Worker pay hot topic in Maillardville
• Please note clarification at bottom of story**
They promised to revitalize Maillardville with a new community centre, a pedestrian-friendly commercial core and smoother road connections to ease gridlock.
They promised to keep residential property taxes low in the face of upcoming labour negotiations with the city union and an uncertain global economy.
And, most of all, they promised to do better over the next three years if elected — or re-elected — to Coquitlam city council on civic election day, Saturday.
The seventh and final Coquitlam all-candidates’ meeting, hosted by the Maillardville Residents’ Association on Sunday, heard from all 18 contenders seeking council seats.
The upcoming talks with the civic workers’ union were top of mind for several candidates, with a few of them stating they would take a hard line against CUPE this time to ensure unionized staff don’t again get the 3% and 4% wage hikes (the current contract was signed by the previous council).
And despite the recent cyclical reviews at city hall to find cost efficiencies, several candidates also pledged to take hold of “out-of-control” spending to stop property taxes from rising at a rate higher than inflation.
A 60-year Coquitlam resident told candidates his taxes have doubled in the last five years; this year, they’re up 23%, he said. Another resident challenged the panel to explain the tax increases, to which Coun. Lou Sekora vowed he would shave $5 million off the annual budget through zero-based budgeting — a non-traditional process where every line item of the budget must be approved and which hasn’t been supported by council. Sekora promised if he can’t find the savings, he’ll resign at the end of the next term.(see clarification at bottom of story**)
Candidate Terry O’Neill (a Tri-City News columnist currently on leave) also rang the alarm bell about the city’s finances. “Over the past several years, the city has boosted property tax rates to fund ever-higher spending. Public sector wages soared, even as private sector ones stagnated,” he said.
Coun. Barrie Lynch, who is running against for mayor, said red tape at city hall is impeding Coquitlam’s growth and many small businesses are moving into neighbouring cities “because they’re easier to deal with.”
As well, the long-overdue revitalization of Maillardville — the largest francophone community west of Quebec — was also a hot topic at the Maillardville gathering.
Candidates cited the tax incentives for commercial landowners (recently passed by council) to spur on business activity while others pointed to the upcoming changes at Mackin Park, the new King Edward Street overpass and plans to rebuild Place Maillardville.
Incumbents also offered a few ideas as ways to kick-start Maillardville’s rejuvenation. Coun. Selina Robinson suggested street parties and a new BIA while Coun. Doug Macdonell said he favours densifying development around the Hell’s Angels clubhouse on Brunette Avenue “to make it as uncomfortable as we can until they leave.” Coun. Neal Nicholson said Maillardville should be home to non-profit groups and Coun. Linda Reimer said she would like to see stronger design guidelines for builders that would return Maillardville’s “French charm.”
Coun. Mae Reid said she wants to work with Johanne Dumas of Société francophone de Maillardville to see Quebecois residents settle in Maillardville, just as the city pioneers did a century ago to work at Fraser Mills. That way, she argued, the French language could be preserved in the community, a sentiment also echoed by council candidate Andy Shen.
Candidate Randy Delmonico compared Maillardville to two Burnaby neighbourhoods recently transformed — The Heights and Edmonds — that have thrived since the city stepped in while candidate Massimo Mandarino used Commercial Drive in Vancouver and Columbia Street in New Westminster as examples.
Craig Hodge, a retired Tri-City News photographer and Coquitlam Heritage Society president, talked about how Maillardville used to be a pedestrian-friendly and distinct community while restaurateur Fred Soofi called Maillardville “neglected” and suggested the city offer tax breaks to developers who build with French-Canadian architectural characteristics. Candidates Andy Wickey, Araz Rismani and Vincent Wu also suggested strengthening the historic commercial core to make the area more vibrant.
Mayor Richard Stewart, who grew up in Maillardville, said the city’s numerous plans for neighbourhood “have failed on implementation” despite extensive community consultation.
• The entire audio file of the Nov. 13 all-candidates' meeting hosted by the Maillardville Residents' Association is now available for listening on its website at www.maillardvilleresidents.ca
4 FOR STEWART
Meanwhile, four Coquitlam councillors announced yesterday they’re backing Mayor Richard Stewart for re-election.
According to a press release from Stewart, incumbents Brent Asmundson, Doug Macdonell, Mae Reid and Linda Reimer are supporting the mayor for a second term.
Stewart’s mayoral opponent, Coun. Barrie Lynch, has endorsements from councillors Neal Nicholson, Selina Robinson and Lou Sekora.
Coun. Sekora called The Tri-City News on Friday to say he was misquoted regarding his statement about cutting the city budget. He said he didn't say at the meeting he would resign at the end of the term if he couldn't find $5 million in budget cuts but that he would simply resign.
According to the recording of the meeting posted on the Maillardville Residents' Association website, this is what Coun. Sekora said, verbatim:
"I'll make the challenge here again as I've done at all-candidates meetings before: I challenge the mayor and the council members, that if I had the budget to do by myself that I could cut $5 million off each year's budget without even touching any cut in services. And if I cannot do it, I'll resign. And if I can do it, they should resign."
If you would like to listen to Coun. Sekora's statement, please check out the association's website here; his comment can be heard just past the halfway mark.