As a nerdy “council watcher” with too many opinions, I would often be asked who are good people to support in local elections. These elections are very different than provincial or federal elections, since those have an inordinate amount of mainstream media coverage. I have always held that the government closest to us is perhaps the most important one and have found the lack of media on our local elections frustrating.
I fully admit a bias for my advocacy – and it’s a bias that has, admittedly, led to many disagreements and people I really like not receiving my political support. I am an unapologetic urbanist who believes in incremental development, financial resilience, and long term sustainable lifestyles. I do not promote banning cars or forcing people out of their single family homes. However I certainly believe we abuse the heavily subsidized privilege of the automobile and have created too many auto-centric unhealthy, disjointed neighbourhoods. We need to change. This is what BetterLangley.com has always been about.
So instead of texting back my friends that ask who they should support, I created my own endorsement list in 2018 and registered as a third party advertising sponsor to advocate for people that showed that they believed in a more sustainable community. I based my endorsements on their answers to a questionnaire I sent out, coffee meetings we had, past voting records, all candidates meetings, and their own materials. I have never based my endorsements on who I think might win or who is “nice” or who I am friends with. I admit that over the years of networking with what I call the “political class” of Langley, I will be drawn to like-minds. This is always in flux.
For the 2022 election, I dove even deeper than 2018. I had to. With more candidates and two electoral organizations, there was a lot more to sift through. For those who understand my advocacy and appreciate this work, I hope you will truly consider the names listed above as the best candidates for the job when you go to the voting booth. For those who don’t care, I don’t understand why you are still reading this, but I am glad you are. For those who need a little more convincing, I will make some brief comments on each of these 9 candidates below, and make some conciliatory statements about some of the candidates NOT on the list. I obviously don’t expect everyone to agree with me and certainly expect some flack for endorsing one person or another. There is no perfect candidate (well, except maybe Michael Pratt… lol), but I truly believe that despite their flaws, faults or weaknesses, the following 9 people would make the most unbelievably incredible council for the Township of Langley.
Mayoral Candidate Endorsement
This was an easier choice for Mayor than I expected it to be. Unlike Mayor races in other communities, we had four very distinct candidates with different value propositions. There were only two candidates that I could see actually being a chairperson, which is one of the primary roles in what is called a “weak mayor” system, that could both navigate a range of opinions with respect and fairness, while also engaging appropriately with the public. But only one of these two did I foresee moving Langley forward with a paradigm of economic and environmental stewardship, independent from the development industry and partisan interests: Michelle Sparrow.
I don’t recall if I first spoke to Michelle during her 2011 campaign or it wasn’t until immediately afterward. I know that in 2011, my sole concern was the Routley Land Swap, and I felt like she would support our neighbourhood. Unfortunately, in early 2012, on her first meeting of council, she sided with a 6-3 majority on council and voted for the rezoning that would lead to the land swap. However, within that same year, she became the first politician I had ever met to apologize for making a mistake. While I can’t say that we became fast friends – we sparred often and sometimes quite ferociously on Twitter about Coulter Berry, governance, secondary suites and more – I did respect her intellect and engagement.
By 2014, I was impressed with her voting record as a staunch and firm supporter of ALR, albeit she was generally in the minority with that 2011-2014 council. She also supported most building projects, showing herself not to be a NIMBY, but also often criticized or pushed back on more controversial builds. She was also the one responsible for telling me about the third party advertising sponsorship, so if any of you want to know who is to blame for my Facebook advertising, blame Sparrow.
Between 2014-2018, I could tell she was more comfortable in her role and became more active with advocacy for a significant update to our CAC program, recognizing that it had fallen far behind and we needed to pay for community amenities. The motion was referred back to staff by the majority on council, not to come back and significantly weakened by the next council – without Michelle. Although I had endorsed her in 2018, she was one of a couple incumbents that didn’t make the cut, due primarily to a weaker campaign than she had in the past.
In late 2021, we re-connected after a number of years and she indicated that she was likely to run for council again in 2022. She picked my brain about urban planning, housing affordability, and what I felt about the last term. She had been following Better Langley and wanted to discuss action items for council for the next term. At the time, I was unaware that she was going to run for Mayor.
Besides the obvious process of elimination of other mayoral candidates that I simply cannot support for one reason or another, there are a host of reasons I am voting for Michelle Sparrow, many of which are indicated by her responses to my Questions for a Better Langley. She understands the development process, the need to manage, pay and plan for growth (not just ignore it one way or another), the commitment to unprecedented transparency, protecting our local food security through the ALR, the economic payoff for incremental density, the need for safe pedestrian-friendly streets, and, of course, a direction towards walkable neighbourhoods. Due to all this and her truly collaborative leadership style, on October 15, 2022, Michelle Sparrow (1st on ballot) is my pick for Mayor.
Councillor Candidate Endorsements
In Order of Ballot
During the 2018 campaign, then council candidate Eric Woodward pulled me aside on my way up to an event at LEC to introduce me to a young dynamic woman who was working on his campaign: Brit Gardner. If you’ve met Brit once yet in person, you know she has an explosively vibrant personality and she’ll let you know when she disagrees with you in the most tactful, charming way I have ever seen.
Over the years, I have gotten to know Brit almost more over our disagreements than agreements. While we share almost identical ideas about urban planning, government transparency, and environmental protection, we differ, sometime quite strongly, if not mostly academically, about rail in the valley and the relationship between subsidized and market housing. However, this leads me to perhaps the thing I respect most about Brit Gardner: she allows you to disagree with her, with grace, while remaining firmly to her morals. I was honoured to be one of her two nomination signatories when she asked.
Very rarely is there someone that I’m able to have such heated political discussions with and still maintain such a respectful friendship. It obviously isn’t just me who has experienced this. Brit Gardner is a masterful networker and is able to find herself in rooms with the most powerful people in the province, being a strong advocate for whatever she believes in. She is a natural bridge-builder, able to draw in and help those from a completely opposite side of the political spectrum. Brit Gardner (1st on ballot) obviously takes a place in my unranked top four candidates in 2022.
I’ve known Petrina Arnason since her 2011 campaign when I was spamming all of the candidates for their opinions about the Routley Land Swap vote. Petrina emphatically stated that she was against it and other similar “spot zoning” applications. While she did not win office in 2011, I immediately saw her as an ally of our neighbourhood and I have supported her campaigns ever since, for more reasons than just that.
Since her election in 2014, Petrina has proven herself to be a staunch advocate of the Agricultural Land Reserve and is often cited as having a deep passion for tree protection and overall commitment to the environment, even while we may differ on what that means. While we do significantly disagree on many issues, especially dealing with density and urban development, I think she is a generally a voice of moral conscience on council and a much needed advocate for long term food security and environmental factors.
I met Michael Pratt back in 2018 on his first campaign for council. If you read my 2018 “Vote for a Better Langley” endorsement list, you will know that I didn’t know him very well and I held a lot of skepticism toward the then 21-year-old, even stating, “With Michael I have the greatest hope and fear in one person.” Over the next 4 years, any fear I may have had has dissipated. I got to know this young man, recognize his intelligence, wisdom, and compassion.
Pratt’s “broad tent” appeal from across the political spectrum is a much needed rarity, even if some people don’t totally understand or appreciate it. His campaign team was built out of a coalition of left-leaning NDP and Green Party activists, political moderates not unlike myself, and moderate right-wing fiscal conservatives. This matches who he is, not just that he’s all things to all people. He knows how to treat others with respect and rise above the fray in a way that is difficult for anyone.
Michael Pratt is arguably the most learned person on this candidate list when it comes specifically to urban planning, considering his academic background. While this certainly isn’t a reason to vote for him alone, his expertise will provide this council with the desperate voice for progressive planning that Langley needs, while still respecting our heritage and culture. Like a good couple of geeks who appreciate good beer, our urban planning similarities and mutual respect is what formed our friendship, so Michael is easily my top choice (6th on ballot) for Township of Langley council.
Gerald Wartak with the Elevate Langley team is the endorsed candidate that I have the least knowledge and the only one I have had no personal interaction with. Since the civic party sent in their responses to me as a group, I had to dig a bit deeper to see which non-independent candidates could stand on their own with a Mayor. After watching all platform videos and three all candidate meetings, Wartak was one of two stand-out candidates.
One significant aspect of Better Langley is economic sustainability, with an understanding of community building through Strong Towns philosophies. I believe that Wartak is one of two candidates on this list that has a fiscal obsession that would catch deficiencies and unwise budgetary policies. This is something that Township Council – and staff for that matter – has been sorely missing. Combined with what seems like a decent understand of sound urban planning policies, Gerald Wartak (10th on ballot) took the eighth and final spot on my endorsement list.
Kam Respondek was the first independent name that I didn’t immediately recognize when nomination papers came in. However, he was also one of the first candidates I was impressed with after reading all the responses to my questionnaire. I could tell that this guy knew what he was talking about. However, I couldn’t find any platform information. No website, no social media, and later, no signs. *Update – found his website… check out below!
However, unlike some others, he showed up to every all candidates meeting and delivered a confident and rational pitch for desperately needed fiscal responsibility and smart planning. And when I say “fiscal responsibility” I don’t mean some platitude delivered by someone who makes promises but has never dealt with a massive dynamic budget. Kam is a CPA who is a complete unapologetic nerd when it comes to numbers, yet balanes that with a surprisingly warm demeanour. On top of that, he isn’t tied to any big money or political organization so he has no political incentive to manipulate the numbers.
I caught him coming out of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce All Candidates Meeting and had a brief discussion. I definitely got a sense of his authenticity. While it’s too bad that he doesn’t have a strong campaign behind him, he has my support. Kam Respondek is 12th on the ballot list.
Cathy Macdonald is another candidate I have fairly limited interactions or knowledge with who impressed me over the course of the early campaign. As I alluded to with my comment about Gerald Wartak above, I had to take into account that Elevate Langley provided group responses, with some positive, but mixed results, in my opinion. I had to investigate a bit more to figure out who the gems of the team might be.
Upon watching the team videos and the all candidate meetings, it is quickly apparent that Cathy is one of the standout team members. However, in addition to her strong performance, she was the only slate member to really engage with the Better Langley platform. While a few others would engage with me to “defend” their positions, I could tell that Cathy was more interested in really listening, learning and figuring out what could be incorporated into her own personal platform. She showed a true independence that I think would be valuable to council with or without her mayoral candidate, which was a strong consideration for my endorsement. Cathy Macdonald is 15th on the ballot list.
Teresa Townsley has been, in my opinion, probably the most pleasant surprises of this campaign. I had known her only by name and her reputation as owner of Festina Lente prior to this election. We traveled in different political circles so have never connected prior to 2022. I had heard from one of our mutual friends, who was also running, that she was going to declare her candidacy. We met for the first time in August in the early campaign season prior to nominations and we had a good chat, but I wasn’t yet sold.
However, when I received her answers to my Questions for a Better Langley, I was extremely surprised and absolutely thrilled with her commitment to economic and environmental sustainability, in addition to her knowledge of contemporary urban planning principles. She has a high level of sophistication combined with real life experience that actually matters.
As the campaign rolled on with the various all candidates meetings, my hunch was confirmed, as her performances were strong and confident and reiterated the positive priorities of her written responses. Teresa Townsley is the real deal and although she was courted to join at least one of the slates, she stood up, maintained her integrity and moved forward as one of the strongest independents in the group. Teresa Townsley (20th on the ballot) is definitely in my top four picks.
Once again, like several people on this list, I first met Carey Poitras in 2011, but it was actually earlier than the local election. I met Carey at the debate at the LEC when she was running for the federal Green Party in the May 2011 election. We connected immediately. However, since she hadn’t had enough, she ran half a year later again in the local elections and we reconnected while I was trying to figure out who would support the Routley neighbourhood’s fight against a shady land deal. Unlike some others who gained my automatic support through that controversy, Carey and I connected on a deeper philosophical level. We were both “blue greens” – what I describe as fiscally conservative leaning environmentalists (fans of Hawkens and Lovins “Natural Capitalism”) which requires the green revolution to make sense within a capitalist framework. The funny thing is that if I look back at my 2011 messages with her, she started asking me real estate-related questions instead of political.
Carey didn’t win a spot in 2011, but the next year was around the time I was connecting with the BC Green Party and I was trying to connect the provincial and federal groups. She was, I believe, the federal party’s local EDA president and what I quickly learned is that Carey and I shared the same frustrations, but also were both willing stick with losing parties if it meant holding true to our beliefs. I would say we developed a fairly strong friendly in the early 2010s, but lost connection over the years as our lives became very busy. Still, there was rarely, if ever, a single issue we ever disagreed on – which may be the only person in my entire life for that to be true.
I have continued to respect and adore Carey Poitras’ commitment to the environment as well as her financial prudence, which is something I don’t think many people see. Carey is intelligent, personable, and one of the most deserving people on this list to vote for. Carey Poitras (23rd on ballot) would have to work very hard to NOT have my endorsement at this point, and is obviously in my top four of must-votes.
We can’t vote for everybody. Sometimes there are some good candidates that I simply cannot support and so I want to mention a few words about them.
I believe mayoral candidate Blair Whitmarsh could make a very good chairperson in a similar vein as Jack Froese, being respectful to other members of council and members of the public. However, I haven’t seen the progressive advocacy to make a better Langley in his voting record over the last 8 years. My usual readers can see that I’ve been highly critical of Councillor Whitmarsh’s policies over the years, but I respect him as a man. He won’t be a bad mayor if he wins, but I don’t see him taking the steps necessary to move us away from our suburban auto-centric dependency or out of our infrastructure deficit.
School Board Trustee Tony Ward, the son of the late Grant Ward (who I obviously didn’t always get along with), is also someone that I think shows some positive potential for the council table. We had a great few chats over the course of the campaign and I might have put him on the top 8 if he hadn’t already been acclaimed for Langley City School Board Trustee. It is my own strong feeling that someone should be committed to one or the other and not wear both hats at the same time.
Another solid candidate that I met with was Michael Chang. Our discussion was focused on his unique expertise in business networking and a real focus on the local economy and keeping more jobs in Langley. Strangely enough, this has not something I hear many candidates speaking enough about. We had a great chat about the potential impacts of Skytrain, again something that many candidates don’t seem to understand how important it is to prepare in advance for. However, his responses to my questionnaire were a bit too hit and miss to be in my top 8, but I do think he would make a good councillor.
Another name that we’ve seen a few times before on the ballot box is Rebecca Darnell, who I’ve voted for before. Obviously an intelligent person, I think she would make a reasonable councillor. She obviously has a passion for some environmental measures. However, similar to Chang, responses to my questionnaire were hit and miss, with some pretty strong status quo tendencies that I could see stalling some progressive ideas that I personally feel Langley needs to take.
It’s pretty obvious that Alex Joehl and I have some pretty radically different ideas. But I need to mention his name. The interesting thing is that we actually have a lot of similar goals – we just often differentiate – to the extreme – on the paths to get there. This is likely due to my communitarian (not to be confused with communism) philosophy crossing paths with his libertarianism. I think if Alex ever does end up getting elected, he would provide an intelligent and humourous addition to council – I just wouldn’t want to see 5 of him. If he wasn’t such an anti-ALR guy, I might actually be able to endorse him. I do respect his integrity and candor.
I personally believe Margaret Kunst will be re-elected and I don’t think she’s as “socially conservative” as some people make her out to be. I think she is actually a very kind-hearted individual who simply doesn’t share my paradigm and doesn’t always quite grab hold of the political games that are afoot. I do see her listening though. She definitely isn’t a strong enough advocate for my beliefs for me to endorse, but I could see her coming to some new understandings about city planning. She is the ONLY person who asked me over the course of the campaign what I felt we should do to make Langley better in the next term and genuinely seemed like she wanted to know. She had read Walkable City by Jeff Speck and seemed keen to implement something. My hope is that if she is re-elected, she will find a stronger independent voice and be more open to the principles of contemporary urban planning rather than just approving any development that staff recommends.
I’ll group the remaining 6 council candidates of the Elevate Langley team together as a somewhat positive surprise. I have no affiliation or connection to Rich Coleman. I know many of the controversies surrounding our former MLA and I’ve never been a BC Liberal supporter. I tried to connect with him over local concerns I had while he was MLA many years ago and was all but denied. I felt like I was written off as a left-wing nut – this is something I have never experienced with a Langley politician. I really had to try hard to figure out the quality of this team separate from that bias. I believe, however, for the most part, almost any of these candidates could hold their own with any mayor and be pretty decent councillors, which was a stark contrast from the other slate which appeared to be solely dependent on their mayoral candidate. I don’t think most of the Elevate Langley team are strong enough to win a campaign without him, but if somehow Coleman’s influence and money get them some seats, I hope that the competency and independence that they showed on stage translates to the council chamber, regardless of who is they mayor.
Do you believe in a more economically and environmentally sustainable Langley? Do you believe in the work being done here? Do you want to support the work of Better Langley?
Kam Respondek website:” designing spaces that discourage criminal activities. Anything from bench design that does not allow people to sleep on them”
Yeah, no thanks!
Certainly an unfortunate statement in my opinion. I certainly don’t proclaim perfection from the list of endorsements. I think Kam would be open to listening to different opinions about these matters.
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