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.
1. First, let’s hear a little about you:
What’s your name? – Wayne Gary Wright
How long have you lived in New Westminster? – 34
What do you love most about our city? – he wonderful people and a community built of neighbourhoods
What do you think most needs improvement? – Columbia Street
What is the civic issue that is the most personally meaningful to you? – Reducing homelessness
2. What are the top three initiatives you believe would improve economic development?
More support for local business improvement associations
Small business incubation and support
Attracting more big companies to New West
3. How would you like to see city council improve engagement with younger citizens?
We have been making our council meetings more transparent by putting them on TV, we have CityNews both online and as an eNewsletter. We have a youth advisory committee. We are exploring other social media options.
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?
Rome was not built in a day.We are now building a library as part of the new Queensborough community centre expansion. Similar hubs are being planned for the neighbourhoods you mention.
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
We have in fact done all three for years.
6. Which of the following most closely reflects your views on taxation?
Taxes are too high. The City should freeze or reduce property taxes by any means necessary, even if this requires cutting back on City staffing or services.
We strive to reduce taxes without sacrificing the amenities and services the community asks for.
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?
They need to do what appeals to them personally, whether sport, art or whatever.
8. What should be done about truck traffic through our city?
There are only two options, redirect truck traffic elsewhere such as to the new Port man bridge, or mitigate the problem in New West through for example encapsulation. The City is in negotiation with Translink and the Province and conpleting a traffic master plan.
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?
Our recreation facilities are constantly being repaired and upgraded as funding permits.
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?
Upgrade and expand RCH
If you’d like to learn more about Wayne Wright, you can find him online:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
‘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.
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
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.
Sensible solutions to out frustrating traffic problems. Reduce traffic in residential areas, not increase it
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.
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
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.
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.
New Westminster Environmental Partners, in partnership with Tenth to the Fraser, asked all the mayoral and council candidates about environmental issues. NWEP has each candidate’s complete answers on their website, and we will be publishing highlights from the responses over the next week or so. We will begin with the mayoral candidates’ takes on sustainability: how to define the term, local successes and missed opportunities.
All comments that appear below are verbatim from the candidates’ emailed replies.
Sustainability seems to be a common word these days, but its use is often ambiguous. How do you define the word “sustainability”, and how does it relate to the job of a City Councillor or Mayor?
Sustain/ability to me means to use all possible avenues to maintain and/or improve the good of “something.” As to how it relates to doing a good job as a Mayor or member of Council it means that you need to maintain a good line of communication and openness to a whole variety of issues that concern and affect the citizens and the community as a whole.
Sustainability is a concept that is in direct conflict with the “forced growth agenda” in which we presently live in. It can be defined as a fine balancing act between inputs, and outputs within a given environment. A lake within a river system is a good example of sustainability up to a point since once in a while the forces of nature will redesign the river system. When inputs are greater than outputs, inflation ensues, and works against the principle of sustainability.
In the case that we are concern with, the financial system need redesigning, and we must take in consideration in its redesigning the maximum ability for human to consume, as well as the maximum added value per earner, as opposed to the psychopathic tendencies of the big corporation having for mandate to make money..
It relates to the mayor since the mayor is in touch with other mayors, and can explore better approaches in developing a sustainable community.
Basically it means “capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe side-effects”. The term can be used in many different contexts such the economy, agriculture, business, health and so on.
For me it is the art of maintaining, as well as progressing forward with services and the needs and wants of citizens that minimizes or lessens our carbon footprint. We are living in an age of consumerism where things are disposable and generate waste. Ideally we should return to a more simple life.
In any city we have to provide many systems like transportation, waste management, and so on. As city management we strive to make these systems as inherently sustainable as possible. In many cases one has to balance different aspects. For example a system might be sustainable in an economic context but not in the context of global warming.
Our Council resolutions for all new buildings, retro buildings, and new business endeavours, include sustainability from the beginning of the projects. As a result our projects are at forefront of sustainability. This can be seen by how many are LEEDS gold certified! Examples include the Youth Centre, the Civic Centre, the Queensborough Community Centre, and the Brewery District development.
A highlight for our staff and City was receiving the Brownie 2011 Award for Sustainable Remediation at Pier Park.
As mayor it is important that I am “present at the table” at talks that might affect our city. To this end I serve on many committees at GVRD level. This allows me to bring back their discussions to our Council for further analysis and appropriate action.
There are different levels of sustainability: at the individual level, society (city, provincial, national), and global levels. Leadership is required at all levels of government to ensure that we are creating a society that sees the value of keeping our world in the best possible social, economic, and environmental shape. Our efforts alone are not sufficient, without the support of the general public sustainability is not achievable.
Sustainability is the capacity to endure. For humans, sustainability is the long-term maintenance of well being, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions, and encompasses the concept of stewardship, the responsible management of resour
It’s been with a keen interest from the perspectives of both a New West kid and that of a Realtor I’ve watched a positive renewal of many a New Westminster neighbourhood. Everyone operating within the city, visiting, or just driving through, has made note of much change. A while ago I had the opportunity to sit down with Mayor Wayne Wright and chat about this growth. Today I’ll share a few thoughts from my perspectives and conclusions from that meeting.
As a New West kid I grew to know downtown as a sketchy dilapidated pass through, home to bottle collectors, wedding boutiques, and inoperative docks that rotted in to the river. Still yet I always had great pride in my hometown and often imagined building transformative landmark buildings on the river front, in Sapperton, and elsewhere around town. While the Woodlands lands did not become new home to the Canucks I have still taken great pride in the significant investment made by private and public sectors all over town. From Sapperton, where we have a real deal grocery store, through downtown, where we see folks enjoying a meal or coffee up and down Columbia. We will soon have our own theatre, civic centre, and replacement for the rotten dock in the form of a waterfront park. All this investment in parks, streetscapes, infrastructure, sporting facilities, and more, adds to the liveability and will be a source of pride for future generations.
From the perspective of a Realtor I am very bullish on New West and make it quite well known to anyone who asks. I’ve felt that for many years prices in certain areas were depressed and lagged behind others due to the product available and stagnant public investment. Today private investment from a wide array of developers has funnelled in and boosted supply of new condos. Transforming old buildings or empty lots into homes to thousands of new New Westminsterites. These new homes have brought a changing demographic, greater population of consumers for local business, and a foundation for future growth. Most importantly our location in the lower mainland, right in the middle of it all, will always be desirable. We have little if any extra land available which would suggest land value will continue on an upward trend.
Given the opportunity to sit down with the mayor I wanted to learn more about the ongoing projects, development we’ve seen completed, and the future direction of the city. We jumped from topic to topic, from issue to event, and shared thoughts on whats next for New West. My first note was regarding the passion and sense of excitement the mayor exuded when discussing his vision. I was told the focus at the outset was to be on all areas that were not up to their potential. Certain tactics and events were necessary to move the vision forward. Including successfully moving “the boat” out and new Starlight Casino in to Queensborough. As my enthusiasm for the cities growth is high I was comforted by the mayor’s being even greater. I felt he was very prideful of the strides we have made during his time as mayor and it was clear that he very much wants to see it through successfully. I also liked to hear the suggestion that he would go down to the potential site of a project and clearly explain his vision for it to any stakeholders. Who better to pitch the cities merits I thought.
We have an election upcoming and many challenges to tackle yet. That is without doubt. Along with our central Lower Mainland location comes traffic congestion issues that need serious discussion. We also desperately need a new high school – like, yesterday. However, from both my perspectives as a proud New West kid, and local Realtor, I am very happy with the change and development we’ve seen over the past 8 years. I believe this great investment is well deserved and long awaited by proud New Westminsterites. I’d like to see New West continue down this track, drawing in new blood, garnering investment, and building upon our civic pride. I’d like to see our mayor, Wayne Wright, continue leading us in that direction.
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.
“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.
“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 Westminster loves not only a parade, but events in general. Today’s ‘royal’ tea at Century House was no exception. The place was packed and the event sold out, with Mayor Wayne Wright and New West city councilors, MP Dawn Black, Poet Laureate Emeritus Edna Anderson, Salvation Army Captain Dave MacPherson, and Qayqayt First Nation Chief Rhonda Larabeeall in attendance. After being piped in, the pipers were paid and Master of Ceremonies Don Andrews introduced the mayor, who welcomed the crowd to the kickoff event for a year of celebration to commemorate the proclamation of New Westminster as British Columbia’s first capital in 1859.
‘Celebrating Our Past, Embracing the Future’ is the theme for the year (one tiny quibble, Embracing Our Future would really sound better – wouldn’t it?). And the event organizers did a bang-up job of making Century House look beautiful, with golden crowns as centrepieces on every table and silver-plated tea services everywhere.
After walking the gauntlet formed by the Royal Knights and the May Queen Suite, members of the Royal Engineers Living History Group attended while Governor James Douglas read the proclamation officially naming the site of what is now New Westminster as the capital of the Colony of British Columbia on February 14, 1859.
Miss New Westminster 2008 and the 2009 Hyack Ambassador candidates shared a very small stage as they took turns presenting anecdotes from 1859, including a short speech about Caroline Kennedy, one of the first non-aboriginal women to live in New West and another about W. J. Armstrong, the city’s first merchant. After opening a general store, Armstrong went on to become sheriff and justice of the peace.
After an enthusiastic round of God Save the Queen (who chose the city’s name because Westminster was her favourite part of London), the tea began. There were the usual fancy sandwiches, mini scones, and pastries. And then, of course, there was cake. We must have seemed hungry, because the catering staff kept dropping off more plates of sandwiches – and more pots of tea.
I was particularly fascinated to hear Rhonda Larabee speak. I had never heard of the Qayqayt First Nation before, and it was moving to listen to her talk about her people’s original village site on the banks of the Fraser, and the creation of three reserves after the Royal Engineers began building the city. These reserves – located at the old Scott Paper plant, Bridgeview, and the burial grounds on Poplar Island – were all closed in 1916, and Qayqayt First Nation now comprises only 48 people and is the only First Nation in Canada without a land base. “We are the River People,” said Larabee, who successfully established that the Qayqayt were not extinct and launched a claim to regain her Indian status in 1994.
A city that remembers its past will hopefully not be doomed to repeat it. As New Westminster enters an era of rapid population growth* in uncertain economic times, I hope the spirit of inclusiveness that seems to prevail here will be one of the things we choose to preserve.
* The city estimates New Westminster will have 84,000 residents by the year 2021, although other sources put that figure as high as 88,000.