Elections

Mayors' debate a civil occasion

Tuesday’s mayors’ debate barely lived up to the billing.

Coming near the end of what has been at times a heated Township municipal election campaign, the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce-sponsored debate between the three Township candidates and two City candidates was civil and respectful. The closing statements were perhaps most symbolic.

The candidates were told they could interrupt others’ closing statements, but instead they thanked the organizers, fellow candidates, community volunteers and the business community.

Issues raised included transportation, the business vote, taxation, vision, style of leadership and areas where the two Langleys could co-operate more. One of the more interesting questions was “what one accomplishment would you like to achieve in your three-year term?”

Incumbent City Mayor Peter Fassbender said he wants to continue the vision he has for the City, to boost density and provide more transit. Challenger Ron Abgrall echoed a theme mentioned earlier by Township candidate Mel Kositsky, who said he wants to see an arts centre built in Langley.

Kositsky said he doesn’t care if it’s in the City or Township, but he wants to see such a facility so performers like Langley Ukulele Ensemble can perform in their home town. He noted that the Willowbrook Town Centre, which includes commercial space in both City and Township, is the second-largest in the region, but Langley lacks a major arts facility.

Incumbent Township Mayor Rick Green said he’d like to see transit problems dealt with, including light rail in the Fraser Valley and co-operation between the Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley Regional Districts.

“It is the most significant issue all of us face,” he said.

Township candidate Jack Froese said he wants to establish yearly strategic planning sessions, involving Township and City elected officials, MLAs, the MP and the Board of Education. He wants to see them all work together for the good of the two Langleys, and he’d like to see it continue past his term in office.

On leadership style, Froese said “I believe in inclusiveness and listening to people. A leader allows other people to become leaders.”

Kositsky said his passion is “to help others achieve their goals. That’s what I’ve been doing most of my life.”

Green said he worked for 35 years in the food business, owned his own supermarket, and “never had a difficulty with leadership skills.” Referring to the conflict on council, he said “there’s two sides to every coin.”

Fassbender said he’s a consensus builder and “believes in diversity of opinion. I’m not afraid to make a decision, knowing not everybody will be happy with every decision.”

“I don’t have a leadership style,” Abgrall said.

Asked for areas where the two Langleys could co-operate, Green cited transportation, community planning, regional growth and tourism marketing. Froese said the 200 Street corridor needs to be addressed jointly, and referred to his plan for an annual strategic planning session.

“There is only one Langley,” said Kositsky. “We are always working together.”

Fassbender said there needs to be a more joint approach to the fire and rescue service, including co-operation with other neighbouring municipalities. He also said transportation planning is important, but must also include Surrey and Abbotsford.

“There is too much feuding,” Abgrall said.

Perhaps the most passionate comments were on transportation. Green said he voted against the two-cent TransLink gas tax increase, because there is transit inequity south of the Fraser. He also noted that there will soon be two toll bridges, and third if the Pattullo is replaced.

He said a toll on all river crossings would be fairer.

Kositsky said the Port Mann bridge tolls are a provincial decision, and he said the gas tax is a fair way to collect funds for transportation. He said the province took the hospital tax off Lower Mainland property owners in exchange for gas tax.

Froese said the taxes paid by Langley residents need to be even and fair, and he asked what Langley gets for its TransLink tax dollars.

Fassbender defended the additional two-cent gas tax, saying it will lead to increased bus service south of the Fraser. He said buses will soon run over the Port Mann Bridge for the first time in 25 years.

Abgrall said the new Port Mann Bbridge “is a troll bridge, not a toll bridge.”

All candidates said the ratio of business tax to residential tax is about right in both Langleys.

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