Langley Township mayoral candidates (left to right) Blair Whitmarsh, Rich Coleman, Eric Woodward, and Michelle Sparrow. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

VIDEO: Mayoral hopefuls spar in Langley Township all-candidates meeting

All four contenders for the top job were at Tuesday’s chamber-sponsored debate

Langley Township’s mayoral candidates fielded questions about development, taxes, roads, and the question of political slates at Monday night’s all-candidates meeting at the Langley Events Centre.

Organized by the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce and the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board, the meeting had a new format that saw councillors take questions in several groups, with the four candidates for mayor having the stage to themselves at the end of the evening.

The first question set many of the themes for the evening, as moderator and chamber CEO Cory Redekop asked how the candidates – former MLA Rich Coleman leading the Elevate Langley slate, former councillor Michelle Sparrow, Councillor Blair Whitmarsh, and Coun. Eric Woodward, who heads up the Contract with Langley slate – thought the Township was managing its rapid growth and development.

Whitmarsh acknowledged the challenges of growth, saying the council has tried to make good decisions.

“But I don’t think we’ve been able to keep up with the pace of development,” he said.

The Township is at a place where development doesn’t pay for itself, and infrastructure can’t keep up, he said.

“I think we can manage the infrastructure needs in a better way as we move forward, and we need to do that.”

Woodward said the Township isn’t doing a good job managing its growth at all.

“We have a pretty clear status quo problem in the Township of Langley,” he said.

He pointed to soccer fields, ice rinks, and community centres as being needed, and said opportunities to do more were being lost or delayed at the council table. The Township wasn’t getting a “fair deal” from developers that other communities in the region do, he said.

“If we don’t get a fair deal like that in place, we’re going to be paying the bill down the road,” he said, asking voters to put his Contract with Langley slate in place.

“I don’t think everything’s bad here, I really don’t,” said Coleman.

He also issued a warning about putting infrastructure first, before development.

“I remember the 1970s, when the Township of Langley went ahead and put in all the services, sidewalks, and curbs in Walnut Grove and nobody came to build. And our community almost went broke.”

Building walkable communities is key, Coleman said.

“There are some things you can always do better, particularly on the road infrastructure,” he said.

Sparrow echoed the idea common to all candidates that more infrastructure is needed, and said when she was on council previously, she put forward a plan to collect community amenity charges (CACs) from developers. A CAC policy was adopted in the most recent term.

“The policy that has currently been approved by this council is watered down, and doesn’t address the actual funding needs that our community has,” Sparrow said.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, there are many communities that are getting it right,” she added.

Independents Whitmarsh and Sparrow both advised voters against picking slate candidates. It’s been more than 20 years since a slate held a majority at Langley Township council.

“I’m running because I think council needs to be of independent thinkers, or independent minds,” said Whitmarsh.

Sparrow called a move towards slates a shift away from what makes local government special.

“The true power should be in the hands of the voters,” she said.

Woodward argued for his Contract with Langley team, saying it was “impossible” to promise to get anything done with a collection of independents. He said the current council loses opportunities because it comes with nine competing agendas.

“Sometimes 10, because they change their minds,” he added.

Coleman touted his ability to work with multiple groups and people.

“I have a record of being able to get things done – you’re sitting in one of them now, the Langley Events Centre,” Coleman told the crowd.

He added that every member of his Elevate Langley team had been told that they would always have “a free vote.”

Although the candidates were usually fielding questions rather than debating directly back and forth, they did respond to each other’s comments several times.

After Coleman’s comments that he didn’t think “everything’s bad here,” Woodward responded in a later comment, saying “It doesn’t mean everything’s bad, it means things could be a lot better, and we’re running to change it.”

Coleman in turn used Woodward’s comments about a need for ice rinks and soccer fields as a springboard to talk about smaller-scale infrastructure, such as pickleball courts, dancing, music, tennis, trails, and girls softball.

“We have to plan for that too,” he said.

The municipal election takes place on Oct. 15, with a week of advance voting in various communities around the Township before that.

READ MORE: When and where to cast your ballot: voting days and locations in Langley

READ MORE: Election 2022

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