British Columbia·Metro Matters

'Stupid petty nonsense': no love lost between candidates for Pitt Meadows mayor

Pitt Meadows has one of Metro Vancouver's smallest populations. The political tension here, however, may be among the highest.

Incumbent John Becker faces off against Bill Dingwall, who topped polls for council 4 years ago

Pitt Meadows Coun. Bill Dingwall (right) is challenging Mayor John Becker in this October's municipal elections. (City of Pitt Meadows)

Talk to Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker about his re-election campaign, and he'll talk about taxes (keep them low), transparency (keep it high) and transportation (keep it moving). 

"Those are the three things that my residents have told me are most important to them, and we have been focusing on," he said. 

But ask him about his challenger, Coun. Bill Dingwall, and the tone changes. 

"I made it clear when I announced I would run for election again that I was not going to engage in a character assassination battle," he said, before launching into criticism of Dingwall's character minutes later. 

"Dingwall's got no campaign, he's got nothing to say ... what [is] his campaign: Make Pitt Meadows Great Again? I think we've heard that somewhere else. It's ludicrous.

"Let's talk about issues. Where is he going to be on the issues? He doesn't have any issues. This is someone who's got the worst attendance record in the last four years."

With around 18,500 people, Pitt Meadows has one of Metro Vancouver's smallest populations.

The political tension here, however, may be among the highest. 

Running on character

Becker's hostility likely stems from the fact that Dingwall, a retired RCMP superintendent, is running directly on issues of character. 

"I'm deeply concerned about the style and direction of decision-making by our current mayor and council. It's been a really challenging four years for me, and far too many troubling incidents," he said. 

Dingwall cites two instances in particular.

The first is the speed with which the mayor and council addressed Coun. David Murray's conviction for the sexual assault of a 14-year-old in 1992. Dingwall believes Becker should have publicly pressured Murray to step down, or stripped him of his committee roles, in the five days between his conviction and resignation from council. 

Becker pointed out that the city couldn't force him to resign, and that he's since pushed for a motion to lobby the provincial government for powers to do so in similar situations in the future. 

The other issue Dingwall cites is an abrupt change of leadership in the Pitt Meadows Community Foundation — which distributes grants and names the city's "Citizen of the Year" — that saw Becker's wife and other councillors replace the previous board. 

On that issue, Becker had less to say.   

"That's just stupid petty nonsense. No, I'm not wasting my time with that kind of thing," he said.

"If [Dingwall] wants to fight an election based on specious personal attacks, our residents will see that kind of gutter politics for what it is. I want to talk about what's important to our residents." 

Ex-mayors divided

The strong words even extend to those who have run Pitt Meadows in the past.

"I'm personally disgusted by the way city's hall being run," said Deb Walters, who led the municipality from 2011 to 2014 before choosing not to seek re-election.

"I moved out of the city because it was so frustrating to watch. I'm in Maple Ridge now. I didn't want my taxes going to support the clowns running city hall."

Don McLean, who ran Pitt Meadows for 12 years prior to Walters, sees it differently. 

"I think he's done a good job. He's a fiscal conservative, he's not warm and fuzzy, he tells it like it is. And sometimes that may rub people the wrong way."

There are policy issues where the two candidates differ, including a business park — approved by council but opposed by Dingwall — that will develop 200 acres of industrial land near the Fraser River.

But if there's one race in Metro Vancouver where housing and development issues are taking a back seat to personality clashes, it's likely Pitt Meadows. 

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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