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RICHMOND, B.C.: Mayoral contender Lifeng Wei wants to implement Chinese-style city policies

ELECTION 2014: Civic pay, Chinese signs focus of Richmond mayoral debate

Richmond mayoral candidates Malcolm Brodie, Richard Lee and Cliff Lifeng Wei.  - Matthew Hoekstra

Richmond mayoral candidates Malcolm Brodie, Richard Lee andCliff Lifeng Wei.

— Image Credit: Matthew Hoekstra

In the wake of a report documenting a rapid rise in municipal compensation, Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie defended city workers’ salaries in a Thursday mayoral debate.

Brodie, campaigning for a seventh term in the Nov. 15 vote, said unionized workers’ pay is governed by negotiated agreements. As for management—who are paid too much according to an Ernst and Young report made public last month—Brodie said “it’s all relative.”

“If we don’t pay our management enough, then they go somewhere else,” he said in front of a Minoru Place Activity Centre crowd of approximately 250 people. “That’s a huge cost, when you lose a longtime employee and that person goes elsewhere. So you have to pay market rate to your employees, and it’s also a matter of fairness.”

To probe municipal pay, the province hired consultants Ernst and Young, whose report criticized cities for allowing pay levels to climb by 38 per cent—twice the rate of the provincial public service—from 2001-12. The report also suggested municipal managers are paid too much and recommended the province take strong action to curb the trend.

Richard Lee, who is making a second run at the mayor’s job and running with Richmond Reform, said staff are entitled to their current deals, but suggested there’s room for wage scrutiny.

“I believe in the free market, we could have and in the future we will under my leadership, to hire somebody at a reasonable rate, not at the alarming rate that was shared with us in that study…”

Richmond City Hall’s payroll has grown by $15 million in five years. The city’s top earner is chief administrative officer George Duncan, who made $291,250 last year. Department heads also score high on the pay scale, as five of six general managers topped the $200,000 mark in 2013.

Thursday’s short debate, organized by the Richmond Centre for Disability, served as a prelude to a much larger forum featuring 28 candidates running for councillor.

Mayoral candidates also waded into the contentious waters of Chinese-only signs. Lee said they’re “not a good thing.” Some will argue for freedom of expression, he said, but added “all rights are conditional.”

“We must have a public process to hear the views of all the people. If persuasion is not going to do the job, then I as the mayor (will) lead the way to make sure that that’s not going to happen.”

Brodie said the city can get involved two ways, either prescribing a bylaw or working with the community to persuade change.

“The second route, to persuade and educate, is far more difficult, but you must take the time and the energy and invest in your community,” he said. “Do not bring in a sign bylaw.”

Candidates were also asked about casino money. As revenue soars at River Rock Casino Resort, the City of Richmond—which nets a portion of that income as a host city—continues to reap the benefits, collecting $17.6 million last year alone.

Brodie said the city has been using the cash to pay for new facilities, community grants and policing, with the rest being deposited into a reserve account. But he added a review of casino money spending is underway.

Cliff Wei, a third contender in the mayor’s race, suggested the money be used for programs currently paid for by homeowners through property tax.

“In Hong Kong people don’t pay the property tax. In China people don’t pay property tax. And in China they have a very good health care system, very good policing system and education system. So I think it’s very possible.”

Voters also wanted to hear candidates’ thoughts on the rapid pace of high-density development in Richmond. Wei said planning towers along the No. 3 Road corridor is “totally wrong,” suggesting the world’s most livable cities have “very low population densities.”

“If we want people to have a good life, we should keep that ratio low.”

Brodie said it was decided long ago that Richmond would take on growth, while still protecting farmland and single-family neighbourhoods, by densifying arterial roads and City Centre.

Lee said a recent study showed Surrey charges builders the highest development cost charges in the region to fund community amenities, suggesting Richmond follow a similar model.

“We don’t see a lack of development moving to Surrey even though they are charging that amount of development cost charges.”

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