Three candidates vying for the mayor’s seat in Abbotsford met on the stage of the Matsqui Centennial Auditorium Wednesday night.
The meeting for all candidates was organized by the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce and focused primarily on business matters. It was the first of a number of such events scheduled between now and Election Day in Abbotsford on 15 October.
The event saw candidates Ross Siemens, Troy Gaspar and Manjit Sohi answer tough questions on topics such as crime, affordable housing and natural disaster preparedness. But most of the questions and answers focused on delays in City Hall building permits, agricultural and industrial development, and the lack of affordable housing in the city.
Since Siemens is currently a sitting Abbotsford councilor, he often stayed behind to defend Sohi’s criticism of the current council’s work. Meanwhile, Gaspar often ran out of words and missed several opportunities to answer the panel’s questions.
Sohi said the first thing he would do as mayor is to streamline the housing approval process.
“It can be done by staff … if the council and the mayor lead them well,” he said. “And if we were open to business, Molson would be in Abbotsford.”
He cited anecdotes he had heard of, such as a daycare that had to wait 14 months to build and a restaurant that had to wait 18 months. A small subdivision, he said, takes five years to get approved and built, which doesn’t help with the housing stock or soaring real estate and rent costs.
He took several questions as an opportunity to say he would remove “bureaucracy in the system.”
“I know where that bureaucracy is and I know how to find it and how to solve it,” he said.
Siemens said the city is working hard to set up a “concierge service,” assigning a staff member to guide applicants through the steps to make it easier and faster. There are four streams of that service.
“We’re starting to see a change and we’ve been working on that,” Siemens said. “The challenge is that we have the flooding that took some people out of the process to help with the flood recovery. There have been some challenges and we are well aware of that.”
A fourth candidate, Dave Pellikaan, was not present at the event. He did show up for the event and was visibly frustrated by the organizers. He went on stage before the event and announced that he was not welcome at the event and would be leaving. Pellikaan was then escorted out of the building, along with a second man who shouted obscenities at the crowd.
A full video of the meeting is available on the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce Facebook page.
See for more in-depth coverage of this meeting for all candidates.