British Columbia·Metro Matters

In the Township of Langley, a growing population is facing a shrinking mayoral race

A month ago, the Township of Langley looked to have one of the more interesting mayoral contests in Metro Vancouver. Today, it's a little different.

Jack Froese's only challenger could be a perennial candidate, running just to 'give some competition'

Since 2011, the Township of Langley has had a higher rate of population growth than any other Metro Vancouver municipality. (Reuters)

A month ago, the Township of Langley looked to have one of the more interesting mayoral contests in Metro Vancouver.

Today, it's a little different.

Two-term Mayor Jack Froese was set to face off against Coun. Kim Richter, and prominent Fort Langley developer Eric Woodward was heavily hinting he would join the race. Both had been prominent critics of his reign — Richter​ on the municipality allowing a fellow councillor's catering company to take city business and Woodward on conflicts with developing properties in Fort Langley.

But four weeks ago, Richter decided to seek re-election for council instead. Last week, Woodward also decided to run for council.

"[People] said it might be appropriate to take it one step at a time," said Woodward. "I have time to do one term on council before considering a run for mayor."

It leaves Froese, the leader of Metro Vancouver's sixth-largest municipality, sitting pretty. But he downplayed the impact of high-profile candidates opting not to challenge him.

"It certainly changes the landscape a little bit, but it doesn't change my willingness to work hard through the campaign to get the trust from the voters, so they'll give me a mandate to carry on the work I'm doing," he said.

One other candidate

With no high-profile challengers, one Murrayville resident decided to submit his nomination papers to ensure there was a choice for voters.

"I kind of thought about running for council, thinking that would be a good stepping stone, but looking for the fact that Jack Froese was running unopposed .... I thought the best place for me would be to give some competition to that race," said Alex Joehl, who moved to Langley two years ago.

The perennial Libertarian Party candidate (2017 provincially, 2011 and 2008 federally) is running on a platform of speeding up building permits but also decreasing fees on developers.

Langley is definitely growing just like everywhere else, but there's been some growing pains," he said. 

But Joehl knows his campaign will be more quixotic than policy oriented.

"We only had 29 per cent voter turnout in the township last election, but I really think having more voices and names to choose from is going to drive the good parts of democracy," he said.

While most areas of Langley Township are bustling, the shuttered Aldergrove Centre Mall has hindered growth in that community for years. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Growth the dominant issue

Development and the pace of growth loom over every election in Metro Vancouver this year, but the township's population increased by 13 per cent between the 2006 and 2011 census, the highest of any Metro Vancouver municipality.

It's meant lots of change, which inevitably has caused conflicts in some of Langley's disparate neighbourhoods, often divided by kilometres of farmland, which is seeing major density for the first time.

The Township of Langley's individual municipalities are spread out. (Township of Langley)

"Overdevelopment, and the pace of development, and how poorly we're managing that in terms of road infrastructure is something I hear about a lot," said Woodward.

"There's growing pains in Willoughby. I hear a lot about the lack of private investment in Aldergrove … the specific big issue really depends on what area of the township you're in."

But Froese said he's proud of how his council has consulted with the community on growth issues, particularly with the adoption of a new community plan for Brookswood.

"There's always going to be passionate people when planning our community," said Froese.

"Out of the passion, through the workshops and the different open houses, that passion comes through, and we hear what they want, and we can adapt our plans. It doesn't mean every idea gets on the table, but every idea is listened to."

And while some may disagree, the lack of challengers to Froese gives — at least in this election — credence to his argument that he's a collaborator that gets people on the same page.

Not that the soft-spoken mayor was going to take much credit.

"I don't want to take any of the glory. It goes to council, and the hard work they've been doing. I've been really proud to be mayor, and look forward to be mayor in the next term, but it's not one person," he said.

"You need all nine people on council to make it work."

CBC Vancouver is exploring the mayoral campaigns in each of Metro Vancouver's 21 municipalities leading up to civic elections on Oct. 20.

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