkable, a place where people gather, and in so doing build community, where young families, live, work and play. Done right, the future for Abbotsford looks very promising.
This being said and after a lot of thought as well as wise counsel from many people whose opinions I value and trust, I am announcing that I will be seeking public support for the office of Mayor in the upcoming civic election. This concludes my prepared remarks. I would now like to open it up to your questions.
Abbotsford Ramada Plaza Hotel & Conference Centre
Media Press Conference (10:00 a.m.)
Apex Boardroom – 4th Floor
June 11, 2014
May 30, 2014
Councillor Expenses For 2013
The Financial Information Act Report requires that every elected official must disclose the total dollar amount spent in each calendar year. However, there is no requirement to provide any detail, which means the taxpayer has no way of knowing what is included in the total amount reported.
In keeping with my campaign promise to be open, transparent and accountable to the citizens of Abbotsford, the following is an itemized listing of my council expenses during calendar 2013. Report No. COR 44 – 2012, dated April 28, 2014 provides the total expense amount of $3,661, as per Schedule C, of the 2013 Statement of Financial Information and 2013 Consolidated Financial Statements. For comparative purposes, my council expenses in 2012 were $3,932 (refer to last year’s post for details).
Following is a detailed line item breakdown of my 2013 council expenses;
1. Rotary’s 100 year celebration February 8 $20.00 2. Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast May 16 $25.00 3. UDI Lunch June 13 $63.00 4. UDI Social Event August 22 $26.25 5. Chamber Lunch September 25 $30.45 6. UDI Breakfast October 1 $68.25 7. UDI FV Mayor’s Panel October 10 $68.25 8. BC Cancer Luncheon November 5 $65.00 9. Abbotsford Community Foundation Lunch November 14 $50.00 10. Chamber Breakfast November 15 $21.00 11. Chamber Lunch November 27 $36.75 12. Big Brothers/Big Sisters November 28 $40.00 13. Civic Info Forum – Open Government December 4 $194.25 Sub Total $708.20
Meeting Expenses (Lunch)
1. City Manager May 15 $ 9.27 2. City Manager May 30 $22.46 3. City Manager October 17 $25.81 Sub-total $57.54
Lower Mainland Local Government Association (LMLGA) – May 8 – 10
1. Registration $367.50 2. Hotel (2 nights) $368.00 3. Parking $12.60 4. Meals $14.86 Sub-total $762.96
Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) – May 31 – June 3
1. Registration $735.00 2. Hotel (3 nights) $1020.56 3. Meals $105.00 4. Parking $192.20 5. Milage $73.14 Sub-total $2131.90
Grand Total 2013 Expenses $3660.60
Hotel expenses do not include any charges beyond the basic room charge, plus applicable taxes.
Copies of invoices are available upon request.
February 26, 2014
ACS Housing Proposal – Flawed Or Hijacked?
Much has already been said since last Monday’s Council’s decision to deny Abbotsford Community Services (“ACS”), supportive housing initiative, which would have seen BC Housing contribute $2,400,000 toward the construction of the building and another $12,900,000 (60 years x $215,000 per year), for operational costs.
A repeated comment made by those who oppose the ACS project is that the negotiation process was flawed, implying that something “underhanded” or “sneaky” was going on behind the scenes. Nothing could be further from the truth!
The process began in September of 2008 with the signing of a Memorandum Of Understanding (“MOU”) between the City and BC Housing. Two projects were completed (Christine Lamb, and George Schmidt Centre at Kinghaven), in May 2012 and February 2013. That left a 20 unit “low barrier” supportive housing project for men to be built.
Expressions of Interest (“EOI”), for the 3rd “low barrier” housing site predate my time on Council, which means that the process was well under way prior to December 5, 2011, the date of my first Council meeting.
Eventually a second ACS public forum was held and comments were made that the ACS proposal was the City’s remaining outstanding obligation to fulfill its commitment pursuant to the MOU. In other words, since only 30 of the 50 units slated for the Emerson & Peardonville site were constructed at Kinghaven, the remaining 20 units would have to be constructed at a third location. We know from the public record that plans for the 30 units at Kinghaven were announced in April 2011. That means that the original MOU would have been amended to reflect the scope change of the project prior to April, 2011, in order to permit the 20 “low barrier” housing units to be built at a third location.
During the Public Hearing, representatives from both BC Housing and ACS, in response to allegations that something “underhanded” had taken place between the proponent and the City, replied that the City had been involved in the Request For Proposal (“RFP”). Additionally, that Council had agreed in Principle to donate a portion of Montvue Avenue in order to ensure that ACS had sufficient lands to construct the proposed building. Without that agreement in Principle (during the first half of 2012), the project could not have proceeded at the proposed location.
If those on Council who are now opposed to this project were concerned about the location/zoning, they should have voiced their concerns then and voted against the request to cede a portion of Montvue Avenue to the ACS. This could have stopped the project in its tracks and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer and donor dollars could have been saved. Instead BC Housing and ACS were subjected to significant costs, which included architectural drawings, consultants, legal fees to name a few, not to mention all of the staff time that all three organizations invested in the process.
When BC Housing released ACS from the confidentiality agreement, ACS made the public and the ADBA aware of the conditional award in June 2013. Shortly thereafter, the City began to look at alternative sites. All of the alternate locations were acceptable to ACS, PROVIDED, that the City would pick up the costs for redesigning their plans and the additional operational costs over the life of the project. To suggest that ACS was not prepared to move to alternate sites is simply false.
What is puzzling, at least to me, is that one of the alternate sites proposed by the City was located within the ADBA. During a discussion that I had with the President of the ADBA, he stated he expected the ADBA would endorse that alternate site. The proposed alternate site is 120 meters closer to the intersection of Essendene and Montrose, the heart of the historic downtown, than the ASC site. If the City had agreed to reimburse ACS for the cost of redoing the drawings and paying for the increased operational costs, ACS and BC Housing would have accepted the alternate site and the ADBA would have supported it.
The notion that Fraser Health Authority would provide land for a “low barrier” housing project after defeating the Bylaw is beyond belief. Moreover, the MOU makes it clear that it is City’s responsibility to provide the land, not Fraser Health Authority. Since we walked away from our commitments to BC Housing & ACS, why would Fraser Health Authority even want to entertain the idea of getting involved knowing that Council has already turned down two sites? Without a shred of evidence to support the claim that Fraser Health Authority is even remotely interested, Council walked away from 6 years of work and $15.3 million dollars that BC Housing had committed to this City.
It is unfortunate that claims are now being made that the negotiation process was flawed, especially since the ACS process was the same one used for the other two projects (Christine Lamb & George Schmidt). From this Councillor’s perspective, the process was not flawed but appears to have been hijacked while trying to rewrite history.
- February 26, 2014