Over the past couple of months the Mayor and some of my council colleagues have called into question the work that I have been doing out of town on behalf of our City. While the conversation has been framed as a debate over expenses, I believe that what is at the core of the disagreement is a fundamental difference in the philosophy surrounding what exactly the role of a an elected Councillor or Mayor is. Is it our sole purpose to reside in our City, listen to residents, and vote on the development applications and projects that come before us? Or is the role one of true leadership, where we strive to plan into the future, understand the shifting face of society and its needs, and try to guide our community, and our City budget to meet the changes happening in the world? I believe that in a City our size, with one of the fastest growing populations in Canada, that how we deal with this question will define us. We need to acknowledge that change is going to happen in our community, we can either shape it, or be shaped by it.
Below is a video link, and my written statement, from the September 4th Council meeting, as I address the questions that were raised around the expenses that I incurred for my out of town work.
“While I don’t agree with how these questions were raised in this chamber, I do welcome the opportunity to speak about some of the out of town work that I am most proud of.
On August 21st Councillor Stam asked me five specific questions, which I will answer. However, his speech also made a handful of assumptions and veiled accusations that I believe need to be addressed:
· Councillor Stam stated that he was startled to see my expenses for the last four years totalling almost 50,000 dollars. I do find this hard to believe because each councillor and the mayor’s expense totals are made public every year, and indeed make front page headlines in our local print media almost every time. I would also like to point out that at no point did I breach the stated council expense policy, and each of my expenses has been reviewed by our staff and authorized prior to reimbursement. As for the additional expenses that I incurred for my work on the board of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), these expenses were pre-authorized in a resolution from council before I ran for the position. In addition, my expense report was presented to all of council and a staff-supported endorsement for me to serve a second term on the board of FCM came before this council at the April 17th meeting this year. There has been ample opportunity for any of my council colleagues to ask me for clarity for any of the work that I have been doing. However up until I indicated that I would be running for Mayor, I had not received any.
Councillor Stam also mentioned that Andrea Reimer has been my guest on numerous occasions and raised questions around the appropriateness of these meetings. This statement was interpreted by many members of the public, as well as by some of our colleagues throughout the region and in Vancouver, as an accusation that there is an inappropriate element to Councillor Reimer and I’s relationship. There is not. Would councillor Stam have implied this if I had been meeting with a man? Councillor Reimer’s credentials as a member of the local government community are beyond reproach and I would like to point out that she is currently attending Harvard University on a paid academic fellowship. Her mind is clearly being valued by those throughout the governance community.
· Councillor Stam mentions, and I quote “a strong and reoccurring pattern of entertaining others who have no direct benefits to provide to the City of Chilliwack”. It is statements like this that I believe fail to recognize the importance of a collaborative approach in local government. In many cases, it is our council colleagues from across Canada who pioneer the best working solutions to issues relating to everything from public engagement, to housing, to public safety, and transportation models. It is often in conversations, over dinner, and at receptions that we have the opportunity to learn about these innovations.
I welcome being held accountable, but accountable to the work that I have been elected to do as well as to the costs that come from doing that work. Accountable to the next generation of Chilliwack residents who expect us to be looking ahead and learning at every opportunity as to how to do that best. In my four years on council, our city will have spent a total budget, between operational and capital, of over $450M dollars, with 126.8M being spent in 2018 alone. In contrast 20 years ago, our entire city budget was only 28M dollars. This is 4.5 times increase in the amount of money that we steward on an annual basis. I take the investing of this substantial amount of money very seriously, and that is why my job is not simply to protect tax dollars. My job is also to invest tax dollars. To invest in infrastructure, to invest in services, and to invest in the needs we will face tomorrow – not only the ones we are facing today.
Professional development is integral to council making informed decisions and ensuring that we are planning ahead appropriately. A lot has changed for local government in recent years: we have a new Federal Government with new Ministers, new senior staff, and a new plan. We have a change in Provincial Government as well, and all those relationships with our City have needed to be rebuilt. We have a housing crisis, an opioid crisis, marijuana legislation coming down to our communities, massive growth in the Lower Mainland overwhelming our transportation networks, the advent of AirBnB, and a multitude of other disrupting technologies and trends. All of the professional development for these topics is happening at the conferences I have been attending, and they are being attended by thousands of other councillors and mayors from cities from across Canada as large as Toronto with a population of over 5M, and as small as Silverton BC with a population of only 195 people. There are relevant takeaways for all of us.
Professional development is a common practice in every major profession, whether you are a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, or a teacher. Professional development is not only encouraged and supported – it is mandatory to continue to hold your professional accreditation.
However, conferences are more than just professional development. They are often our communities only opportunity to advocate for Chilliwack’s needs directly to Provincial and Federal Ministers, and their staff. As we build these relationships, we also gain greater insights into the goals and objectives of senior levels of government, which helps us to more strategically apply for support and funding to address our needs. I believe that it is through efforts like this that we can mine the vast knowledge of all of the other elected officials in our country who are working on similar issues as us. We do not need to reinvent the wheel – more often than not, solutions developed in other cities simply need to be adapted and replicated here.
Now to answer Councillor Stam’s Five Questions Directly:
1. – The May 18th and 19th Breakfast meetings were held during the Renewable Cities, Global Learning Forum which hosted 320 participants from 13 Countries. Both of the meetings were held at Yew Restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel. The first was with Anna Leidreiter from the World Future Council in Germany who hosted a session at the conference on energy planning in communities. I met with her to discuss district energy options in the City of Chilliwack. And the second meeting was with William Rucklidge from Google out of San Francisco, who hosted a workshop at the conference on Google Solar, Google’s new solar mapping interface. Our meeting was in relation to Chilliwack and the Fraser Valley Regional District’s arial photos and how they might be able to be adapted to allow Google Solar Mapping to be used in our region.
2. – The June 4th meeting in the Byward market was during the Federation of Canadian Municipalities AGM and it was with a large group of recently elected FCM Board Members and Committee members. I only paid for part of the bill for Councillor Reimer, Mayor Helps and Mayor Osbourne because they had paid for a meal for me earlier in the conference.
3. – The June 3rd meeting at the Shore Club, also took place during the FCM AGM. MP May is the Federal Green Party Leader, and was a keynote speaker at the conference to over 2000 elected officials earlier in the week. She was not able to meet any earlier than 11 PM that evening so we chose the Shore Club because it is the restaurant in the Lobby of the Westin Hotel and it is open late. We were discussing Federal environmental policy as it relates to BC communities, including Chilliwack. And these policy insights are also relevant to FCM as I am in my second term as a member of the Federal Environment and Sustainability Committee at FCM.
4. – November 22nd Meeting – again I was in Ottawa for FCM work. This week was what we call “Advocacy Days” where we were able to have over 200 meetings with the Prime Minister, His Ministers, Party Leaders, MP’s and Senators on issues relating to local governments and communities. The meeting with FCM Staff, other members of the board, and MP’s was to discuss upcoming meetings that week and strategy for the budget conversations we were going to be having with the Federal Government representatives the following day. We had a few meetings on this topic over the course of the week and we rotated on several nights paying for the bill.
5. – November 24-27th Air BNB rental. This was over the weekend following Advocacy Days for FCM. During our lobby week of the 20-24th of November, the House of Commons is also sitting, so our meetings are worked around the Parliamentary schedule. Two of my meetings from that week needed to be rescheduled so I extended my stay until the afternoon of Monday November 27th to accommodate the proposed morning meetings. Ottawa also hosted the Grey Cup during this weekend so I was not able to find a Hotel anywhere in the City. I instead rented an Air BNB that was a small apartment, with a double bed in the middle of the living room. This accommodation fit within the council stated expense policy and the invoice was sent to our Council secretary. On the Monday I met with Jonathan Barry, Northern and Western Desk, in the Ministry of National Defence, as well as Linda Campbell, Western and Northern Region, in the Ministry of Small Business and Tourism Innovation, Science and Economic Development.
The 5 expenses that we just went over total $ 1,456.98, or less than 3% of the total reimbursements that I received over this 4 year term for the work that I have been doing.
I hope that my explanations today have helped to inform the public about what it is I have been doing on their behalf over the last four years. I sincerely apologize to our community that there has been a perception that I am misspending your money. I promise you that I am working as hard as I can on your behalf. I love this city and I am doing everything I can to make it better.”