Maple Ridge mayoral candidates talk business, planning, Albion

Craig Ruthven also wants district to cut its expenses

Current mayor Ernie Daykin & his challenger Craig Ruthven will be debating at the ACT in Maple Ridge on Monday

The debate between those who would be mayor continued Wednesday at Webster’s Corners, with the newcomer continuing his call to overhaul the planning department and bring new blood to Maple Ridge municipal hall.

“I’m here today to kind of challenge the status quo a bit,” said Craig Ruthven.

The district’s planning department, he added,  should be reformed so it can speed up applications, and Maple Ridge needs to become more business friendly, so businesses remain in the district. There are elements in the bureaucracy that are “purposely stalling growth and we need to see some change.”

The district should also be able to cut its expenses, Ruthven said. “To say there’s no possibility of finding savings, I think, is a bit fatalistic.

“There’s always room for improvement.”

But for a community that’s supposedly driving business away, there have been 1,500 new business licences issued in the last decade, making Maple Ridge No. 3 in the region, pointed out Mayor Ernie Daykin.

The north end of the 256th Street area, zoned for industrial, has huge potential for broadening the tax base, he added.

And the district doesn’t spend like drunken sailors, he said, answering a spectator’s question.

Just drop into the district’s business planning sessions, he added. Cutting spending means cutting services, and after talking to voters, “for the most part, they’re not prepared to do that,” Daykin said.

Council, though, should set a good example, said his challenger. Maple Ridge council salaries climbed 53 per cent in the previous term, while council last summer OK’d a 13-per-cent raise over three years for the incoming council.

“I think the leadership should lead by example,” Ruthven said.

By making that decision before the election, council was either delusional, or crazy, or stupid, he added.

Ruthven said Maple Ridge needs new leadership, noting that Daykin’s family has been in the area since the 1870s. “I don’t think he’s gone very far, very often.”

Daykin, though, said he’s been out of the country a number of times and didn’t apologize for calling Maple Ridge his home town.

The pair traded points for half an hour Wednesday in the latest in a series of all-candidates meetings to allow 28 candidates to make their cases to the voters before the Nov. 19 election.

The location of the all-candidates’ meeting was Webster’s Corners elementary by 256th Street, but shopping, maybe big box shopping in Albion, was first on the list of questions from the audience.

The district hasn’t received an application to develop shopping in Albion flats, along Lougheed Highway and 105th Avenue, said Daykin.

“We have not turned anybody down.”

Many large-format stores are looking for “significant numbers in population.”

And Thrifty Foods is about to open in Haney Place Mall, Daykin added, while Zellers at the other end of the mall is expected to be renovated as Target in 2013.

But SmartCentres, the development company which leases to Wal-Mart, has been making overtures for the last eight to nine years, countered Ruthven.

The district hasn’t been clear if it wants or doesn’t want big-box stores, while the real issue is that Albion flats is farmland, which politicians don’t want to be seen acting on.

“What we should have had is real rigourous interaction with the public,” on the area.

Maple Ridge earlier this year created a draft plan calling for development of the entire area, most of which is in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

It’s awaiting comment from the Agricultural Land Commission on its proposal.

Questioners wanted to know why Dewdney Trunk Road was in such bad shape and why it took 45 minutes to drive from 256th to 203rd street.

Daykin didn’t deny much work had to be done. “I’m not going to promise things that I can’t deliver.”

But Ruthven said congestion was a result of having two models that conflict with each other. The district wants to develop downtown, while at the same time, suburbs are developing.

That’s a result of poor planning, he added. Growth in the suburbs should be tempered, he added later.

The mayor pointed out that the district spent $2.4 million in the last two years paving roads, while thanks to its membership in TransLink, receives $900,000 annually in major road network funding.

One questioner asked both if working in the real estate business and serving as councillor created a conflict of interest.

“No,” Daykin said simply, before sitting down.

It’s not a simple issue, replied Ruthven.

At the least, such councillors shouldn’t be involved in real estate decisions, he explained. But barring realtors from council could rule out good candidates.

“You need to vote for people … you can trust and watch them closely,” he added.

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