Is it idealistic to think a coalition of individuals with widely different views and little political experience could pry the Burnaby Citizens Association’s grip off city hall and the board of education after six years of exclusive rule?
Maybe, says Burnaby First mayoral candidate Daren Hancott, but the time is right.
“There’s a little bit of idealism from any party,” he told the NOW, “but if I didn’t think it was a good idea, I wouldn’t have taken up the challenge.”
The 48-year-old businessman, who moved to Burnaby from Atlantic Canada 15 years ago, was persuaded the time was right while knocking on doors as a federal Conservative candidate for the new riding of Burnaby North-Seymour this spring.
“Everybody I talked to on the doorstep said I should do this,” Hancott said.
Convinced, he dropped his federal bid and set his sights on city hall.
“My goal is to give people choice, diversity,” he said.
Forging a unified opposition out of candidates from all ends of the political spectrum hasn’t been easy, but heading into the last week before the Nov. 15 election, Hancott said his coalition has gelled.
“I’d say we’re a team,” he said. “We come across as a team; we work as a team. I think residents can be assured that this group can do more with less very easily. We’ve already done that. We’ve demonstrated that we can run a campaign on one-tenth of the money.”
Hancott, who holds a PhD in organization and management from Capella University, an online school in the U.S., currently makes a living managing investment properties and stock portfolios through his private company, Triax International Enterprises Inc.
Before that he was an executive at two private, for-profit universities in B.C. and Alberta: the University of Phoenix from 2000 to 2009 and the University of Canada West (owned by the Eminata Group) from 2000 to 2012.
Hancott was transferred to B.C. in 1998 as an executive with Seafood Products (part of Maple Leaf Foods) after 10 years with that company in Eastern Canada.
Hancott has also been involved in the B.C. Chamber of Commerce for 10 years and is a former board chair and current member of the policy review committee.
He met his wife Linda, who is from Indonesia, on a business trip and has two sons, one at Burnaby Mountain Secondary and one at SFU.
Among his community activities, Hancott named his involvement in the Holy Cross Parish and his membership in the Knights of Columbus.
He is a newcomer to politics but undaunted by his inexperience.
“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “It’s just talking to people and getting them excited about something.”
Despite abandoning his Burnaby North-Seymour bid, he said he will continue to support to federal Conservatives.
He also supports the provincial Liberals but said he can’t be pinned down politically.
“I’m Green on certain issues; I’m an independent on other issues,” he said. “You can’t paint me in a corner and say ‘This is what you are.’ I think I can bring dialogue to any issue.”
Bringing more dialogue and transparency to city hall is a main plank in the Burnaby First platform to counter what Hancott calls a “democratic deficit.”
“One-party rule doesn’t help any community,” he said.
For one thing, the current mayor and council do the bare minimum when it comes to making themselves financially accountable, he said.
“Most people don’t understand financial statements, and they’re not going to read through 58 pages of notes to find out what they’re looking for,” he said.
As a longtime business instructor, he said he knows how to break down financial information into easy to understand elements, and he would make sure financial reporting was both more fulsome and simple if he were mayor.
He said his business experience and ability to collaborate will also help Burnaby build better relationships with other levels of government, something he maintains is desperately needed to address issues like homelessness and the aging Burnaby Hospital.
“Because of ideologies, we can’t negotiate with the provincial government,” said Hancott, referring to the current mayor and council, who, as BCA members are all card-carrying provincial NDP members. “We can’t get what we need for Burnaby, and we keep blaming everybody. It’s our problem.”
As proof for his ability to work with different levels of government, Hancott pointed to his success in having the University of Phoenix’s masters of education program approved by the province in 2001 during what he called an “anti-private-education” climate.
His business past also shows that he’ll be up to the job when it comes to improving services while sticking to Burnaby First’s promised three-year tax freeze, he said.
As an executive at Seafood Products he said he won numerous awards and bonuses for sticking to budgets even when times were tough.
“If you have to look at certain positions, you have to look at certain positions. If you have to cap expenses, you have to cap expenses,” he said. “It seems like none of that happens at city hall. It’s just three- to four-per-cent (tax) increases no matter what.”
And those tax increases are pushing away businesses and jobs, he said, so Burnaby First has promised to hire a municipal auditor and conduct a core review of every city budget to see what fat can be trimmed.
As an example of how to do more with less, Hancott did not highlight his experience at University of Canada West, one of three Eminata schools that came under media fire in B.C. and India in 2012 for their recruiting practices and the quality of their services.
Asked if the private universities he’s worked at were good examples of openness and transparency and how to do more with less, Hancott said one of the reasons he left Canada West was that he “wasn’t aligned with their views and philosophy on the way they were doing things.”
“If I had to do it all over again,” he said, “I wouldn’t choose to be at that organization. Hindsight is 20-20.”
At city hall, however, he said he would be committed to thorough public consultation before any big decision, something he said has been lacking under the current regime.
That’s one of the reasons Hancott has resolutely declined to come down on either side of two thorny issues that have come up during the campaign: the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the school district’s 2011 anti-homophobia policy.
Burnaby First has crafted its platform to address the concerns raised by thousands of residents at their doorsteps and at the party’s townhall meetings, and the pipeline and anti-homophobia policy were not significant among them, according to Hancott, so he said he will not make an election issue out of them.
Given his party’s consultative approach, he said it doesn’t make sense for him to come down one way or another on the issues until they have been thoroughly debated after coming up as real issues in the future.
“There will be tons of debate in our group,” he said, “and there will be a vote, and I get one vote, and then you will see how I vote. Only then will you see how I vote. Right now it’s immaterial.”
In its final press release before the Nov. 15 vote, Hancott said Burnaby First planned to send out a list, outlining everything the party plans to do in the first 180 days after being elected.
Idealistic? Perhaps, but Hancott said his party is up to the task.
“Just because they have no political experience doesn’t mean they can’t listen and debate and vote, which doesn’t happen right now,” he said. “I think a fresh start is the best thing we could do.”