Jaimie McEvoy values proactive planning, financial due diligence and blue-sky thinking [council]

The following questionnaire was sent to all New Westminster candidates for mayor and council a little over a week ago. A separate questionnaire was sent to trustees (their responses are also being published this week). Questions were selected based primarily on comments from readers of Tenth to the Fraser collected via Twitter and Facebook, with a few of my own questions added in. Responses are published in the order they were received. Spelling/grammar are not corrected and candidates’ responses are published unedited. 

Jaimie McEvoy
Jaimie McEvoy

1. First, let’s hear a little about you:

  • What’s your name? – Jaimie
  • How long have you lived in New Westminster? – 25 years
  • What do you love most about our city? – It’s strong community and the way people get involved.
  • What do you think most needs improvement? – The level of traffic.
  • What is the civic issue that is the most personally meaningful to you? – Successfully reducing homelessness by 45%.

2. What are the top three initiatives you believe would improve economic development?

  • Cutting red tape for businesses at City Hall to streamline processes to obtain permits, inspections, etc.
  • Densifying in suitable areas such as Skytrain stations, creating a strong local customer base, and commercial and office areas easily accessible via Skytrain from thoughout the Lower Mainland, such as Plaza 88 and the Braid Station lands.

3. How would you like to see city council improve engagement with younger citizens?
Engage youth more in the civic process, so that civic involvement is natural going into adulthood, through support for volunteering programs, and direct connection to civic activity. How about more young citizens on city committees? I know I do that on the committees which I chair. Would anybody like to tag along and be a Councillor for a day?

4. What should New Westminster do to improve access to recreational programming and indoor public spaces in neighbourhoods that lack amenities like rec centres and libraries such as the West End, Connaught Heights and Sapperton?
I’m not sure I agree with the premise entirely, as I don’t drive a car, and so a city of 7 square miles is particularly convenient. I live in Sapperton, where the Canada Games Pool and rec centre is 5 minutes away, and previously lived in the West End, with the library a 5 minute drive and not a long walk away. However, there is a need to ensure local access to services, to live up to and build on that idea of the walkable city. The city can improve on recreational programing, beautification, and civic engagement through more support for Parks and Rec programs. I do think there is a need to review services in all areas of the city to ensure fairness and equal access. That’s why I support the neighbourhood planning process currently planned by the current council, beginning in Sapperton next year. One topic of particular concern is elderly seniors. The city now has 1200 seniors over the age of 85, for many of whom access to services and recreation can be limited. We need to make sure we have adequate shuttle access and programs to make sure we are not leaving our elders in isolation.

5. Which approach best describes your philosophy towards City budgeting and spending?
New West should take advantage of funding offered from other sources (federal, provincial, developers, etc.) in order to fund important community & infrastructure improvements – even if it means having to borrow to pay for our share of a project
If you could get two dollars by borrowing one dollar, to achieve a long-desired goal, it only makes sense. The city has long needed to revitalize, waiting to go it alone rather that seizing opportunity would only cost more in the end.

6. Which of the following most closely reflects your views on taxation?
Taxes are about right. New Westminster’s level of taxation is appropriate for its size and the level of services provided to citizens. Current revenues are adequate and we don’t need to raise taxes.
I support maximizing other services of revenue. That’s why I supported an office tower being included as part of the civic centre with a private partner (tax revenue and jobs), eventually a restaurant attached to the pier park (tax revenue and service), and in fact I support looking at how to include revenue generation in any civic project. Bringing development cost charges in line with other municipalities has also brought money into the city without adding pressure to taxes, and other measures are available, such as billboard advertising on city property. As a result of that kind of approach, 29% of city revenues come from a source other than property tax, and 40% of property tax comes from non-residential properties. I support continuing to build in that direction.

7. Beyond voting, serving on City committees and appearing at council meetings, what do you think citizens can do to become more involved in civic life?
There are some excellent blogs that discuss civic issues in the city, but the key is personal engagement in community. A strong civic life can only come from a strong community. New Westminster has arts groups, history, parks and rec and library programs, and 250 non-profit organizations in which to volunteer. In fact, long before I was elected, I attended my first residents’ association meeting simply because I wanted to meet some of my neighbours.

8. What should be done about truck traffic through our city?
Next year, the city is to begin work on its Master Transportation Plan. We can’t treat trucks and traffic like it doesn’t exist or need to move, but we can question if that movement needs to go through a small mainly residential community where the streets were initially designed by the horse and buggy. New Westminster commuters drive 18,000 vehicles a day, but 450,000 vehicles a day go through our city. We really need to be proactive, looking at the siting of the future replacement for the Pattullo Bridge for example, and the more natural major transportation connections that can occur, than simply routing through New Westminster until traffic hooks up with appropriate routes again on its way through.

9. What should be done to improve our recreation facilities? Specifically, what would you like to see done with Canada Games Pool, which is in need of repair/upgrades?
Two options have been presented, to renovate, or to rebuild. However, there is a third option that might be more cost effective and improve the facilities and level of service, and that is to renovate with an expansion, similar what the city did recently with the expansion of the Queensbourough Community Centre. The city is expanding in population, and we need to move beyond crisis response to deterioration of civic facilities to a more responsible and proactive approach. Given the importance of recreation to community health and well-being, I think this is a priority for planning, but there has to be strong due diligence to financial issues.

10. Let’s conclude with some ‘blue sky’ thinking. What is one big-idea project or improvement that you would propose for New Westminster if cost was no object?
If cost were no object, I would move Pattullo Bridge to Coquitlam, restore water and wildlife habitat on the Fraser River foreshore, establish a small park and nature preserve on Poplar Island with a pedestrian/cycle bridge for access, put every document in the city’s archive online and indexed, build a small neighbourhood pool in Connaught Heights. Oh, but wait, you said only one. But that’s just the amazing thing about New Westminster. We refuse to accept the apparent limits as the end of what we can accomplish. And as a result, we often succeed.

If you want to learn more about Jaimie McEvoy you can find him online:

The candidates weigh in: what to do about the Pattullo?

The Pattullo Bridge. Photo: Gord McKenna
The Pattullo Bridge. Photo: Gord McKenna

This is the third in a series of articles sharing highlights from NWEP’s mayor and council candidates questionnaire on environmental issues. The first article in the series shared the mayoral candidates’ takes on “sustainability” in New West, and the second dealt with traffic. The full questionnaire and all candidate responses are on NWEP’s website.

While we shared the candidates’ opinions on traffic issues in our last post in this series, it’s worth taking a little more time to discuss one issue in particular that could have a profound impact on traffic flow in New Westminster: the proposed replacement of the Pattullo Bridge. Unless otherwise indicated, responses are from council candidates.

NWEP asked the candidates: TransLink continues to mull a replacement for the Pattullo Bridge. Would you rather see the bridge repaired, replaced with a 4-lane structure, or replaced with a larger structure? Would you support tolling the bridge to pay for its replacement? If you don’t support replacement, would you support tolling the existing bridge?

Here’s what they said:

Repair the bridge

Susan Wandell
If the bridge is not structurally sound, it should be replaced. If it is safe, it should be changed to a 3 lane bridge operating like the Lions Gate Bridge alternating two lanes direction during rush hours.

Replace the bridge with a 4-lane structure

Vance McFadyen – Mayoral Candidate
Considering the Pattullo Bridge was opened in 1939 (I believe), the considerable amount of money already spent on maintenance/repair and most importantly the many vehicular deaths caused primarily by design and congestion, I would prefer to see it replaced with a well designed 4 lane bridge and tolled.

François Nantel – Mayoral Candidate
They should build a new 4-lane bridge, which would be one way up to McBride, and keep the old one as one way down to King George. All money should come from the Bank of Canada, just printed new money (electronically, like the charter banks do), and build the bridge as an asset of corresponding value, creating no inflation. Same thing should have been done for all capital expenditures. Unfortunately, we have been hoodwinked. In case of an earthquake, may be 1 bridge would do better than the other, keeping a critical link between the shores of the Fraser

Jonathan Cote
If Translink moves ahead with the replacement of the Pattullo Bridge, I would only support a 4 lane structure. New Westminster’s road network is operating near capacity and cannot handle increased traffic. The expansion of the Pattullo Bridge would only induce more traffic into our community and local neighbourhoods.

Vladimir Krasnogor
Until we have a complete picture of costs and other details, replacing with 4-lane seems the most practical solution. I am well aware that members of the community prefer a larger structure, and some people prefer no bridge at all.

Betty McIntosh
A new 4 lane with proper widths would give as much capacity as New Westminster could accomodate with continued tolls

Replace the bridge with a larger structure

Gerry Liu
The issues of the Pattullo Bridge is to replace with a larger structure, and with the bridge construction helped with Federal Funding.

Supports tolls

Vance McFadyen – Mayoral Candidate
I would prefer to see it replaced with a well designed 4 lane bridge and tolled. I cannot honestly comment on tolling the existing bridge unless it is to build funds for the new bridge but I fear it may take too long to accomplish that goal.

Jonathan Cote
Although I have some concerns about the un-coordinated road pricing system that exists in Metro Vancouver, I think it is reasonable that Translink pursue this as an option to finance this project.

Jaimie McEvoy
If other bridges are tolled and a new Pattullo was not, that would encourage more vehicles into New Westminster. I would like to see tolling, but with a low toll or none at all for local residents, promoting the idea of a local bridge for local traffic, which is only one-third of the bridge’s actual total now.

As a SkyTrain rider and transit user myself, it occurs to me that I do pay a toll every time I use public transit. SkyTrain and buses are just as much a part of the transit system our taxes paid for as roads, yet there is a specific toll each and every time. This disincentive to use transit should be eliminated. Public transit is just a way of getting around, just like roads and bridges, and should be free and equally paid for through our taxes.

Betty McIntosh
I think the present bridge should be tolled now to gather funds for a replacement bridge of 4 lanes in the future.

Bob Osterman
We MUST have the Patullo tolled,if we do not, we will become the Fraser crossing of choice and we will be inundated with even yet more traffic.

Susan Wandell
Tolls are a fair way of paying for infrastructure. Tolls are used throughout the Maritimes and are accepted. Once the Gateway project is completed and a toll in place on the Port Mann Bridge, the Pattullo Bridge will have to be tolled in order to protect the liveability of our neighbourhoods from the increase in traffic.

Lorrie Williams
If tolls go up on the Port Mann then they have to go up on the Pattullo.

Opposes tolls

John Ashdown
With the gas and associated government taxes and fees now levied against motorists I am against tolls. The gas tax was brought in decades ago specifically to cover expense of roads and bridges and they continue to rise. Use that tax for it’s intended use. TransLink being constantly in our pockets to cover costs is double dipping as are the board of directors with their TransLink and Mayor’s Salaries.

Other answers

James Crosty – Mayoral Candidate
I support the question going to the public as a referendum after ensuring that all options are presented to the people of New Westminster.

Wayne Wright – Mayoral Candidate
The Pattullo bridge must be replaced and consultation will determine the optimum size. Tolling and road pricing is on the agenda with GVRD and the Province.

John Ashdown
About all you can do with Pattullo bridge to maintain it is, Paint and Patch. Increasing lanes? Not likely by design. It is an old bridge and deserves a place in New West’s history. I am in favour of a new Bridge off United in Coquitlam where it can connect via King Edward to Lougheed and the Stormont connector. Why not build a new bridge and retain the Pattullo for pedestrians, cyclists, scooters and “0” emission electric vehicles.

Jaimie McEvoy
Patullo Bridge as it currently exists is fundamentally unsafe. It does not adequately accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. It was closed for a time because part of it is actually made of wood and it caught fire.

And when it was closed, life continued. The traffic disaster that resulted adjusted after a couple of days.

In my view, it never made a lot of sense to connect a 1930s bridge to a residential street system initially designed for the horse and buggy. It makes less sense to add two more lanes of traffic to a small city where people have to drive through those residential areas before connecting with major roadways.
Two-thirds of the bridge’s traffic is not local at all to New Westminster or North Surrey, but is just passing through to somewhere else. A new Pattullo Bridge could route through North Surrey, and connect with Highway 1 and North Road in Coquitlam. It’s an only an idea, but an idea worth considering.

Any decision on the bridge should not occur before complete environmental and impact assessments on the options, and fair consideration of all of the options.

David Noshad
Issues like this require extensive research and analyzing all the pros and cons. I will base my decision on the best interest of the city, environment and our citizens’ preference.

Gavin Palmer
We need to work with TransLink in dealing with the Pattullo Bridge. It has to be done within the constraints of public funding and whether it is repaired, refurbished or replaced will depend on the overall plan to move traffic through the region. New Westminster is not the dumping ground for the region’s traffic issues and we need to garner better respect from our neighbors. We are the keystone to the region and we deserve better treatment from our regional government not the current lip service our current regime accepts from this body.

Chuck Puchmayr
There is a group called Get Moving BC, which had a report produced by a Voice New Westminster founding director (see Kent Spencer, The Province Published: Monday, September 15, 2008) recommending another 8 lanes of traffic into New Westminster by replacing the Pattullo bridge with an 8 lane structure at the foot of King George. I do not support an 8 lane Pattullo replacement. We can’t keep dumping the regions traffic through our city. When an 8 lane bridge becomes gridlocked, and it will, our neighbourhoods will suffer total gridlock and emergency vehicle response times will become critical.

Lorrie Williams
I don’t know enough about bridges to know if it should be replaced or repaired or expanded.

What to do about traffic? The candidates weigh in

Traffic ranks as one of the top concerns for New West residents. Photo: Dennis Sylvester Hurd.
Traffic ranks as one of the top concerns for New West residents. Photo: Dennis Sylvester Hurd.

This is the second in a series of posts highlighting responses from New Westminster Environmental Partners’ mayor and council candidates’ survey focusing on environmental issues. Our first post brought together the mayoral candidates’ answers to NWEP’s questions on local questions related to sustainability. You can read all candidates’ full responses on NWEP’s website. If you’re looking for more information on mayor, council and trustee candidates we have compiled a list of all New Westminster civic election candidates’ websites, Twitter profiles and Facebook pages on Tenth to the Fraser. 

A constant source of frustration and conflict in New Westminster, traffic is one of the most heated issues in our city right now. An outpouring of public protest scuttled the proposed United Boulevard Exchange, but the city remains challenged by the question of how to handle the competing demands on its roads. Truck traffic and downtown commuter traffic from other suburbs regularly clog our streets and the resulting gridlock inspires rampant “rat-running” through normally quiet residential street. The question of what to do about all this isn’t easily answered, as council considers other factors including social, environmental and economic costs.

I have therefore grouped replies from our council candidates based on the emphasis they gave in their answers to the various competing approaches to transportation planning. There is some overlap, so please do read through the candidates’ answers in full, but my hope is that this will give voters a sense of which candidates prioritize improving the flow of car traffic vs. reducing the volume of car traffic, for example, or those who advocate focusing on mitigating imapacts on residential streets vs. more ambitious plans to radically reroute traffic. Replies are from candidates for council, unless otherwise indicated.

The question NWEP asked candidates was this: The City will be developing a Master Transportation Plan within the next term, what would you like to see included in that plan?

Improve the flow of car traffic

James Crosty – Mayoral Candidate
Comprehensive movement plan to get vehicles in and out efficiently instead of building our road network for two or three hours a day. The people that live work and play in New Westminster should not have to endure movement challenges for the other 21 hours a day. The public must play an important role in any plan to be developed.

John Ashdown
I would like to see a plan which plans to do away with $100,000 plans, which simply gets put on the shelf. We need a bypass! We need to work with adjoining communities for a common solution. Develop Stormont. The UBE is unnecessary now they have the King Edward overpass nearing completion. However Brunette, E. Columbia, Front Street and Stewardson Way will need to be a huge part of the Study. Once the South Perimeter Road is complete, I estimate you will see a considerable reduction in traffic heading through New West to Highway #1. We have a whole crew of transportation bureaucrat’s claiming their high salaries are justified. Now is the time to prove it.

Lorrie Williams
A reasonable truck route plan, exploration of the Storemont interchange.

Reduce car traffic, increase transit/cycling/walking

Vance McFadyen – Mayoral Candidate
Regarding developing a workable Master Transportation Plan you have asked a difficult question. The most obvious challenge to me is the re-routing of commercial trucks/vehicles, improved traffic control, improved inner city transit and to create incentives to encourage more foot and bicycle use. A lot of people find it easy to go downhill but not so easy to go uphill.

François Nantel
Better strategy to streamline through traffic like.  Study to see if one- way streets would help, and where. More left hand turn signals (dedicated), or interdiction to turn left. May be a gondola from Columbia Station to the Mall uptown that would run above the low rise on 7th street (they have those in Venezuela).

Jonathan Cote
Given that transportation is such a critical issue in New Westminster, the Master Transportation Plan will be one of the most important documents the upcoming council will be working on. I would like to see this plan focus on increasing the sustainable transportation (walking, cycling and public transportation) mode share in our community. I also feel that this plan needs to focus on improving the integration of land use and transportation planning.

Jaimie McEvoy
Look at options to reduce traffic in New Westminster, and move away from our role as the throughway of the Lower Mainland.

City positions and a plan to pursue them on regional transportation issues and inititatives.

Review the routing and the need for Patullo Bridge, be ready to challenge TransLink when necessary, push the province to reform TransLink to be more responsive to communities, and give greater emphasis to public transit and other modes of transportation.

A solid plan, with targets, timelines, and adequate resources, to make all of our streets safe and fully accessible to all.

Enhance and promote support for walking and cycling in the city – and beyond the city, as part of our connection to regional transportation infrastructure.

Call for improvements to Skytrain and the five stations in New Westminster, and expanded hours of service. Skytrain should be safe, be clean, and be well maintained.

Citizen involvement – a very good program of consultation with citizens, stakeholder groups, and neighbourhoods.

Return Front Street and the waterfront to the people, and restore the natural environment on the waterfront and the heritage buildings on Front Street, by finding parking alternatives to the parkade so that it can be at least partially removed.

Undertake initiatives to support electric vehicles and small personal transportation in the city.
Improve bike and pedestrian pathways by removing obstacles.

David Noshad
‘Walk/bike to work’ is [a] subject that needs close attention. If designed properly, programs like this can reduce daily traffic while improving citizens’ quality of life.

Chuck Puchmayr
We are the thoroughfare of Metro Vancouver, and if you think the traffic is bad now, wait until the new 10 lane Port Mann bridge is open. We need to take advantage of our Chartered control of some of our roads and curb the expansion of the vehicle onslaught into our city. At the same time we need to move people and goods efficiently and creatively.

Focus on quieting residential streets

Betty McIntosh
A continuation of respect for all residential neighbourhoods with reduced impact from motor vehicles. In the plan clear direction of where motor vehicles can go not just where they can not go.

Vladimir Krosnogor
Sensible solutions to out frustrating traffic problems. Reduce traffic in residential areas, not increase it

Bob Osterman
We need to know the BC Gov’t final decision on the Patullo Bridge, also we need the Surrey-Delta South Fraser Perimeter Road to be completed to take truck pressure off of our roadways; Front/Brunette/Stewardson. We need to continue neighborhood traffic calming, and making each neighborhood safely walkable.

Balance needs of all users

Wayne Wright – Mayoral Candidate 
Transportation requirements are complex and issues that we need to address include pedestrian safety at crossings, better facilities for cyclists, transit access and service, reduced volume of regional truck and vehicle traffic, vehicular safety as well as air quality, noise and livability issues. We need to find the best routes for all traffic in the City and how to find the funding that will be required.

Gerry Liu
I would like to see the master transportation plan include a choice to move around the city by foot, bike, bus, Skytrain & car. Consideration for semi trucks must be included as well as handicap & disability services, providing facilities – covered benches, & trees for the environment.

Send traffic ‘around, over or under’ New Westminster

Susan Wandell
Through traffic still needs to be directed to the perimeter of the City. I would support a cut and cover on McBride Blvd. from the Pattullo Bridge through to the Stormont Connector.

Gavin Palmer
Our City is in the unique position of being the ‘keystone’ of the lower mainland and needs to determine its own destiny. As the oldest City in Western Canada, preceding Canada itself, we deserve the respect of the other cities in this region and MUST continue to remind them of this fact. We have no land to devote to expanded roadways and have no funds to pay for regional arteries. With that being stated, we need to work with our neighbors to arrive at a regional solutions which work for all. Flow-through traffic needs to go around, over or under our neighborhoods so our citizens can enjoy the quiet enjoyment of their homes including the ability to get in and out of the city unimpeded. This will be a major challenge and needs public consultation with our citizens and our bordering jurisdictions.

Notes & observations from New West’s first all-candidates meeting of 2011

Turnout was good at the first all-candidates meeting of the 2011 campaign, hosted by the Queensborough Residents Association.
Turnout was good at the first all-candidates meeting of the 2011 campaign, hosted by the Queensborough Residents Association.

At the first all-candidates meeting for the 2011 civic election in New Westminster last night, Bob Osterman took me to task for making fun of his ugly election signs.

I don’t recall doing that, and I can’t find any posts in the archives that mock his signs, but Bob took me aside and said that last election me or someone related to Tenth to the Fraser did, and I guess I’ve got to believe him. Bob went on to explain why.

“I’ve been using the same ugly signs for the last 20 years,” Bob said with a laugh, “and I’m gonna keep on re-using those ugly signs every time I run. And you know what I do with the stakes in between elections? I use ’em to stake my azaleas and my tomatoes.”

Whether Bob’s ugly election signs are a sign of pragmatic thrift, environmental consciousness (reduce, reuse, recycle!) or a kind of superstitious talisman – his version of growing a playoffs beard – I believe this anecdote illustrates a simple truth about New Westminster politics: there’s more than meets the eye.

Since we began blogging about New Westminster three years ago (we launched Tenth to the Fraser shortly before the 2008 election – though the timing was quite unintentional), the way I view local politics has changed profoundly. Three years ago, the names on the ballot were just names on the ballot. I’ve now had the privilege to get to know most of this year’s candidates as people.

My husband Will and I launched Tenth to the Fraser in part as an incentive for ourselves to dig deeper into local issues and get to know our community better. We have succeeded far beyond my initial expectations. Several of the council and school board candidates this year are now our friends, and most are friendly acquaintances. I look back at Will’s observations of mayoral and council candidates at the last Queensborough All-Candidates’ meeting and our endorsements in 2008 and it’s funny – we snubbed some of the people who we have grown to like and respect. Like most voters, all we had to go on was election flyers, the all-candidates’ meeting and newspaper coverage. In other words, we had to rely on secondary sources, and it’s very hard to get a true measure of a person via leaflets, reporters or 30-second stump speeches. This too is a secondhand report, but in it I hope to show a bit about the people on the ballot. If you are able, I encourage you to meet the candidates in person – many of them are quite different than how they come across on paper or in pixels.

This post will not offer any specific endorsements, just some observations and notes that I took during the all-candidates’ meeting. Given the disclosure above that some of these candidates have become friends, I do want to reveal up front who these are. I’m no journalist, and like everyone I am not unbiased. I’d rather be honest about my biases, and let you temper your own judgements about what I say based on this disclosure. Candidates I would call friends (people with whom I have shared a beer or other informal social time) include Jonathan Cote and Jaimie McEvoy on council and Jonina Campbell and MaryAnn Mortensen on school board. I am friendly (though not close) with John Ashdown, who was one of the early co-organizers for the inaugural Summerfest event, as well as James Crosty and Wayne Wright, who were my Quayside neighbours when I first moved to New Westminster. I have also had several friendly conversations with Betty McIntosh and incumbent trustee Lisa Graham. To be clear, being “friendly” with someone doesn’t automatically mean I would vote for or endorse him or her. I don’t agree politically with all my friends – it takes the fun out of talking politics if everyone agrees on everything!

Now, on to the all-candidates meeting report. I took a lot of notes at the all-candidates’ meeting – and in fact, was berated for it by a fellow citizen who accused me of being a City shill (and, when I said I was blogging, demanded I tell him who I was blogging for – as though it couldn’t possibly be for my own fun). This was the same guy who kept asking long-winded leading questions and then shouted down any candidate who dared try to answer them. All the politicos took it in stride. This won’t be the first, or the last time they will be loudly attacked by someone who takes advantage of a public question period to share an angry rant.

Here are some of the quotes, observations and paraphrased comments that stuck out for me for each of the candidates. They are in no particular order.

Mayoral candidates

“No mayor walks by himself.” – Incumbent Wayne Wright, who said that he feels the current council works very well together, evidenced by the fact that there have been only two tied votes in the last six years. He appealed to voters to choose a leader and six to go with him. Wayne is running on his record, of course, and used the mic to remind everyone about the many changes he’s brought about during his term, particularly the transformation of Queensborough (since the all-candidates meeting was hosted by that residents association).

“Sports and music are ways to bring people together” – Francois Nantel, an affable Quebecker, mentioned several times that social events are important to build community. The mayoral dark horse suggested the creation of a mayors’ slo-pitch league to encourage more citizen involvement. He also said that he was unaware of any music festivals that were hosted in New Westminster, which was a surprise. There are several, including the 12th St. Festival, organized by council candidate John Ashdown.

“I’m neither an asteroid nor a star, just a guy with his feet planted firmly on the ground.” – Vance McFayden positioned himself as a pragmatic, middle-of-the-road populist, promising that he’d initiate a program of four open town halls per year where citizens could discuss the issues that matter to them with mayor & council. He told me prior to the debate that he was a good choice because he had “no ties.” I think he was referring to Wayne’s well-known connections to developers, and perhaps hinting that the other front-runner, James Crosty (who was absent) had his own “ties” to be wary of. The surprise mayoral contender wore a giant photo button on his lapel with a picture of his father – apparently a family tradition to celebrate the life of someone who has recently passed (Vance’s  elderly Dad died on Sunday, and it is the reason why Vance didn’t announce his candidacy earlier).

As I mentioned, James Crosty was absent, but he sent several volunteers to distribute flyers bearing his apology and an explanation: he was at a residents’ meeting in uptown New West that he said he committed to two months ago. James has been visiting all the local residents’ associations to introduce himself and shake hands (I ran into him at the last West End residents’ meeting a month ago), as well as attending citizen-organized chats upon request. James has been the most visible challenger so far, having started his “citizen advocate” campaign months ahead of the official announcement that he was seeking the mayor’s chair. I was surprised that he did  not show, prior engagement or no.

Council candidates

“Ladies and gentlemen, I shall be short because the chairs are hard…” – Crusty council candidate James Bell appeared frail but peppered the evening with irreverent one-liners.  Quite genteel in our conversation following the debate, he was fiercely outspoken on a few issues, specifically commenting on the hazard to pedestrians and cars of open ditches in Queensborough. His final remark was, “Ladies & gentlemen I want to thank you for enduring these hard seats while you were subjected to word hypnosis.” James is also running for school trustee.

“When I got into city politics it was to answer the question, ‘can compassion and politics go together?’ The answer is yes, I believe they can.” – Incumbent councillor Jaimie McEvoy, whose day job is the director of the Hospitality Project in New Westminster, is an outspoken advocate for New Westminster’s most disadvantaged residents. He has a closer view of the impacts of poverty than most, on the front lines of one the largest food bank in the Lower Mainland, serving 3,000 people every month. Thoughtful and self-effacing in a one-to-one conversation, I was surprised to find that Jamie is a hell of a debater. I’ve never seen him in action before.

“My name is Chuck Puchmayr, and … I’m back!” – Former MLA Chuck Puchmayr introduced himself with a note of surprise, acknowledging his last-minute declaration of intent to run for council. He delayed his entry into the race until he got a bill of clean health from his doctor after his recent battle with cancer. Chuck is a polished politician and expertly reminded all of his successes as MLA and councillor as he responded to questions. Chuck’s got a cheeky sense of humour, as seen in his choice of URL: politicallycorrect.ca.

“I want to help build a better communication between the city of New Westminster and the people of New West. That is, your concerns and issues, we want them to be properly answered.” – A self-described “rookie” politician, Gerry Liu apologized several times for his lack of polish. Polish or no, he has heart.

“Development Cost Charges should be transparent so that citizens can see how the money is spent” – Harpreet Singh Sihota echoed a sentiment that ran strong in Queensborough. Many in the audience demanded more transparency in terms of how the money paid to the City by developers is spent. Some suspected that money levied in Queensborough was funneled towards improvements uptown, however all incumbent councillors said unequivocally that all DCCs collected in Queensborough are spent in Queensborough, pointing to water and sewer upgrades, new parks, the rec centre expansion and upcoming Ewen St. upgrades as examples of how this money has been spent.

“We’re one of the only cities that allows open delegation to council meetings. It’s risky, but you know what, we want to hear from the citizens of this city.” – Incumbent Lorrie Williams’ plain-spoken reply  to a question about how citizens can voice their opinions to the City. A councillor for nine years, Lorrie was asked several times to defend recent council performance. She said this council had accomplished a lot, though it wasn’t enough for some critics in the audience. Lorrie pointed out, with the voice of experience, “Things take longer than you think.”

“It’s important that we have a city hall that cares.” – Jonathan Cote spoke about the social and environmental issues he is so passionate about. He mentioned there has been a 45% decline in the homeless population in New Westminster since establishing more shelters in New West.

“I will bring balance back to council.” – Veteran former councillor Cal Donnelly, who has served under five mayors, appealed to voters to bring him back to council. Cal was the only politician to include a QR code and a link to a Surveymonkey survey on his election flyer, though, oddly, not an official website.

“One of the most important things we’ve done in the last three years is the official apology to the Chinese community,” – Bill Harper, responding to a question about multiculturalism and inclusiveness in New Westminster, mentioned the apology for the city’s racist past was very meaningful for many Chinese-Canadians. Harper also mentioned that the controversial DCCs mentioned earlier used to be among the lowest in the region at $750/unit. Council has raised the fee to $6,500 per unit, which is closer to the middle of the pack.

“We need our fun. You can’t live in a city where there is no fun.” – Paul Mulangu, who recently made headlines for chaining himself to a door and launching a hunger strike to protest funding cuts to his Centre of Integration for African Immigrants, focused on the need to encourage more multiculturalism and culture in New West.

“It’s not up to City Hall to tell people what is good for them, it’s up to people to tello City Hall what they want and need.” – Former Arts Council Chair Susan Wandell, speaking about the importance of citizen involvement.

“This city is doing its share for the region.”  – Betty McIntosh pointed out that because some neighbouring municipalities do not have homeless shelters and other services for the poor, New Westminster is shouldering more than its share of the responsibility for their care. She mentioned that New Westminster has 1,900 subsidized housing units – a lot for a population of about 60,000 people.

“Every councillor has personal phone numbers. If you need a private meeting, call us and we will come.”  – Bob Osterman and the other incumbent councillors tried to stress how open they are for citizens to share their concerns. Communication and transparency in city dealings was a recurring concern voiced by citizens in their questions for the candidates.

Gavin Palmer was also in attendance, however I didn’t catch any quotable lines from him. He is an outspoken Queensborough advocate.

Several council candidates were no-shows, including:

New West councillors pull all-nighter voting for youth centre in Kraft contest

Mac & Cheese. Photo: Angie Torres (via Flickr)
Fortified by Kraft Dinner, New Westminster Councillors Jaimie McEvoy & Jonathan Cote pulled an all-nighter voting for the Youth Centre in Moody Park in the Kraft Celebration Tour online contest. Thanks to them and others in the community who voted, New Westminster youth won the $25,000 prize! Photo: Angie Torres (via Flickr)

We often hear that New Westminster is a small town, not just in size but in style. And that can be both good and bad. This week, in the Moody Park Youth Centre’s campaign to win a $25,000 grant in an online contest, there was a whole lot of good going around.

It seemed that the whole town pulled together for the youth centre. To win the big prize, New Westminster went head to head with the city of Nelson, both trying to muster the most votes in one day. With no restriction on the number or frequency of votes, the Kraft Celebration Tour contest was as much about passion for the community as population numbers.

Said The Royal City Record about New West’s win:

New Westminster clobbered Nelson – who were hoping to use the cash for an upgrade to their curling club – by a score of 220,531 to 154,709 in the 24 hour contest that ran from 9 a.m. Friday to Saturday. Not bad for a city with an estimated population of around 60,000.

New Westminster rallied for our youth, urging each other on through many emails, tweets, Facebook posts and blogs to cast a vote (or more) for our town. Meanwhile, a group of teens gathered in the library to stay up all night watching movies and vote, vote, vote! City councillors and staff also took time out during the day to vote during coffee breaks and lunch hour. Then, two City councillors, Jonathan Cote and Jaimie McEvoy, saw each other on Facebook that night and upped the ante, challenging each other to pull an all-nighter voting for the youth centre.

Jonathan Cote on Twitter at 3:46 a.m.: "I am going to pay for this tomorrow..."
Jonathan Cote on Twitter at 3:46 a.m.: "I am going to pay for this tomorrow..."

“We were both getting tired and getting ready to call it quits, so I put out the challange on twitter,” said Jonathan via email. “I thought with two kids under the age of three I would have the edge in staying up through the night.”

The wager? A dinner out with both spouses. The winner would pick the restaurant – and the loser would pick up the tab.

“Jaimie and I would occasionally check on each other on Facebook to make sure we were still up.”

All that time staring at the Kraft logo on the contest screen made both councillors crave Kraft Dinner. Jonathan said he made his around 2 a.m. and Jaimie around 3:30.

“Around 4:30, I thought I would rest my eyes a bit to get my second [wind]. Next thing I knew it, it was 7:30. As per the posts on Facebook, it looks like Jaimie made it to about 6:30. No word on which restuarant Alix and I will be taking Jaimie and Stacy to.”

Fact-checking failures in recent coverage of New West issues

New Westminster City Councillor Jaimie McEvoy
New Westminster City Councillor Jaimie McEvoy

This is a guest post by New Westminster city councillor Jaimie McEvoy, in response to a link we shared on Facebook from a Metro Vancouver political blog, City Caucus, about a proposed New West trade junket to Korea. Inaccuracies and assumptions in the City Caucus article revived earlier frustrations about misleading Vancouver reporting on New West issues, so we invited Jaimie to set the record straight.

There has been a wave of coverage about New Westminster by Vancouver media, in each case forming judgements about the city’s actions based on little more than a hunch. And frankly, in each case, the issues in New Westminster pale to similar issues in Vancouver itself.

If a New Westminster story is of enough interest to gain regional coverage, then it is also of enough merit for the media outlet to provide the same background checking and balance in coverage that they do for a Vancouver story.

Here are some of the factual errors in the City Caucus article, all of which could have been prevented with a simple phone call to City Hall:

Council is not going to Korea

Korea is off the table and is not part of the trip, precisely because the return at this time would not be adequate. This was the case since before the article in the Record, which seems to be the article’s only source.

China trip is part of a coordinated provincial strategy

The article says the trip is a waste of time unless it is coordinated with a Metro strategy. In fact, it is part of a coordinated provincial strategy in which municipalities have agreed to participate. That’s why the large majority of the funds have come from the provincial government for other overseas missions. Provincial trade representatives are making many of the overseas arrangements for the delegation. There was absolutely no reason for the writer to incorrectly conclude that the trip is being planned in “a haphazard way” and without coordination with other areas, that was simply an assumption, and an incorrect one.

Personally, I would like to see a development component to the Sister city program. What would be wrong with having, for example, a Sister city in the Punjab, or Southern Sudan, to raise awareness and promote development? These are areas where large numbers of New Westers hail from. Given our multicultural nature, our 100 languages, our high number of refugees and immigrants in the city, the call for a parochial isolationism at the international level hardly reflects our community.

Education & health funding crisis won’t be solved by refusing to participate in foreign trade efforts

Returning the provincial monies for this program would be tantamount to New Westminster withdrawing from foreign trade efforts in partnership with the province.

The idea that funding for health care and education can be funded by withdrawing from trade and economic efforts seems odd to me. And in fact, the crisis in funding for health and education is not caused by the current economic crisis, which has improved significantly since last Fall, but by the decision to give large tax breaks for corporations in the province, to the extent that, for example, higher education now recieves more funding through tuition fees than it does through corporate taxes. The decision by the province to cut in half the industrial school tax throughout the province was particularly harmful to education funding.

‘Back-of-the-napkin’ journalism must end

“I would venture to guess not,” City Caucus’ Daniel Fontaine says at one point in the article. Guessing isn’t journalism. And the revival of journalism has been one of the great things about blogs. At another point, Fontaine writes, “This back-of-napkin economic development planning must end.” As must back-of-napkin journalism.

I am unclear on why the article comes to the conclusions that it does based on guesses and supposition, but it better represents the writers cynicism than it does the process for choosing sites. Potential new Sister cities are identified and developed not by the city on the back of a napkin, but through the work of provincial trade officials. It is a provincially coordinated, trade-based and planned process.

Personally, though, I don’t feel that trade should be the only consideration. Our city has a long historical relationshiops with China for example. The first Japanese in British Columbia arrived at New Westminster. And the city has a large and growing Korean population. For many, the idea of crossing our largest border – the ocean – is a cause for hysteria. But for most of the world, foreign delegations of elected officials are part of the natural engagement with each other, and part of the promotion of cultural and mutual understanding.

Elitist stereotypes about smaller towns like New West breed inaccurate assumptions

The writer calls for more of an economic plan for Metro Vancouver, formerly the GVRD. New Westminster City Council has already issued a similar call.

Rather than stereotyping and incorrectly making assumptions about one of the Lower Mainland’s small towns, the writer would have done well to ask Vancouver, and other Metro Van cities, why there is not more support for New Westminster’s position.

I have seen this more than once. For example, calls from Vancouver for a regional police force when Vancouver is the only police force in the region that does not participate in the existing regional integrated teams. Calls from Vancouver calling for New Westminster to apologize for its treatment of the Chinese, when part of that history was the receiving into New Westminster of large numbers of Chinese refugees from Vancouver’s race riots. Targeting one of the local small towns from Vancouver, without so much as a phone call or a fact check, seems elitist to me. And so it is.

I should add that I like City Caucus and the work that they do. Fair treatment of the other municipalities outside of Vancouver, accuracy, fair comment and modest research will enhance their progressive efforts.