Henry's Blog

Council Meetings – Drama Or Decision Making

Friday, October 21, 2011

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.

Streamlining City Hall And Controlling Taxes

Thursday, October 20, 2011

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Abbotsford in The World Economy

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

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;

  1. 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.
  2. A downward revision is forecasted in global growth and there is a need for more aggressive action to avert another downturn.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

The Water Debate Continues

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

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.

The Cost of Water

Monday, October 17, 2011

Several weeks ago, I read a book entitled “The Big Thirst” written by Charles Fishman. The Big Thirst is a fascinating read and brilliantly explores our strange and complex relationship with water.

Fishman contends that, for the past 100 years, the western world has been living in a kind of aquatic paradise: Our water has been safe, abundant and inexpensive; a golden age of water if you will, where we could use as much as we wanted, whenever we wanted, at a relatively inexpensive cost. In the book, Fishman describes what happened in Australia where, during the past 5 years, Australia nearly ran out of water. Fishman contends that, “we have more than enough water. We just don’t think about it, or use it, smartly.”

Until fairly recently, water has not been a ‘hot button’ issue in Abbotsford, nor was there any real incentive to pay attention to how much water we used. During the last year, the City’s water conservation efforts have resulted in gains being made in the residential sector. However, the commercial and industrial sectors have been largely ignored. Having been in business for 40 years, I believe that a business can quickly figure out a way to save water/money, if there is an incentive to do so. The water conservation gains made in the residential sector could then be reflected in the business sector.

We have seen unprecedented growth in Abbotsford during the last decade, and collected significant Development Cost Charges (DCC’s) for water. Yet we do not seem to have sufficient funds to expand our infrastructure to service the growth. This invites the question; “Why not?” Have we been charging enough to sustain our water system?

Secondly, we may need to ask, “Has the time come to examine a tiered water pricing structure?” Not just that we pay more if we use more, but if we exceed the basic level of water consumption, the price per Cubic Meter (m3) of water increases as well. Clearly, larger quantities of water require more infrastructure and energy to deliver. To be effective, pricing has to reflect our need to significantly reduce water consumption. The alternative is incurring the cost (and increased taxes or fees) of large water supply infrastructure projects

I have learned from City staff during my attendance at the first two Stave Lake Open Houses that the residential water consumption rates are higher for residents than for Institutional, Commercial, Industrial and Farm Users (ICI). Secondly, while increased residential usage attracts a higher charge per m3, it decreases for ICI water users. Residents pay $1.13/m3 for the first 60/m3, $1.43 for the next 30/m3 and $2.26/m3 above 90 m3. The rate for ICI users is $0.92/m3 for the first 10,000/m3, $0.85/m3 for consumption between 10,000 – 100,000/m3 and $0.69/m3 above 100,000/m3. Since residents consume approximately 60% of our total yearly water usage, I think that the pricing structure needs to be re-examined.

I would be interested in hearing your views?

Stave Lake Water Project

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sometimes, our tendency when confronted with important issues is to react emotionally. Certainly, the upcoming referendum on the potential P3 Stave Lake Water supply is one of those important community issues. But as emotional as we might be tempted to be in response to this issue, it is important to be fully informed

That is why today I attended the Abbotsford Recreation Centre open house hosted by the City. Perhaps it was that extraordinary autumn day that kept people away, but the debate was certainly spirited, although led largely in opposition to the project by the Water Watch group. I came away having learned more about this important debate. I continue to absorb information in order to come to an informed decision.

Henry discussing water issues with a concerned citizen.

A consistently well attended function in our community is the Crystal Gala. The purpose of this function is to raise money that goes towards certain equipment, staffing and treatment requirements of the Abbotsford Regional Hospital, as well as the Patient Navigator Program. During the past 13 years, over $1,000,000 has been raised on these occasions for the treatment of breast cancer. This entertaining and worthwhile evening proved, again, that Abbotsford folks are generous in their support of charitable causes. Sincere thanks to the organizers and volunteers who, both in the past and again tonight, make this fundraising event such a success year after year.

The Campaign Begins

Friday, October 14, 2011

My nomination papers have now been signed and delivered to City Hall. A special thanks to my two nominators, Balbir Singh (Bill) Khangura, P. Eng., a professional engineer whom I have known for over 30 years, and Karen Matty, a good friend of the family for over 25 years.

The issues facing the Abbotsford community are many, not the least of which is the City’s need for reliable, long-term clean water supply. My desire is to learn as much as I can about this upcoming challenge, which led me to attend yesterday’s presentation on the proposed P3 (“public/private partnership”) Stave Lake Water Project. This presentation was hosted by the City at Garden Park Towers for residents and businesses located within the Clearbrook Waterworks District (CWD). I benefited from meeting and discussing some of the issues with a number of the CWD residents, one of its Trustees and representatives of CUPE.

For those unfamiliar with CWD, it was established in 1953 and provides water to approximately 10,000 residents of Abbotsford (approximately 1,200 residential properties and 200 commercial and strata properties). CWD obtains all of its water from wells within an aquifer (commonly known as the second aquifer), which is generally located at a depth ranging between 50 and 150 feet, (15 to 45 meters). CWD was the Gold Medal winner of the 2008 and 2009 Berkeley Springs Water tasting competition for the best tasting water in the World.

Despite the information provided, I came away from the presentation sensing that people have way more questions than answers at this point. My views so far? We can do without a lot of things, but water ISN’T one of them. Our population is growing and with that comes the need for additional sources of water. Water is not just a local issue. It’s regional. Coordinating with neighboring local governments is critical, and part of the mandate of City Council in dealing with this difficult dilemma. Of course, further information is required. What are your thoughts?

For those of you who may wish to follow this dialogue and my campaign, I plan to post here daily, providing my schedule, thoughts, and conclusions.

I want to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me directly, or leave a comment or an e-mail. Of course, I am looking for your support, but most importantly I want to know what you think about the issues facing our great city.

Media Release

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Abbotsford, BC – Abbotsford’s Voice for Mayor, the campaign for Henry Braun, will see its official office opening on Oct 4. Visit the office on the corner of South Fraser Way and W Bourquin Crescent from 10AM to 4PM for an opportunity to meet Henry and bring your voice to the table.

Refreshments provided will include coffee, tea, cookies, and doughnuts. While the event will be an casual drop-in forum with no set speaking time, the public is encouraged to bring any questions they have for Henry and his campaign for mayor.
Today, the city of Abbotsford faces many challenges including homelessness, property tax levels, and escalating commercial vacancies. As a longtime Abbotsford resident, Henry Braun is running for mayor to ensure Abbotsford continues to thrive for future generations.

Make Abbotsford an even better place to live and work & play a part by visiting the office of Abbotsford’s Voice for Mayor. For more information about his campaign visit henrybraun.ca or phone 778-880-1144.

Abbotsford’s Voice for Mayor is located at 32995 South Fraser Way and is the electoral campaign of Henry Braun, a city Councillor and former CEO of Canada’s largest privately held transit construction company. He’s served as a board member for several municipal and provincial organizations. In 2008, he received the Order of Abbotsford for his tireless dedication to making Abbotsford a better place to live. Henry Braun is committed to forward thinking, fiscal responsibility, government transparency and accountability, and community safety.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My desire to run for City Council goes back twenty years, when I was first asked to consider serving on Council for the former District of Matsqui.

As President and CEO of Pacific Northern Railroad Contractors Corp. (now known as PNR Railworks), my responsibilities took me across Canada and a commitment to serve as a member of Council was not realistic. Having retired from the railway construction industry, I believe that my proven business experience in leadership will be an asset in the decision making process around the Council table. Having traveled much of the globe during my business career, I was constantly reminded of how fortunate we are to be living in Canada. Abbotsford is one of the best places in Canada in which to live and raise a family.