Stave Lake Water Decision- Media Release
Abbotsford City Council candidate Henry Braun announced today that he will be voting ‘No’ on the Stave Lake Water question on the November 19 referendum ballot.
Since declaring his candidacy, Braun has been seeking answers to his questions about the proposed P3 water deal. ‘Over the past weeks I have been listening, gathering information and learning as much as I can about our water situation and the Stave Lake Water plan voters are being asked to decide on. Along the way I heard from many people, most of whom are opposed to the project. Some of the opposition seems to be for reasons other than the project itself’, Braun stated. ‘These include escalating property taxes, much higher water bills, the HST, operating deficit of the Entertainment and Sport Centre and the uncertainty in the global economy’.
He added, ‘There are way too many unknowns at this point. If it were my money I wouldn’t invest in the project without better information on what we are committing ourselves to – so I cannot honestly recommend that the citizens of Abbotsford approve spending tax money on this either’.
Braun believes that the residents of Abbotsford have already begun to respond to the potential water issue, and when properly informed will rise to the challenge of water conservation. ‘The issues are complex, deserving of additional time to examine innovative long term solutions and I’d like to see Mission back at the table. In the meantime, Braun supports the “conservation first” approach, working in tandem with a careful “conservative second look”. We need sufficient time for Abbotsford to build up our economic reserves before we rush into a decision that will impact us for the next seventy-five to one hundred years, which is the estimated life of the water treatment plant.’
More details on Braun’s thoughts on this and other issues impacting the citizens of Abbotsford are available on his website at http://henrybraun.ca
October 31, 2011
Stave Lake Water Project –YES OR NO?
There are many things we can do without. Water is not one of them. Dr. Richard Wolfenden, professor of biochemistry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill put it this way, “To say that water is essential hardly covers it.”
Over the past weeks, I have been listening, gathering information and learning about our water situation and the Stave Lake Water plan presented to taxpayers. Along the way, I heard from many people, most of whom are opposed to the project. Some opposition seems to be for reasons other than the project itself. Concerns such as; escalating property taxes, much higher water bills, the HST, the operating deficit of the Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Center, perceptions of waste in day-to-day operations (work around the City), the uncertainty in the global economy, etc., etc.
In the face of all of these issues, and without much warning, a $300 million water expansion project is submitted to referendum. People don’t like surprises, especially when they are expensive ones and from government. The result can be feelings of betrayal and anger. Much of the angst that has been generated results from a “hurry up and decide” communication strategy. Quite frankly, I do not see the need to hire a PR firm at a cost of $200,000 to provide a promotional ‘advocacy’ campaign to sell the project to the taxpayers.
Let’s look at the facts. A few years ago, our water usage on a few days of the year approached the upper limits of our existing water supply capacity. With continued growth in the residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural sectors, at some point we will need more water… lots more. Advocates for the “Yes” vote have expressed fear that water-reliant businesses will stay away from or leave Abbotsford. Frankly, I do not know of any objective evidence to support that concern.
I appreciate why some people want to vote “No” in the upcoming referendum.
- The 2016 deadline may not be as critical as is being made out to be. While I agree that we have a looming water issue, I am also convinced that the very recent water conservation efforts have not yet been given a full opportunity to work. Once people began to fully appreciate that Abbotsford has a ‘water issue’ and saw their ‘new’ water bills, residents very quickly began to change their use of water. It is making a difference. But we will not know what gains have been achieved until we have a full year’s data. I firmly believe that the residents of Abbotsford, if properly informed, will rise to the challenge of water conservation. Additional supply may blunt conservation efforts resulting in a short-lived and ill-considered “fix”.
- Projections for future water usage are based on a much higher rate of development than what has been experienced during the past 2 years. The ‘boom’ decade came to an end two years ago and it may be a long time before equivalent increases in water volume needs are required again. Since development growth has declined sharply, the assumptions built into the forecast models do not reflect today’s reality.
- We cannot count on the financial or other support of our neighbors in Mission. As of right now, Mission will not agree to share the costs of the project. Further, as I understand it, the project cannot proceed without expropriation of private land outside the borders of Abbotsford. Extra time would certainly provide a better opportunity to invite our neighbors in Mission to come back to the table, as well as give us the chance to build up our economic reserves.
I also understand why people would want to vote “Yes”. Their reasons include the following:
- A “No” could be interpreted as the community saying emphatically: no negotiating, no amendments, no opportunity to re-examine the evidence and alternatives that might be on the table.
- “No” will result in water rates rising by 30 – 40 percent.
- Unless we vote “Yes” significant economic development may be seriously limited and new water-dependent industries may choose to stay away from Abbotsford. Tofino experienced an analogous situation in 2006 when, due to water shortages, tourism basically shut down. It is rumored that a major ‘wet industry’ business in Abbotsford may leave town if it can’t be assured of enough water for their product.
- From a fire safety perspective, water flows may not be sufficient to fight a major blaze (likely during summer months). Without a secondary source for water we may remain vulnerable as a community. The present water intake at Norrish Creek was almost wiped out by a landslide a few years ago. Had that happened, we would have been coping with a major disaster.
- A no vote would alienate current leadership as it would effectively disagree with all the work and recommendations of senior city staff and 8 of the 9 existing members of Council.
- The process would have to start all over sometime in the reasonably near future.
Regardless of the outcome, the citizens of Abbotsford need their voice to be heard. Regardless of how they vote, I will respect their decision and work with them to the best of my ability.
Leadership requires tough decisions to be made. They must not be made carelessly or without due consideration. They must not be made based on political or personal motivation. They must be made after carefully listening to the views of others, analyzing the data available, considering the consequences, and deciding “what is best for the most”.
This has been a difficult decision for me to make. I recognize the risk that I may lose votes from people who are otherwise supportive. However, contrary to my initial views, and with the greatest of respect for those who disagree, I will be voting “no” on the referendum ballot on November 19, and urging others to do so. My primary reasons are grounded in the lengthy (185 words in a single sentence!), difficult to understand, complex and ill-defined wording of the Referendum itself.
The Referendum is too complex. I believe in keeping things as simple as reasonably possible. The Referendum is far too wordy and complex to be reasonably understood by even a well-informed voter. It seems to have been written by lawyers, for lawyers, to withstand legal attack. I have spent many hours analyzing the issues, hours that the otherwise busy voter does not have. The issues have not been simplified, but remain complex. Complexity easily leads to confusion, and a confused vote should not lead to approval for such a major project. Difficult and detailed issues such as this need to be explained fully, carefully and objectively so as to enable all voters to make an informed decision. Unfortunately, this has not occurred. On the wording of the current Referendum, I do not believe that a “yes” vote would reflect the fully informed decision of Abbotsford residents.
- The Referendum is narrow and limiting. It unnecessarily limits the decision-making authority of elected City Council. Even though there may be agreements and details that are not yet in place, future latitude is limited by reason of the Referendum detailed wording.
- The Referendum is based on an uncertain assumption. There is uncertainty and controversy, even among well-informed, about whether this project, and only this project, is necessary to “ensure that the current and long-term water needs of the city of Abbotsford are met”, at least in the specific fashion set out in the Referendum. I believe that this requires objective evidence on three “needs” questions. What are the current needs? What are the long-term needs? And is this project the best way to meet both of those needs? Right now, we cannot afford expensive (potentially budget busting), nonessential capital projects like those approved in the City’s “Plan A” Referendum. Right now we need time, greater transparency in making information available to the public and objective answers to the “needs” questions. In the meantime, I support the “conservation first” approach, working in tandem with a careful “conservative second look”.
- The Referendum does not disclose sufficient information regarding the public/private partnership. While certainly not opposed to public/private partnerships, where necessary for economic or efficiency reasons, care must be taken to ensure that such arrangements are in the best interests of the community as a whole. The currently known terms and conditions of the proposed arrangement, together with the economics, are very limited. This leaves me with more questions than answers. Therefore, based on the information I have to date, I am not satisfied that “the current and long-term water needs of the City of Abbotsford are met by the City entering into a partnering agreement with the private sector partner”.
If elected, I will be as direct and transparent as reasonably possible, continue to seek feedback from all constituencies, and work towards a long-term, efficient and economical water supply that serves the best interests of the community as a whole.
October 29, 2011
Guide for Voting For/Against the Water Referendum
During my campaign travels, numerous people have shared their confusion with me that, while they agree with some portions of the referendum question, they disagree with other portions. The following guide may be helpful in working through that process.
Step 1: Carefully Read the Referendum (note that each underlined portion is in fact a separate question/issue, of which there are 10):
Are you in favour of the City of Abbotsford (1) developing a new water supply source at Stave Lake (2)(consisting of a water intake in Stave Lake, a pump station, a water treatment plant and a water transmission line from Stave Lake to the City of Abbotsford) (3) to ensure that the current and long term water needs of the City of Abbotsford are met by: the City (4) entering into a partnering agreement with a private sector partner that (5) will design, build, partially finance and operate a water supply and distribution system from Stave Lake (6) for up to thirty (30) years, (7) incurring a maximum capital cost and liability to the City of TWO HUNDRED AND NINETY-ONE MILLION DOLLARS ($291,000,000) of which (8) up to $61,000,000 will be paid for through a federal contribution; and Abbotsford City Council adopting (9) Bylaw No. 2105-2011, “Stave Lake Water System Loan Authorization Bylaw, 2011” to (10) authorize the borrowing by the City of the remaining TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY MILLION DOLLARS ($230,000,000), for up to thirty (30) years, for the capital cost of constructing the water supply and distribution system from Stave Lake?
Step 2: Answer the Following Questions:
- Do you understand the Referendum question so that its meaning is clear to you?
- Have you taken the time to become reasonably informed about the issues involved in this decision?
- Do you approve of proceeding with this project without the approval or involvement of Mission?
- Understanding the benefits/detriments of “the City entering into a partnering agreement with a private sector partner that will design, build, partially finance and operate water supply and distribution system”, do you wish to proceed with the project in this manner?
- Have you read, understood and agree with Bylaw No. 2105-2011?
- Do you approve of the City borrowing $230 million for the project?
Step 3. If your answer to all of the above questions is “Yes”, then, on principle, you vote “Yes” in the upcoming Referendum.
Step 4: If your answer to any of the above questions is “No”, then, on principle, you vote “No” in the upcoming Referendum.
October 28, 2011
Where Can Our Young Adults Live?
Everyone knows that young adults (those under 30) are often unable to afford the price, or the rent, for reasonable housing. There is, however, a local Abbotsford effort that seems to have proven that young people can live responsibly together in community and, in the process, have affordable housing.
A few days ago, I received an invitation to get together for coffee. It was from a young man I had never met (let’s call him David), age 26. We enjoyed a cup of coffee at Formaggio’s (a great local spot) and had what I thought was a very enlightening discussion on a number of topics. However, our primary focus was the Atangard Community Project and the 27 young people who make this their home. I had heard about the Atangard Community Project a number of years ago, but never actually met anyone associated with that community. “The Project”, as it is called, is a simple idea: a group of young people who are seeking to live together in an affordable community. It is located in what once was the old Atangard Hotel in historic downtown Abbotsford.
Although “The Project” dates back 4 or 5 years, since 2009 the Atangard has provided affordable housing in a community setting for university students and working people between the ages of 19 and early 30s. Each apartment in the Atangard is 150 – 300 sq. ft., not including individual bathrooms. “The Project” is fully occupied with a waiting list, which indicates that there is a need that is being met. The residents have developed a system where they take turns preparing dinner once or twice per month. When asked, David (not his real name) said he hoped that this demographic in our community could more readily access Council members, and to find a venue in which to dialogue on important local matters. The goal would be to come together and explore solutions to some of the needs encountered by young adults of our community. David had taken the initiative. I received an open invitation to join this community for dinner, which I will do sometime during the next week or two.
Afterwards, I did some of my own research and discovered that Sophia Suderman is one of the directors that spearheaded this initiative in response to what she saw as a great need for reasonably priced, community-based living for this often overlooked demographic. Sophie is quoted as saying, “Our society is so driven to achieve, and relationships fall to the side… A situation like this meets both the relational needs as well as the need for affordability.”
Abbotsford has a rich heritage of meeting local needs, as well as those in different locations around the world. Our local community has often been a model for innovative solutions, such as “The Project”. By taking the initiative, listening to each other and working hard together, even seemingly insurmountable difficulties can be addressed.
October 25, 2011
Do Abbotsford’s Young Adults Care about the Upcoming Election?
Today, I was invited to lunch by a group of young voters. By that I mean quite a bit younger than me; half of them being in their early to mid-30s. Having been invited to the luncheon, I was keen to know their thoughts on the upcoming election, so I kept my opening to a minimum and spent as much time possible answering questions.
I was struck by two things; this generation deeply cares about our community, its presence, its future and how we are going to address the issues we face. Secondly, I was impressed with the caliber and quality of these up and coming leaders who have made Abbotsford their home.
What I thought would be a 1 hour luncheon turned into more than two hours of meaningful interaction. And we could easily have gone on for much longer. The time I was able to spend with these young citizens was priceless. The topics discussed ranged from property taxation, the Stave Lake Water Project, crime and safety, trust and integrity both in business and government, community values, business ethics, the global economy, voter apathy, the City’s financial situation, perceived government waste and a growing bureaucracy to name just a few in no particular order. I learned much more from them than they likely learned from me.
I came away from the meeting feeling very encouraged. There are young men and women in their 20’s and 30’s who are engaged in this election and who care deeply about our City. They are all going to vote on November 19. I was very proud (in the right sense of that word), that these up and coming leaders were taught in our local schools and now reside in our City. At times, I hear that young people don’t have time to get involved in local elections, remaining apathetic or totally critical in an unconstructive way. We talked about how easy it is to criticize without being willing to help find a solution. But the ones I met over an extended lunch are fully engaged, fully committed to make our community better and, in fact, are making a difference in the marketplaces where they serve.
The number of calls asking me for my position on the referendum question continues to mount. My reply continues to be that I will be making my position on my website www.henrybraun.ca by the end of this week.
October 24, 2011
No Sense in Being Lukewarm about the Abbotsford Heat
One of the many joys of being a grandfather is to take time to be with grandchildren. While I dearly love my children, there is something extra special when it comes to grandchildren…and mere words don’t fully express what I feel about them
Friday night was the first time that I had taken my youngest two grandsons, ages 4 and 6 to a Heat Hockey game. When I arrived to pick them up, I could see the excitement on their faces. I immediately knew that this was going to be one of those locations that the three of us will not soon forget. Their first words were, “Grandpa, Grandpa, look at the sign we made”. “Go Heat Go” had been written with a felt pen on a piece of cardboard cut from a box.
As we walked into the AESC complex, there was Ryan Walter, President of the Abbotsford Heat, mingling with the crowd, greeting everyone and posing for photographs with anyone who asked. Of course, we asked that a picture be taken with Ryan, to which he graciously agreed. Ryan even took off his Stanley Cup ring and let my youngest grandson hold it for the picture. I’m not sure that he fully understood that there are very few people who have ever held a Stanley Cup ring in their hands, but that understanding will come soon enough. For now, the pictures will go into their albums to be cherished along with other memorable events they will enjoy. Even before the game began, the younger of my two grandsons became an instant hit with the lady sitting directly behind us and developed a friendship that I’m sure will be continued the next time we go.
The third period of the game was exciting and it was great to see the Abbotsford Heat win 2 – 1 in a shoot out, ending the Milwaukee Admirals new season undefeated streak.
I admit that I had one disappointment. Despite a great evening of entertainment and good hockey, there were only 2,200 fans out on a Friday night. Abbotsford has a great hockey team and the new president, Ryan Walter, brings an added dimension of enthusiasm, energy and cooperation to the Hockey team. I fully understand the controversy surrounding the AESC and the $1.3 operating deficit of the team. But we made a commitment to this team, rightly or wrongly. We now owe it to Ryan and the team to show our community support, the kind of enthusiastic backing that this City is known for. The Abbotsford Heat are trying everything they can to be part of our community. They are not asking for our charity, just our support of great local hockey. Not only is it great hockey, but many of the players you will be able to see it seems will end up in the NHL, some may even be playing for the Canucks.
The Abbotsford Heat are now an important part of our community. They have committed to being contributors to our City, helping in the schools, minor hockey, and many other ways. Do yourself a favor. The next time the Abbotsford Heat are in town, take in the game. Take your children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews. Take your whole family. It’s affordable, local and enjoyable.
October 21, 2011
Council Meetings-Drama or Decision-Making?
Are the City’s Regular Council meetings scripted? That was the question that was posed to me by one of the other Council candidates during the third Stave Lake Open House held at Rick Hansen School.
A bit taken aback, my reply was that this was not an accurate reflection of how City Council normally operates. I then asked the contender what had caused the question in the first place. As I listened, it became apparent that skeptical conclusion stemmed from a perception that Council routinely approves matters that come before it with very little debate, if any. No questions are asked, all in favor, opposed, carried and on to the next matter.
Certainly there are items that come before Council that may appear routine; such as receipt of Committee Reports (of which there are many) , Minutes of meetings, and correspondence, which have to be received by a motion to receive or adopt. However, that does not mean that Council members have not reviewed the material and discussed the issues amongst themselves prior to the Council meeting.
During my tenure on the Abbotsford Airport Authority Board, there were times when I was invited to be at closed sessions of Council to discuss sensitive and confidential information pertaining to the Airport. I can attest to the fact that open and sometimes very frank discussion among and with Council members took place during those closed sessions. Discussion and decisions in closed session is intended to protect sensitive or confidential matters from being made public. For instance, in the case of the Airport it was important to keep discussion from public disclosure in order to protect the Airport’s competitive advantages. Generally, such meetings and information are not kept from the general public because Council is hiding something. To release everything that Council does or says would actually be detrimental to the City and could give cause for claims from third parties. Governing is not as easy as many people think – there is much to be taken into account before deciding weighty matters.
Council’s main responsibility is to deal with matters of vision, policy and governance. Direction to staff comes through those policies and the Mayor carries out the direction of Council, similar to the role of a C.E.O. in a corporation. The City staff is to carry out the Council’s policies. How those policies are carried out is the responsibility of Staff. Whenever Council strays into the day to day operations of Staff, or Staff strays into the areas that are the responsibility of Council, tensions inevitably develop from blurring the lines of authority and accountability. The Mayor and the City Manager would be the two people who need to be most vigilant in recognizing when these crossovers occur in order to avoid unnecessary conflict between Council and Staff.
Most of Council’s work is not dramatic. If done well, it is demanding and takes hours of effort, careful attention to detail, research and, most important, a listening ear. While there certainly will be times of confrontational debate, some of which is behind closed doors, it is the responsibility of our elected officials to ensure that the public are as fully informed as they need to be to understand the issues facing the City. This requires discretion, integrity and wisdom. Necessary traits for anyone seeking a seat at Council table.
October 20, 2011
Streamlining City Hall and Controlling Taxes
If small business can’t fight City Hall, then City Hall should not be fighting small business.
While I celebrate a new major employer relocating to Abbotsford, research indicates that the vast majority of jobs are created by small, local businesses. Small business is the heartbeat of our community. Yet many times City Hall forgets how vulnerable small businesses are to costs of regulation and bureaucracy’s potential to eliminate the ability to make profit possible. If elected, I am committed to finding ways to streamline regulatory processes so as to free up more of the entrepreneurial spirit that this city is known for. We need local small businesses to thrive and create sustainable employment for the citizens of Abbotsford. As an elected official, I will support the growth and success of our local businesses. To create a friendly city, our elected representatives must be friendly to small business.
Escalating property taxes are the concern of both business owners and residents alike. We all know that taxes are necessary to pay for the services, facilities and infrastructure demanded by our citizens. But in order for taxes to be acceptable they must be fair. Furthermore, City Council must be trustworthy in the way it spends the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. If elected, I promise to do two things to combat escalating property taxes:
- City Council needs to listen more to the quiet many, not just to the noisy few. After all, Council members are stewards of the money obtained through taxation. In order for taxation to be perceived as fair, it must be understood as necessary to pay for the things we need. Defining “needs” and “wants” is not always easy. But in this day of belt-tightening, we must do a better job of listening to how our community defines those words. Defining the difference between needs and wants requires a nonpartisan approach and careful prioritizing of the things we actually need. Fiscal responsibility must be undertaken with the precision of the scalpel not the slashing of a butcher knife. In order to be responsible with the tax monies entrusted to City Council by the citizens of Abbotsford, they must understand the needs of the citizens and create policies that guide our budgeting process. Using these policies, City Hall can instruct staff, when needed, how to search for and find ways to do more with less. We simply cannot continue to raise property taxes as the only answer to burgeoning demands. I am committed to continue listening, developing policies and doing my best to keep property taxes from escalating further.
- City Council needs to ‘raise the bar’ regarding its relationships with senior government. We need them to hear our voice amidst the shouts of so many others. We need to have serious discussions with our Provincial and Federal Governments who, over the course of many years, have downloaded services that were their responsibilities. We cannot continue to spend local tax dollars on infrastructure (Highway 1 interchanges). That is the responsibility of our Provincial and Federal governments. If they want us to provide these services, we need to have a share of the tax revenues they collect to support such endeavors. Our senior governments must understand that federal funding deficits and provincial priorities cannot be loaded on the backs of municipal taxpayers. I will need your voice and support to accomplish this. We will be heard not by shouting louder, but by together carrying a determined message to those representing us in Victoria and Ottawa.
October 19, 2011
Abbotsford In the World Economy
Abbotsford is not an island. Realizing that we are part of a global community is essential to making wise decisions as a member of the City Council.
Tuesday, I attended the RBC Royal Bank’s Fall 2011 Economic Forum to hear what their Vice-President and Chief Economist, Craig Wright, had to say about the global economic recovery. I was particularly interested in hearing their economic /financial analysis and forecasts, and what that may mean for our global economy, B.C.’s financial future and the residents and businesses of the Fraser Valley. With the rise of globalization, economies that were once isolated from one another are now intertwined. What happens half way around the world often impacts what happens right here in Abbotsford.
One of the first PowerPoint slides provided a clue to the economic outlook: “it is an uncertain, uneven and underwhelming recovery”.
A general summary of my take away was that;
- The winds of worry regarding sovereign-debt levels have once again taken center stage as many of the world economies are hit with volatilities in the market.
- A downward revision is forecasted in global growth and there is a need for more aggressive action to avert another downturn.
- The world’s leading Central Bankers are putting up a united front and are signaling that they are ready to provide whatever monies it takes to keep the system going, while at the same time keeping interest rates at historic lows.
- A key factor going forward is confidence – can the world economies keep it all together?
Although the presentation was upbeat and very well done, with trends that would indicate that things are getting better, the problems in the US were deeper and the recovery weaker than had been expected.
My conclusions in looking at the financial future for Canada remain uncertain, primarily because of what is happening south of the border. As of this writing, the picture presented a more optimistic view of recovery than I think is realistic. There are investment dollars sitting on the sidelines, on both sides of the border. One has to ask the question: Why? That fact betrays an attitude of caution and uncertainty.
For Abbotsford, this likely means an ongoing need for restraint and budgetary controls. Another “boom” era may not be right around the corner. As I have promised, if elected I will seek to implement policies that protect the people of Abbotsford from increased taxes or to decreased supply of what is needed. People need to know that their money is being spent wisely. People need to be able to trust their civic leaders. To be trusted, civic leaders need to be as transparent as possible, trusting people with the good news as well as the bad news. To be trusted, our City Council needs to listen carefully, clearly identify the problems, consider the broadest number of potential solutions and then act decisively in implementation of fiscally responsible responses.
October 18, 2011
The Water Debate Continues
The Stave Lake Water Project continues to be a ‘hot button’ issue. I attended Monday’s Regular Meeting of Council. The meeting began with a delegation presentation that was punctuated with a host of questions about the project.
Some were good, and others were more statements of opinion than helpful in shedding light on what is a complex issue. Numerous people, including the media representatives, have asked me about my position on this “hot button” issue. How will I vote in the referendum – yes or no? I understand that I owe this important issue more than an ill-informed reaction. I owe the topic and you a considered response.
It would be easy to take a position and state an opinion. However, I have long been a believer in the proverb, “better to stand silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove any doubt.” When my family immigrated to Canada in 1953, I knew very little about very little. I watched my father as he listened. He listened to gain understanding, and in the process gained wisdom. Using my father as an example, I continue to gather facts and information. It is my hope that in the process I will gain a better understanding and wisdom. I will come to a conclusion shortly and communicate it as clearly, carefully and concisely as possible.
- October 20, 2011
- October 21, 2011
- October 24, 2011
- October 25, 2011