Community groups cooperate to grill Maple Ridge candidates

Neighbourhood associations poll candidates on key
issues, then rank them

  • Nov. 17, 2011 1:00 p.m.

The Alouette Valley Association

Council candidates can get a sneak peak at what informed voters are thinking on the website a day before the election.

The results won’t be from the ballot box – but from members of five community groups who studied the answers to 11 tough questions, then graded candidates on their responses.

With Bruce Hobbs’ computer skills using an online survey, those responses were crunched and rankings of the politicians posted on the website.

“What we’re doing, we’re going to poll group members and get them to grade candidates,” he said.

That could mean up to 3,000 community members giving their input, though Hobbs expects those who actually respond will number about 500.

Results were already flowing in Thursday, with Hobbs to update the data regularly on Friday.

The rankings are the latest product of a loose group of community associations formed halfway through the election campaign.

The Alouette Valley Association, River Road Association, Shady Lane Association, Silver Valley Neighborhood Association and Thornhill Community Association combined their efforts at identifying some tough questions in the campaign.

“Everybody got together and said, ‘How do we figure out who’s good out of 28 candidates? It’s such a daunting task,” said Hobbs, with the Alouette Valley Association.

Eleven questions addressed the district as a whole, while another four were particular to neighbourhoods.

The answers were posted on the Maple Ridge Neighbourhoods: Decision 2011 website, with follow-up questions posed at an all-candidates’ meeting Monday at St. John the Divine Anglican Church.

The results of the survey are on that same site. The survey was restricted to community group members, “otherwise we’d get everybody and his dog filling it out,” Hobbs explained.

Two issues seem to be dominating this election, he said. One is the effect of steady growth on existing neighbourhoods, creating demand for services and increasing traffic congestion on old roads. The other is the plight of recent newcomers to Maple Ridge who move into the suburbs and wait years for parks, roads or sidewalks.

For Hobbs, development in the District of Maple Ridge should focus on one subdivision at a time.

“When you develop in Silver Valley, you should keep development in Silver Valley and not move up to Silver Ridge (just east of Silver Valley) before you finish Silver Valley, because you’re diluting development.

Municipal staff are stretched just trying to keep on top of issues in Silver Valley, Albion and Grant Hill, he added.

Hobbs is not supporting any candidate, but he liked the answers from Carly O’Rourke, Corisa Bell, Dana Lang and Coun. Cheryl Ashlie.

Getting the groups together has been empowering, said Joanne Anderson, with the River Road Association, an informal group that represents people who live along River Road, west of Port Haney station, as they continue to lobby for traffic calming on the road.

“We’ve come together on common issues.”

She was pleased with the questions and in-depth answers from Monday’s meeting. She credits Ashlie for encouraging the group to form.

“She’s been key in getting us together. She was right on the money. She seems to be a proven team builder.”

The associations had talked about a “gentle” endorsement of candidates, but thought it was more fair to let people weigh in with their opinions by grading the candidates and let their input determine the rankings.

She was shocked at how similar some of the candidates’ answers were and how the thoughtful responses from candidates she didn’t consider serious.

Monday’s meeting then allowed the audience to see how councillors would fit in and work at the council table.

“It’s really going to help.”

Ashlie said she’s been promoting the community development model since she was on school board, a decade ago, and is doing the same, along with staff, on the social planning advisory committee.

“It’s really started to take root in social planning.”

The community development model means neighbours gather to hash out the problems and come up with solutions. With the issues being discussed and clarified, it’s easier for council to respond.

She sees the framework enduring after the election, so it can address local and district-wide issues.

“I just really think they have set a model for where we want to go.”

The district is already following that approach with the Port Haney Change Initiative, this year in which local residents identified issues and took action, with the municipality chipping in one instance by clearing a vacant lot.

It’s not just government fixing problems, but neighbours actually participating, she said.

Cooperating on the election questions and holding the forum was a good way of engaging people, she added.

“There’s a real collection of different perspectives.”

She hopes the collective approach continues after the election, something Betty Von Hardenberg from Thornhill Community Association expects will happen.

“I really think it can change the way people feel about the way they can be involved.

“It helps people be clear about the larger issues as well. When we collectively, as neighbourhoods, get together to talk about our concerns, sometimes we can put it altogether and say what’s the bigger picture here.”

She credits Christine DiGiamberardine, recreation coordinator for neighbourhood development for laying the groundwork allowing the groups to coordinate.

One of the district’s goals is to emulate Seattle’s neighbourhood development model in which neighbourhoods pay half of the costs of a local project, to be matched by the municipality. The district will start including those partnerships in its business plan, she added.

Hobbs also appreciates Ashlie going out to the neighbourhoods and working with associations. “From that perspective, I think she’s really good.”

Candidates were asked questions about development and if it’s good or bad for the quality of life and if it makes economic sense. Another asked if candidates supported the exclusion of the Pelton tree nursery property at 203rd Street from the Agricultural Land Reserve. The application, supported by the previous council, was rejected by the Agricultural Land Commission.

The River Road Association asked candidates how they would help neighbourhoods affected by speeding commuter traffic cutting through quiet residential streets.

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