Bill Harper wants upgraded infrastructure, better access to information and recreation [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.

Bill Harper
Bill Harper

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

  • What’s your name? – bill harper
  • How long have you lived in New Westminster? – 32 years
  • What do you love most about our city? – its inclusiveness of all peoples
  • What do you think most needs improvement? – our industrial and commercial tax base
  • What is the civic issue that is the most personally meaningful to you? – making a place for my grandchildren

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

  • Small business incubation and support
  • creating an environment where businesses feel welcome and can be successful.
  • Changind our OCP to allow for development that is mixed use and neighbourhood compatable

3. How would you like to see city council improve engagement with younger citizens?
Better use of technology to allow for those who want to, to be able the see the discussion and debate in council as to why diecisions are made like they are. For citizens to have better access to information. To make city hall more citizent friendly and create a position at city hall where by citizens can have help getting through the different departments and getting the answers they need, like and Ombudsperson.

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?
In the past New Westminster has tended to centralize services for citizens such as Canada Games pool. one Library, one seniors centre, etc., because it was economical to do and the size of the city would allow it to do so. There is now a citizenry that want services within walking distants of their homes. Given the access to capital to do it would be nice to have a recreation centre in each area of the city. Centenial Community Centre now serves Sapperton, Massey Hieghts, Glenbrook and Queens Park. It would seem that a similiar centre should be placed in the west end with Moody Park being the place for an uptown development for more services. The Civic Centre down town while not having all the services of a Recreation Centre does provide services of a specific type that are in their neighbourhood.

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
non of these are either or questions. Some times you cannot get public input on purchase of property for public use such as the Pier Park purchase because the city is in a set of negotiations to purchase at the best price possible. These are incamera decision sometimes because the city wants it that way and sometimes because the seller wants it that way and some times from a third party representing the city because is prevents the price from rising because the seller will want a bigger dollar if it understands the city wants it and the public proccess now demands it.

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.

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?
Become active in a community organization. Contribute to your city is a way that is rewarding, creative and helps others.

8. What should be done about truck traffic through our city?
This is a very difficult and complex question where stock answer may seem right but you quickly find out there are many factors outside the ability of the city to fix. Truck are traveling through our city because the are on their way to eastern canada or the us and are taking a direct route to get to the freeway. Others are going to destuffing terminals to have their goods reorganized and shipped out of the city or delivered to places in the GVRD. I am of the opinion that we need to convince the provincial government and the GVRD/TranLink that front street should no longer be a truck route and that as much truck traffic as possible to transfered to the South Fraser Road when it is open. This will allow us to revitalize Front Street as a secondary artial route, with new stores and businesses and easier access the to water front and the new Pier Park. Most importantly we need to continue to insist that trucks stay off of all remaining streets in the city that are not designated truck routes and continue to protect our neighbourhoods.

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?
We are currently putting 11 million dollars into dramatic improvements to Queensbourgh Rec Centre. We understand what improvements need to be made and have put those in our 5 year capital plan. We currently have a new all weather field being built at queens park. Last year we completley rehabilitated the track at the high school, we built an new all wheel park in Queensbourgh, a new park in Queensbourgh that has ball fields and fun areas for children and families, a new pool at moody park. With Canada Games Pool people must understand this is a very large capital program that will have to be faced in the not to distant future. It is estimated it will be a 52 million dollar project so federal and provincial help will probably be neccessary. We have just begun the initial planning at this stage and is very general in nature. Real dollar figures and options need to be put on the table before it goes to the public. My personal view at this time is we need a state of the art facility like other cities have, whether that is a renovated or new facility I will have to see the options before I can make up my mind.

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?
The best possible thing we could do for citizens of the future is to have our infrastructure completly overhaulded. We are the oldest city in western Canada and as such our sewer, grey water, electrical, roads, etc., need a heck of alot of money to bring them up to a standard of excellence. That would allow us to then focus on the detail of improved livability in the city such as new types of parks in our urban core, bring our aging building such as city hall, QueensPark Arena and other up to a standard we all can be proud of.

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:

95 kg of trash collected at Queensborough shoreline cleanup

This is a guest post by Karla Olson, site director of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup event that happened in Queensborough last Sunday.

Cleaning up the Cleanup: 13 of the 28 participants from the GCSC in New Westminster. Photo: Margaret Macaulay
Cleaning up the Cleanup: 13 of the 28 participants from the GCSC in New Westminster. Photo: Margaret Macaulay

On Sunday, September 25, the Carter Foreshore Park and the South Dyke Road from Gifford Street to Boundary Road in Queensborough were targeted for cleanup by 28 people who participated in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. Even though downpours occurred just before and after, the event was rain free.

Participants came from Delta, Surrey, New Westminster and Vancouver. Local participants included NWSS teachers Axel Krause and Luke Mayba and several of their NWSS environmental club students, Councillors Jonathan Cote and Bill Harper, and NWEP Directors Andrew Murray, Marcel Pitre, and Andrew Feltham (who was also the Invasive Plant-Pull Leader).

Councillor Bill Harper, Rupinder Kaur and Amy Dhatt. Cleaning up the Cleanup: 13 of the 28 participants from the GCSC in New Westminster. Photo: Margaret Macaulay
Councillor Bill Harper, Rupinder Kaur and Amy Dhatt. Cleaning up the Cleanup: 13 of the 28 participants from the GCSC in New Westminster. Photo: Margaret Macaulay

At first glance, participants wondered what garbage could be found. After 2 hours, starting the list with some of the more unusual items, they found a set of house keys still attached to a backpack, 1 chair, lots of caution tape, a door knob, 3 knickknack statues, a bucket full of hardened cement, a nail clipper, paint cans and lots of garbage: 93 plastic bags, 40 glass beverage bottles, 66 pop cans, 91 food wrappers, 4 bleach containers, 17 buoys, 2 fishing lines, 8 oil bottles, 2 tires, 50 large pieces of Styrofoam, and the number one littered item: 157 cigarette butts found concentrated around the lovely sitting and viewing areas that the City recently put in.

Collecting approximately 95 kg of litter was a bittersweet moment for participants.

Marion Orser and Councillor Jonathan Cote. Photo: Margaret Macaulay
Marion Orser and Councillor Jonathan Cote. Photo: Margaret Macaulay

“I was surprised and disappointed to see how much garbage we actually found,” said Jonathan Cote, Councillor for New Westminster. “We saw everything from paint cans to furniture. Our riverfront is a sensitive environment and we cannot allow it to become a dumping site.”

Cleanups can be difficult because success can really feel like defeat for the participants. Every person experienced it. When they returned to the gathering area with their bag of collected garbage, they all had big smiles on their faces until the moment they saw the amount of garbage that others had also collected. It was a difficult moment to witness this loss of joy. But no one person could have achieved what we did that day. Seeing the achievement of the group effort and realizing that people can change things makes all the difference.

“It was inspiring to see the diversity of those who participated as well as how many young people showed up. Collectively, in the space of a few hours, a real difference was made and demonstrates what is possible,” said New Westminster Environmental Partners Director Andrew Murray.

Right from the start when people showed up, they could see that the City of New Westminster had loaned us gloves, some tools to collect the garbage, and that they were coming the next day to pick it up made people not only feel better, but supported. To help improve the positive impact we also planned an invasive plant removal at the same time.

“I’ve done many Shoreline Clear Ups before and that was the best attended, most motivated volunteers, and most productive I’ve been to. I really liked that we did the invasives removal,” said invasive plant-pull leader Andrew Feltham. “A nice change from picking up other people’s garbage!”

For 2 hours, participants pulled, dug, and carefully collected every part of the invasive Japanese Knotweed from one area in front of the Suzuki Street viewpoint walkout. So invasive is this plant that it can re-grow if even the smallest stem part is left on the ground. It is for this reason, 6 bags of Knotweed were slated for safe disposal as garbage pickup. Other volunteers freed a nearby Douglas fir from being strangled and possibly toppled by English Ivy, resulting in 4 bags of organic yard waste.

New Westminster can be proud.

Port Royal gets controversial height variance

Despite vocal opposition from Quayside residents concerned about the impact on their views, city council has approved the request by Port Royal developer Aragon Properties to build a taller tower in Queensborough.

On Monday city council voted 5-2 in favour of a height variance for the Queensborough tower, which will allow the developer to add 28 more feet to the highrise.

Coun. Bob Osterman and Bill Harper opposed the variance.

Source: Port Royal tower to be taller | New Westminster News Leader

As The Record’s Theresa McManus reports, the decision illustrates that election endorsements don’t always translate into influence:

Allegations that city councillors who are endorsed by the New Westminster District and Labour Council or the Voice New Westminster electors group didn’t hold any weight in council’s consideration of a development variance for the Aragon Group’s proposed highrise at Port Royal.

Coun. Bill Harper, who was endorsed by the labour council, opposed the variance. Councillors Jonathan Cote, Jaimie McEvoy and Lorrie Williams, also endorsed by the New Westminster District and Labour Council, supported the variance

Councilors Bob Osterman and Betty McIntosh, members of the Voice New Westminster slate, were on opposing sides of the vote – a fact that made McIntosh smile. McIntosh supported the variance, while Osterman was opposed.

Source: Independent Thinkers | Only In New West (Royal City Record)