British Columbia

Chilliwack's Sam Waddington seeks to become the Lower Mainland's first millennial mayor

Four years ago, Sam Waddington topped the polls for Chilliwack council, a surprising result for a 24-year-old with no previous political experience.

Current mayor hasn't said whether she'll run again

Sam Waddington, pictured here at Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, is a Chilliwack councillor and owner of a hiking and climbing retail outlet.

Four years ago, Sam Waddington topped the polls for Chilliwack council, a surprising result for a 24-year-old with no previous political experience. 

Now he wants to go one better.

"Chilliwack is now becoming a big city. We have 100,000 people, and we need to manage our city like that," said Waddington, who announced his candidacy for mayor of Chilliwack on Wednesday.

The owner of a retail outlet for hikers and climbers, Waddington said his focus, if elected, would be on creating more affordable housing and densifying downtown.

"We're seeing people struggle to afford their rents. We're seeing people finding it impossible to buy their first home, and for many in the Lower Mainland, that might sound like a surprise, but we're dealing with the same challenge," he said.  

In May 2008, the average price of a detached home in Chilliwack was $364,040, while in May 2018 it was $644,026. 

"For a long time, Chilliwack has ... had that small-town-away-from-Vancouver feel that we all love and consider our place in the world, but we're seeing other people want that own world, and, as we grow as a community, we need to shape that growth."

Mayor questions expenses

Sharon Gaetz has been mayor of Chilliwack since 2008 but hasn't said whether she will run for re-election in October. 

But earlier this month, she did file a Freedom of Information request to see the specific expenses filed by various councillors — and then admonished Waddington in a public council meeting for spending $10,000 more than any other councillor in 2017.

While virtually all of that difference was due to Waddington attending a Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference, Gaetz took aim at two breakfasts that collectively cost more than $160. 

"That may be acceptable to councillor Waddington but it's not acceptable to me." said Gaetz, who declined comment for this article.

"If you feel like you can justify those, that's between you and the taxpayer."

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz takes on Sam Waddington over his expenses

'Challenging relationship'

 Waddington believes that Gaetz sudden interest in his expenses is a "political play."

"The mayor and I have had a bit of a challenging relationship. I am the new voice on council, and I have definitely not just sat down and shut up," he said.

But on the specific question of spending extra money on group breakfasts with other municipal politicians, he made no apologies — and said in general, the city needs to modernize its practices, which requires education and networking. 

"In general, we have these low tax burdens and this low cost, low spending mentality ... and while I understand there's some wisdom in stewarding tax dollars well, but that has come at the cost of councillors wanting to go to conferences that will benefit our city," said Waddington, highlighting meetings with federal ministers and opportunities to learn from councillors in other cities. 

"Those are beneficial to both my community and the broader region, and I will not apologize for having spent those dollars."

Also running for mayor is fellow councillor Ken Popove, a fellow small business owner who argues his experience separates him from Waddington for voters looking for a change in leadership. 

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