This is the fifth in a series profiling White Rock’s new council, elected Oct. 15.
Newly-elected White Rock councillor Elaine Cheung said she feels positive about the new council, as it moves into 2023.
But she warned that it is likely going to have to make ‘some difficult decisions’ during the course of the current four-year term.
“We all campaigned on separate platforms, but, for the most part, we all have similar views,” she said, while noting that she and Coun. Michele Partridge, while not a slate, ran a joint campaign, ME for White Rock, in which they shared resources.
She said that, along with re-elected incumbents Christopher Trevelyan and David Chesney, and former councillors Megan Knight (now mayor) and Bill Lawrence, new council members have received extensive training from city staff on how the information-gathering and decision-making process functions and what the challenges are.
“I feel the last council was very short-sighted,” she said.
“We have to look at a larger vision for White Rock. It’s like when you’re captaining a big ship — it takes time to effect a change in direction.”
Like other councillors, she is aware that White Rock has a small tax base to work with.
“We can’t keep squeezing blood out of a stone,” she said.
At the same time, she said, she is very conscious of her role serving the needs of the people of White Rock.
“I’m not looking at what will get me re-elected in four years time, but rather what needs to be done,” she said.
Her business background, which includes being co-founder and co-owner of the White Rock-based comedy-as-therapy program Hilarapy (with life-partner Lizzie Allan), and as proprietor of Attuned Health Solutions, has given her a strong sense of pragmatism, she said.
As her Linked-In page describes her, she is “a results-oriented businessperson with a talent for diagnostics, problem-solving, and a passion for challenges.”
In this regard, her mettle was tested some 20 years ago, when, while she was only in her 20s, Cheung was appointed CEO of Coast Mountain Dairy.
It was a multi-million dollar business that was on the verge of bankruptcy, Cheung said. But after close to 10 years of restructuring, the company had regained its position as a market leader.
Cheung said that experience has really made her appreciate the importance of good staff in supporting decision making, and putting policy into effect – and that applies equally well in the functioning of a city.
“We pay them, they’re professionals,” she said. “They’re really qualified and they know what they’re doing.”
Council members’ role is to be policy-makers, she said.
“And as that, I’m always going to be looking at the reality of the pros and cons,” she added.
“I do ask a lot of questions. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but we do have to look at ‘how do we work together?’”
Doing the ‘homework’ is important as a councillor, she said.
“Michele and I read everything and research everything. We have to be prepared when we come to council meeting. You have to have questions, but also I don’t want to waste anybody’s time.”
Every decision has to be made for the greater good, Cheung said.
“You have to have the courage to make decisions that may be painful. One of the lessons I’ve learned is that, when the vote comes up, you can have your own particular desires, but once the vote happens, you have made that decision as a group, and you move on. I can’t come out of the council meeting saying ‘Well, I was against this or against that.’”
Cheung noted that both she and Partridge, as former chairs of the Peninsula Arts and Cultural Alliance (PACA) come from a position of supporting the arts, and are very interested in the concept of ‘place-making’ in which culture and design can be integral to creating vibrant and attractive spaces within a city.
But she said she is not approaching her term of office with a list of “pet projects.”
“I am interested, of course, in mental health, and what we can do to support people who are suffering in our society.”
She added that she believes council must develop long-term visions for the community that could be a legacy decades into the future.
But she admits that, as a business owner, with first-hand experience of the problems that overly-slow building permitting has created in recent years, she has a personal interest in streamlining the process.
“We do have to do something to clean up the permitting process at City Hall,” she said.