I originally titled this entry, “What Langley can expect over the next 4 years”… but that wasn’t good enough click-bait. It is, however, the topic of this post. On October 20, the Township of Langley elected 3 new Councillors and ejected 2. While some detractors were quick to say nothing has changed, I hope to differ, if even slightly.
On November 5, Councillors-elect Eric Woodward, Steve Ferguson and Margaret Kunst will join incumbents David Davis, Kim Richter, Bob Long, Blair Whitmarsh, Petrina Arnason and Mayor Jack Froese. These three replace Charlie Fox, who retired, Michelle Sparrow and Angie Quaale. Margaret Kunst essentially replaces the Angie Quaale vote – I doubt that there will be any disagreements between her and the Mayor. However, from what I know of Kunst’s personality difference from Quaale will probably diminish the controversies and animosity on council (at least temporarily). The real question will be how Eric & Steve will differ from Michelle & Charlie. Ferguson’s past voting history looks a lot like Fox’s, but he was on his own in this election which forced him to have a much more independent campaign. Ferguson has always spoke his mind, but I can’t help but wonder whether past alliances influenced some controversial decisions. Woodward has a lot of similarities to Sparrow in progressive ideals, but I think his voice is a lot bigger and his solutions more defined. Eric will also make a lot more noise, for better or worse.
I agree with many others that the majority of development permits will be passed over the next 4 years with a 7-2 or 6-3 vote with Davis, Richter and often Arnason opposed. The two primary variables in this vote is that Arnason may approve from time to time one way and Woodward may join opposition at others for the odd 5-4 split. I could be wrong, but I doubt Eric will want to pigeonhole himself as anti-development in anyway unless it really matters. However, relationships, alliances, and strategies do matter.
On the more controversial permits, re-zoning and community plans that the two Councillors to watch will be Woodward and Ferguson. While Woodward is obviously pro-development, he has also been a vocal advocate for better development. This is usually “easy” from the sidelines, but with his own LEED building behind him, Woodward has put his money where his mouth is. The question is whether or not computer geek-turned small town developer-turn politician will just be vocal about his displeasure or if he will actually formally oppose subpar development. Meanwhile, Ferguson, who usually voted in step with Froese and allies in the past, may not be quite as loyal to the Mayor and “like-minded” Councillors as he was in the past. Steve is still very much pro-development and pro-developer so I wouldn’t expect too much to distinguish himself from the Council majority when it comes to development permits. However, with less endorsements and support often comes more independence – will Steve Ferguson flex those more independent muscles or will he work on patching things up with the majority now that he is back in office? I think we will find out pretty quickly. The point is that the alliances on this 9 person independent council isn’t as clear cut as they have been in the past.
Where things may get interesting is on the Agricultural Land Reserve exclusions. The majority on council tend to say, “let’s just pass it along to the ALC (Agricultural Land Commission and see what happens”. This drives me crazy when they say this when they campaign on protecting the ALR. However, Ferguson & Woodward were both very vocal in their pro-ALR stance this time around.
“We need to place our of new residents and develop urban land. But to me, we protect the ALR 100%, no exceptions, regardless of density or affordability issues.” –Eric Woodward
“I support protecting our valuable farm land and the ALR!” –Steve Ferguson
Could this mean that there are actually 5 truly pro-ALR councillors (Richter, Davis, Woodward, Ferguson, Arnason)? Or was it all campaign nonsense, telling the people what they want to hear? Richter, Davis, Arnason and Sparrow were the minority supporters of the ALR which meant exclusions almost always went to the land commission. Assuming Woodward delivers on his promise, he replaced Sparrow. Ferguson then becomes the swing vote. I’m not sure where the first test will come from, but expect me to be watching closely.
Beyond your perennial development permit and agricultural land exclusions that make up most of the controversies in the Township, there are 3 specific issues to look for this term: Willoughby’s 208th Street, Brookswood NCP’s and a new capital project along the lines of a cultural or performing arts centre.
Arnason got the ball rolling last term with a motion for the study of 208th Street to get actual costs. That council played politics with it, but both Ferguson & Woodward made it a major campaign issue, forcing other candidates to speak to it, and low and behold, both won. What I expect in the first few months is for Woodward to put forward a motion to either implements his ideas on 208th street or at least for a study: expect council to agree to a study (they LOVE studies).
There will be a LOT of controversy in Brookswood. I think we can expect debate right from the start about the community plans. Froese, Whitmarsh, Kunst, and Long will likely continue to push for all 3 NCP’s to be completed concurrently as per the previous council. I expect Richter, Davis, Woodward and Arnason to fervently oppose this. Ferguson had an interesting response to this:
Interestingly enough, the NCP’s were pushed simultaneously after the Plan was passed, leaving residents confused by how the plan would be re-zoned moving forward. It would be perhaps more prudent to proceed with one area at a time, hence less inconvenience on Neighbours and more consistency on sticking to a firm NCP. The areas around 204-200…36 and 32 where construction is already taking place. – Steve Ferguson
So based on these campaign statements, the Brookswood NCP schedule could actually be changed in a 5-4 vote. However, it will be interesting in how this would actually play out. Will the “majority” in this regard somehow halt the process, or will they let the NCP’s keep going and then defer/reject as they come? I’m really not sure, but I do know that the dynamics have changed.
Finally, we’ve been talking about a performing arts center in the Township for years. The Township already owns land right near the Langley Events Centre that would be a perfect location. I don’t think any councillors oppose it and I saw many ads over the campaign season from Whitmarsh championing the idea. Money is always an issue, but it seems this term is where I would expect this to move forward.
I’ll be watching this council closely and writing regularly. I won’t compare myself to the likes of Jordan Bateman, Rick Green or any number of people who have, in the past, given innumerable hours to covering and interpreting Langley politics. While I may eventually throw my name in the hat, I have very little desire to hold any public office. I just find that over the last half dozen years that we’ve lost on the ground coverage of local politics in between elections. Grading reports have gone from attempts to be unbiased to merely partisan politicking. The voters deserve a better resource than just a few sound bites in the two local papers or going through the thousands of pages of minutes on the Township website.
My goal is accountability. If you say you want a tree bylaw, then do it. If you want to fix 208th street, than fix it. If you say you support the ALR, then do so. If you say you want affordable housing, then what are you doing? I’ll be watching the entire council, but I will be scrutinizing those I endorsed who made it the most: Woodward, Arnason, and Davis. These councillors will get no favourable treatment from me. This isn’t to be a contrarian jerk – its because I put my name to their candidacy in hopes that they’ll do the best job. If they don’t do that job, then it’s important for my readers to know.
So enjoy the next 4 years. I’ll see you on November 5.