There’s so much interest in the election in Pitt Meadows this year that voters were turned away from an all-candidates meeting Monday because there weren’t enough seats inside.
Approximately 50 couldn’t get in the door at the Pitt Meadows Seniors Activity Centre because they hadn’t pre-registered.
The event was put on by the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Chamber of Commerce, and executive director Flori Chaykowski said the auditorium is limited to 160 people by fire regulations, and all 142 chairs put out for audience members were filled.
She said approximately 50 people were turned away.
“It was unfortunate, but it was great that people turned out and were involved,” said Chaykowski.
The chamber recorded the entire two-hour event, and posted it to its Facebook page.
She said the interest in the election was evident there, with Facebook reporting the video having a reach of 4,200 and 332 comments by 10 a.m. the next day.
The first and last candidate to speak was incumbent Mayor John Becker, who stood on his record.
“I’d like to carry on with the great work we’ve been doing over the last four years,” he said.
“Four years ago, I made you some promises. I promised to keep your taxes low, and today Pitt Meadows is the lowest taxed jurisdiction in Metro Vancouver.”
He said he promised to improve transportation and has successfully lobbied TransLink for an area transit plan review, which is under way after 14 years.
“And after 100 years, we finally have a plan evolving for an underpass at the tracks on Harris Road.”
He promised civic engagement and has delivered a citizens charter on open government and a civic engagement policy, which is being used in a number of city initiatives including the official community plan review.
“Promises made, promises kept. I’m asking for your support for four more years.”
His challenger for the mayoralty, Coun. Bill Dingwall, said the past four years and the election period have been “extremely challenging” for him.
“We need to rebuild public trust and confidence. We need to return to respectful relationships first, then we can deal with the complex issues after that.
“It’s like building a house – you have to have a solid foundation before you start putting the first and second floor on it.”
Dingwall said his priorities are responsible development and reducing traffic congestion by upgrading transportation.
“And all with significant contributions from our community. That’s the commitment I will give to you, is that I will consult with our community,” said Dingwall. “We don’t drive the issues, our community drives the issues.”
He got a round of applause from the crowd after his speech.
The mayoral candidates were asked what their first priorities will be once elected.
Becker said he would focus on getting new councillors working together as a team.
Dingwall responded with rebuilding relationships with Maple Ridge, with city staff and the community.
The mayors were also asked how the city can enhance economic growth opportunities.
“When our economic development corporation was eliminated in the first month of this current term, it was replaced with a slogan: ‘We’re business ready,’” said Dingwall, adding that economic development should be assisted by the city, but driven by the business community.
Becker responded that the economic fortunes of Pitt Meadows have never looked better, with the Golden Ears Business Park’s phases three and four creating 2,500 to 3,000 jobs.
“I do not support using your tax dollars to help Onni succeed,” said Becker. “They are a multi-million dollar corporation, they can do it on their own.”
Council candidate Bob Meachen also committed to community consultation and respectful dialogue, which was a theme repeated by candidates who are supporting Dingwall.
“There are many major projects coming down the pike, and this needs far more public input, which needs to be actually listened to and embraced,” said Meachen. “Talk is easy. Actions based on what people really want is not so easy, and that will be my focus.”
He said the current council has “a very fixed agenda.”
In the same vein, Nicole MacDonald said she is “concerned with the current style of leadership, and citizens not being heard and respected.
“Issues such as the handling of David Murray when he was charged and convicted of sexual assualt, citizens not being heard when they rallied on the Golden Ears Business Park, and community groups being overtaken. These are issues that are the catalysts for me running,” said the local notary. “I want a council built on trust and integrity.”
She also drew applause.
Incumbent Janis Elkerton, who has been on council for 21 years, said the regional, provincial and federal government relationships she has will be “crucial in negotiating the best outcomes for our city.”
She listed accomplishments of the current council, including a top-rated fire protection service, a crime rate at an eight-year low, a new parks and recreation department and an enhanced arts culture and heritage program.
Candidate Ariane Jaschke pledged to be positive and listen to the public, saying “kindness can change a community.
“Community engagement is the key that will help to bind our neighbourhoods,” she said. “And it will allow us to be proud of the decisions we make as citizens and as council members. We have amazing land in Pitt Meadows, and we need to take care of it.”
Susan Miller, the former Katzie First Nations chief, explained she is running because of her connection to Pitt Meadows, even though she is not a resident.
“I am running because of my unshakable connection to this land, and to this community,” she said. “My ancestors walked this land for over 12,000 years.”
She lives on the south side of the Fraser River, and said, “I didn’t put myself there, the federal government did.”
“If this city does well, my nation does well,” she said.
Brad Dinwoodie, another candidate, said he is passionate about the city, and sees a lot of key issues coming forward, including taxation, affordable housing, infill housing, transportation, transit, safety and arts, heritage and culture.
Incumbent Tracy Miyashita, who has been on council for 10 years, said: “I’m choosing to run again because I feel we need positive leadership over the next four years.”
Mike Hayes, a former mayoral candidate now running for council, said he wants to protect Pitt Meadows small-town culture, work on a transportation plan, support seniors and protect infrastructure.
“I believe it is important to protect and preserve the exceptional quality of life and public safety that our Pitt Meadows residents expect and absolutely deserve.”
Councillors were asked about whether the city needs to increase the number of full-time firefighters.
Anena Simpson said across the Lower Mainland, 80 per cent of the calls firefighters respond to are medical in nature, and called it an example of the provincial government downloading responsibilities onto cities.
She would not support increasing taxes to provide what she called essentially a paramedic service.
Gwen O’Connell, who has served 17 years on previous councils, said Pitt Meadows needs first responders.
“I don’t know about you, but it’s not alright for me that my mother or father lay on the floor for two hours,” she said.