The battles for mayor and the future of the Langleys
Langley City and Township are rapidly growing. The arrival of SkyTrain will forever reshape the cities. Voters in each community will decide on Oct. 15 who will usher in that change.
The Fraser Valley’s most compelling races for the mayor’s seat this election are happening in the Langleys.
Langley City’s incumbent mayor, Val van den Broek, has been at odds with council about her conduct during her time in office. Now van den Broek is facing-off for the mayor’s seat against incumbent councillor Nathan Pachal.
Meanwhile, in the township, the retirement of popular mayor Jack Froese emboldened four prominent candidates seeking to replace him: Rich Coleman, Michelle Sparrow, Blair Whitmarsh, and Eric Woodward.
Whoever is elected will face a Langley that is rapidly changing.
Combined, Langley Township and Langley City are now the most populous cities in the Fraser Valley. In the last decade, the township’s population grew by nearly 30,000 residents.
With the arrival of SkyTrain in 2028, the Langleys will soon serve as a transit hub connecting thousands from the valley to Metro Vancouver. It will mean more people and more changes. And it will be up to local councils to ensure Langley is up for it.
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The candidate field
The Langley Township will undoubtedly have a new mayor and at least four new faces at the council table.
The retirement of incumbent mayor Jack Froese has left four candidates vying for the top job. None of those running for the mayor’s seat is a stranger to Langley’s political arena.
Rich Coleman served as a Langley MLA for 24 years before announcing his retirement in 2020. Two years later he returned to politics. Though he has sparked controversy provincially, Coleman has been a popular name at the ballot box in Langley, garnering more than 50% of votes in five out of six provincial elections and winning all six by a large margin.
Coleman is credited for helping bring the Langley Events Centre to the township. More recently, he was questioned for his role as former gaming minister during the Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia. The report found the former minister should have recognized the need to take action but that the failure to act was not motivated by personal gain. (You can read Coleman’s election platform here.)
Michelle Sparrow is an advisor to the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board. She was twice elected as a councillor—in 2011 and 2014—and failed to secure a seat in 2018. Now she is campaigning for mayor.
Sparrow has campaigned on transparency, collaboration, and respect. She said she will not accept campaign donations from developers, or their employees. As a councillor, Sparrow often spoke about protecting farmland from development and it’s something she highlights in her current platform. During her first term on council, Sparrow supported a motion to restrict the number of times councillors can bring up issues in a meeting. The Aldergrove Star reported an incumbent councillor opposed the motion as they believed it was a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, calling it a “gagging order.”
Sparrow is also the only mayoral candidate who responded to The Current’s candidate survey. Click here to see where she stands on growth, housing, spending, and more. (You can read Sparrow’s election platform here.)
Whitmarsh is a two-term councillor. Outside of council, Whitmarsh is a professor at Trinity Western University. He won his 2018 council seat with 36% of the vote, coming behind four other councillors.
In 2019, Whitmarsh, two former councillors, and Froese were the target of a petition that sought to have the group removed from office. Ten residents alleged the group had been in a conflict of interest by accepting campaign donations from developers while their projects were under consideration. The court ruled against the petition in January 2021, stating there was no evidence of financial gain and the donations, deemed legal, had no influence on how the individuals voted on council. (You can read Whitmarsh’s election platform here.)
Woodward was elected to council in 2018. After serving one term he is running for the city’s top job. He was elected to council in 2018 with 45% of votes—the second-highest that year. Woodward hasn’t always agreed with council—as a member or resident. Woodward owns 40% of Fort Langley’s commercial property and he and his company have often found himself in a standoff with the rest of council about its development. In 2017, he painted a small house on one of his Fort Langley property’s bright pink after council refused to issue a demolition permit for the building.
In 2020, Woodward also considered running for MLA for both the Liberal and NDP parties. The Langley Advance Times reported that Woodward first filed nomination papers for the Liberal party for the Langley East riding only to later announce his candidacy for the NDP. The following day he said he would withdraw his name from the race for “false personal attacks.” (You can read Woodward’s election platform here.)
Coleman and Woodward are heading two slates in this election. Slates are still uncommon in the Fraser Valley, says UFV political science professor Hamish Telford. But name recognition can actually help at the ballot box. To the best of his knowledge, Telford believes the township race is the first example of competing slates in a Fraser Valley municipal election, but notes his knowledge on the issue isn’t exhaustive.
The candidates were asked in an election forum hosted by the Langley chamber about how they would work with other members of council not on the same team. Woodward defended his decision to run in a slate saying it’s “impossible to promise or commit to getting big projects done if a collection of independents get elected” but that it didn’t mean not working with others.
“Imagine the BC Legislature with 89 independent MLAs, nothing would get done,” Woodward said. “And we have a challenge here where nothing is getting done in the Township of Langley compared to what we could have: finished roads, park facilities, and a real plan to pay for it which does not increase the cost of housing.”
In his response, Coleman said he has a record of working with others to get projects done, including the Langley Events Centre and the new R.E. Mountain Secondary School. He later added that his team members can vote freely.
“When I actually attracted people, the first thing I told them was this: in this organization you always have a free vote to vote and support whatever you believe in.”
(Watch the complete forum below.)
Only four of the 26 council candidates running in this election are incumbents. In addition to the vacancies left at the council table by Whitmarsh and Woodward, long-time councillors David Davis and Bob Long also aren’t seeking re-election this term.
Meanwhile, in Langley City a current councillor has vacated his seat to challenge the incumbent mayor.
Incumbent Val van den Broek is seeking her second term as mayor of Langley City. Her challenger is councillor Nathan Pachal.
Pachal was voted to council in a 2016 byelection after failing to secure a seat in 2014. He retained his seat in the 2018 municipal election, claiming more votes than any other council candidate that year.
For the past two years, council has been at odds with van den Broek. In 2020, council voted to replace her on Metro Vancouver’s board of directors after investigations were launched into the mayor’s gala and the use of taxpayer dollars. More recently, in May, council censured van den Broek for “unbecoming” conduct in breach of the city’s respectful workplace policy, workers compensation act, and safety guidelines.
During an election forum hosted by the Langley chamber van den Broek spoke about her first term as mayor, calling it “a challenging four years.”
“I have constantly been on the defensive with this council,” she said. “I’ve had numerous accusations and reviews thrown at me and they’ve all shown that I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong and yet this council continues to call me a thief and a stealer and all I have asked for is an apology.”
The details about the censure were not disclosed. The city issued a statement that council members were not permitted to discuss the matter due to privacy legislation.
(Watch the complete forum below.)
There are 14 candidates seeking election for Langley City council, five of whom are incumbents.
The Langleys are experiencing growing pains.
The township’s fastest growing neighbourhood—Willoughby—has seen significant growth in recent years. It is also the site of Latimer Heights, the largest ongoing development in the history of the township. One element of that development stirred a recent controversy.
Latimer Heights developers applied to rezone a piece of the 74-acre property for a 45-storey tower. The new building would have added about 90 more units. But the proposal drew significant pushback from residents who took issue with the height of the building. The plan was eventually scrapped.
Developers can’t keep up with housing needs and land is in scarcity. Yet more people are coming. The arrival of SkyTrain may take some stress off the Township’s increasingly busy roads. But it may also prompt further growth that will add to the strain.
Despite the crucially important work in front of the next slate of Langley politicians, It’s likely a minority of residents who will determine the future of the Langleys. Voter turnout in both municipalities in the last municipal election was lower than the provincial average of 36%.
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