Meet New Westminster federal election candidates April 20 at La Rustica

Confrontational politics leaves a bitter taste. I can’t fault people for wanting to tune out the rhetoric and take their vote out of play out of distaste for all the ideological chest-thumping from both right and left. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Rather than set up a typical all-candidates meeting full of speechifying and, well, politicking, Tenth to the Fraser, N.E.X.T. New West (a networking & social club for young professionals in the city) and New Westminster Environmental Partners have teamed up to organize a special non-partisan Green Drinks – Election Edition meet & greet with candidates. The event will be held on Wednesday, April 20 from 6-9pm at La Rustica, 228 6th Street. All residents are welcome to join us.

There will be no formal debate or confrontational politics at the event, just a chance to bend the candidates’ ears on the questions that matter to you, plus an opportunity to meet & mingle with some friendly local folks.

Green Drinks is a monthly networking event for sustainability minded citizens to socialize and discuss issues from green buildings, sustainable energy, organic gardening, and everything in between.  Originally started in the UK in 1989 the New Westminster chapter of Green Drinks has been occurring monthly for over three years.

So far four of the eight candidates have confirmed they will attend the April 20 ‘Election Edition’ of Green Drinks, including Conservative candidate Paul Forseth, NDP candidates Fin Donnelly and Peter Julian and Green candidate Carrie McLaren. We hope to hear soon from the remaining candidates whether they are able to join in the fun. Update: Conservative Diana Dilworth and Green Rebecca Helps have also confirmed they will attend.

We want to see voters of all political stripes come to the event – even if you who don’t yet know how (or if) you’ll vote.

Hope to see you there!

 

Volunteers needed for June 5 Twelfth St. cleanup party

New Westminster MP Peter Julian and MLA Dawn Black will be hosting the sixth annual Twelfth Street Clean-Up on Saturday, June 5. Dawn & Peter will be there with their crew, with rubber gloves on and garbage bags in hand, and they hope you’ll join them in cleaning up litter along the street.

“It is not heavy work and many hands will make the job go quickly,” wrote Dawn in an email call for participation.

The cleanup crew meets at 10am in the parking lot at 1170 8th Avenue at 12th Street (behind Community Savings Credit Union) and will go out in the neighbourhood for an hour or two. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. All equipment such as garbage bags will be provided.

A free barbeque lunch will be given to all volunteers at 12 noon back in the parking lot, courtesy of the New Westminster Firefighters Charity Fund. In addition, each participant will receive certificates of appreciation from the MLA and MP.

If you are able to help out or need further information, phone 604-775-2101.

Paul Forseth seeks Conservative nomination for Burnaby-New Westminster

Former Conservative MP Paul Forseth in his Office
Former Conservative MP Paul Forseth in his Office

Well this may not be NEW news as I have seen it reported elsewhere but a conversation today with former Conservative Party New Westminster-Coquitlam MP Paul Forseth confirms that he is seeking the nomination of his party for the next-door riding of Burnaby-New Westminster, where he is a resident.

Procedural difficulty barred him from competing for the nomination of his old riding, a contest concluded this past July by the nomination of Diana Dilworth. While some suspected that shrewd moves led to the nomination process there occurring whilst Forseth was overseas in France (preventing him from filing papers according to the EDA regulations) the four-term former Reform and Conservative MP insists the difficulties were only procedural and not politically motivated.

While a by-election may have been scheduled in the New West-Coquitlam riding (made vacant when NDP MP Dawn Black moved from federal to provincial politics last May), it is expected that a general election will be called soon due to a vote of non -confidence in the current Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  Forseth, echoing the Prime Minister,  told me that is is time to deliver a majority Conservative Parliament to Ottawa, so the business of government can continue.

No other nomination candidates have declared themselves for the Burnaby-New Westminster riding. Forseth comments that while he expects to see one or two others vie for the position, he hopes no one else will.

The Burnaby-New Westminster riding is currently held by NDP MP Peter Julian, who was re-elected with a wide margin in October 2008

UPDATE: As reported on Burnaby Politics (Blog), the Conservative Party nomination for the riding of Burnaby-New Westminster will be contested by Andrew Radia, described as :

a young businessman and columnist. Radia, a first generation Canadian, ran with Coquitlam First in the 2005 municipal election, finishing in 19th place.

Peter Julian on the coalition, and what it means for New West

Hubris has led to a great fall for Stephen Harper. Having won a mandate for another minority government, Harper acted as though he had won a majority and gave the three opposition parties the common enemy they needed for an attempt to wrest control from the Conservatives and propose an alternative coalition government.

And Canadians said … WTF?!

As news of these developments percolated through the Twittersphere, blogosphere and news media, many of us discovered that we understood less than we realized about how our political system works (myself included). I am not alone in spending some time catching up on the nuances of parliamentary democracy lately.

It’s not a coup, as some have called it. It’s a rarely used but legitimate political option exercised when the Prime Minister really screws up. The last time something like this happened in Canada was over conscription in the First World War.

As you know if you’ve ever voted (or remember the fundamentals of your high school history), we don’t vote directly for our country’s leader. We vote for a local representative. The leader is the person who can rally the most support in the House of Commons. This is almost always the leader of the party who won the most seats. This time, the leader of the party with the most seats is also (arguably) the most reviled political leader in Canada. While he did squeak past with a win in the last election, he did not enjoy the support of a majority of Canadians, and he has now lost the confidence of a majority of our Parliament.

I spoke with Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian today to get his take on the situation, and what it means for New Westminster.

Julian said all this began when Harper failed to deliver on his promise to move quickly after the election to implement a plan to address the economic crisis. While he had pledged to take a moderate approach and work with all parties in the House of Commons, the budget update instead included a number of controversial plans that impacted social programs, public election financing and other issues.
“He basically lobbed a grenade onto the floor of the House of Commons. He took a hard right shift attacking basic principles like collective bargaining and pay equity for women,” said Julian. “He used the economic crisis to put forward a very hard right shift, which is not at all what he committed to in the election campaign. He committed to being moderate.”

The NDP, Liberals and Bloc response was not what the Conservatives expected. The economic crisis and the threat of another election wasn’t enough to bully them into passing the budget. Instead, leaders of the three parties began planning to oust Harper. Our local MPs, Julian and New Westminster-Coquitlam’s Dawn Black played key roles in clinching the plan. Black was the NDP caucus representative who helped negotiate the coalition agreement, while Julian worked the phones responding to media queries.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the government will be defeated in the House,” Julian declared. “The debate right now is which day.”

The Conservatives have a limited menu of what Julian called “procedural games” that they can use to try and forestall or delay losing power to this coalition. The Globe & Mail has a great analysis of Harper’s options. None sound terribly appealing. I feel a little sorry for the guy. Another story in the Globe suggests Harper’s plan is to prorogue Parliament, which basically means shutting down Parliament and cowering through Christmas with the hope of a fresh start in the New Year.

I asked Julian about his response to the some of the big questions I’m hearing about the coalition. As far as he’s concerned, over 60% of those who voted did not choose the Conservatives, and the coalition has the support of all other parties (Green included) and independents. Said Julian, “Everybody has come together except the Conservatives in Stephen Harper’s government.”

Critics of the coalition are pointing out the irony of depending on the support of a separatist party for the survival of the government, but Julian pointed out that the Bloc is not a part of the coalition itself. The Bloc has agreed not to initiate a motion of non-confidence for at least 18 months. The Conservative government has also depended on the support of the Bloc to pass budget updates, so Julian contends this is a non-issue. According to Julian, while the Conservatives have been accusing the NDP and Liberals of selling out to the Bloc in English Canada, in French it’s the Bloc who they accuse of selling out.

“It’s fair to say the Conservatives have been masters of manipulation,” Julian said.

The economic stimulus plan that will be released soon by the coalition targets improvements for housing, infrastructure, industry and changes to employment insurance programs (removing the two-week waiting period before receiving benefits to spare people’s savings, supporting more retraining programs). The strategy seems to be to allocate funds to projects that will improve our communities while creating jobs for both workers on the projects and those who will benefit from those people’s spending. Julian mentioned that three mills recently closed in New Westminster, and he estimates the impact is about 2.5 jobs were indirectly affected for each job lost.

The infrastructure investment could be of real use to New Westminster. Like many communities in Canada, we sorely need to do some significant upgrades. Julian estimates the ‘infrastructure deficit’ across Canada to be worth approximately $100 billion. The proposed stimulus package is only about $30 billion, so we can imagine there could be some squabbling over that pie. Assuming the coalition gets the go-ahead from the Governor General, Julian would sit down with New Westminster mayor and council to discuss infrastructure priorities and then take our ask back to Ottawa. The coalition’s plan was not yet online when I spoke with Julian, but when I get the link I will share it so you can read – and decide – for yourself.

New West MPs’ role in the emerging coalition government

Twitter tells me today that ‘we will have a new federal government in Canada within days.’ The Liberals, NDP and Bloc have put aside their differences and have formally asked the Governor General to allow them to form the Government of Canada, led by Leader of the Opposition Stephane Dion at the next opportunity.

As an NDP stronghold, this could be New Westminster’s best chance to get on the national political radar. The Georgia Straight has speculated that Burnaby-New West MP Peter Julian (profiled a few days ago on this blog) could have a good shot at a cabinet post in a coalition government, while a story on BCLocalnews.com suggests New Westminster-Coquitlam MP Dawn Black is the New West MP to watch.

In the leaked transcript of a supposedly confidential NDP caucus meeting (shamefully recorded and distributed to the press by the Prime Minister’s Office), NDP leader Jack Layton mentions that Black is a key member of the team that negotiated the deal with the Liberals. According to the transcript posted on local blogger Anthony Damonse’s site , Layton says he chose Black because she is “someone that I happen to know is also respected and trusted by key Liberals.”

Here is Layton’s suggested defense for caucus members who face critics of the coalition:

What about the legitimacy of the democratic process, yeah, what about it? [Harper] was given a minority, and he refused to work with the other parties, he had 38% of the vote and he’s trying to govern like he had 100% of the power, he’s the one who’s got democracy wrong, not us. So do not be defensive, to work among what we are doing is to give effect to the wishes of the majority of Canadians, have no doubt about that. The coalition for Canada, I love the idea, it could be a deal-breaker for the Bloc (laughter) so if we don’t go, we call it “The Coalition for Canada and Quebec,” (lots of laughter).

And for those concerned about the Bloc’s involvement, Layton says:

I’ll just say one other thing about the issue of the Bloc: nothing could be better for our country, than to have the fifty members who’ve been elected to separate Quebec to actually helping to make Canada a better place. I think we just approach it on that basis, and say we’re willing to make Canada happen, here’s other things that we’re going to be investing in and transforming together, they’re willing to work with us, we’ll accept that offer. 

We’d like to hear from Peter Julian and Dawn Black on this. We’re trying to reach them and we’ll let you know if they have anything to share that may provide some context for New Westminster in all this.

Meanwhile you can track developments as they happen on Twitter. General commentary is being tracked using the keyword #coalition . Opponents of the coalition are tweeting with the keyword #canadarally, and further information is online at rallyforcanada.ca .

Update: The pro-coalition side is gathering at 62percentmajority.ca.

Meet our MP, Peter Julian

New Westminster packs 60,000 people into just 15 square kilometres. Despite the skyscrapers and traffic jams, this city of ours still behaves like a small town. The annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the armory is a hugely popular civic event. We have just one high school.  Our mayor is a jolly guy who drives an old Ford truck. And our MP, Peter Julian, is a friendly Salmonbellies fan who, like many of us, still carries a bit of a chip on his shoulder from 1868 when Victoria stole the title of B.C. capital from our town. His dad even wrote a book about it (entitled, “A Capital Controversy”).

Julian called us up a few weeks ago after seeing our blog and asked if we’d like to sit down and have a chat. We invited him over to our home and spent two hours talking about New West issues over a glass of red wine and a plate of crackers. We didn’t press him on political issues so much as try to get a sense of the man and his passion for this place. It was a cracking good conversation and more fun than a barrel of bonobos to a couple of folks like us who geek out on all things local.

Those of us who live here know that there is more than one New Westminster. To some, it’s the crown on the sign they drive past every day to work (Welcome to New Westminster! Thank you for visiting! Welcome to Burnaby!). For others, it’s where they bought their bridal gowns or where they browse antiques or the place where Chickpea relocated from The Drive. 
Julian’s New Westminster is deep-rooted family history, civic pride, political engagement, heritage homes and amateur sport. He described it this way:

It’s a Salmonbellies game in midsummer. It’s the Hyack Festival. It is going down 12th St and seeing five people you know. It’s getting 250 people at an all-candidates’ meeting or standing-room only for the civic election forum. It’s 2,500 people at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day. 

Julian’s very well-liked in New Westminster, and it’s easy to see why. He’s passionate about this city. He’s knowledgeable about local history, passionate about New Westminster’s potential and appears to genuinely love his work as our MP. Leading up to the last federal election, this riding was declared an NDP lock (though Julian says he always campaigns as though he’s a few votes behind), and the results have shown the NDP and Julian making incredible gains in this riding since he was first elected in 2004. When he defeated Mary Pynenberg back then, it was only by 300 votes, whereas four years later, in October, the margin of victory was almost 7000 votes.

Julian has just begun incorporating social media into his campaign strategy through his Facebook page – and I suppose he can now add blogger relations to the list – but I think he prefers making connections with his constituents the old-fashioned way, through door-knocking and handshakes. Although recently Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan speculated that Julian might be a good candidate for an NDP premier here in B.C., Julian doesn’t feel called to that office (or at least not yet). When we quizzed him on his ambitions, Julian insisted that he loves his work serving New West and Burnaby as our MP and has no plans to pursue a leadership role with the NDP, saying,

These are not the kind of positions you decide on. You are called to it. If in 10 years my phone was ringing off the hook, maybe, but not now.

Back to the ‘Capital Controversy.’ Given the Julian family interest in the matter, it’s no surprise that one of the ideas Julian suggested would put New West on the map was to build a new museum and arts centre in the city’s downtown.

Julian believes such an attraction would draw tourists who are interested in B.C. history. And it is true that New Westminster’s history is really B.C.’s history, from the First Nations settlements to Judge Begbie’s reign at the law courts to Hollywood Hospital’s LSD experiments on celebrities to the Royal Westies‘ contribution in both World Wars.

We are museum buffs here at Tenth To The Fraser, so we like the idea of building a fitting home for the historical artifacts scattered among various small collections around the city. From the fabulous collection of military memorabilia currently housed at the armory (and practically impossible to see due to eccentric operating hours) to possibly even the Samson V , which cannot continue to float at the Quay forever, we already have some very interesting content for such a museum. As the geographical centre of the Lower Mainland and the first city in Western Canada, there is no better site.

A tribute to our history is a worthy thing, but we also need to think more creatively, more innovatively. New West is beset by many of the same problems as our neighbouring communities, but perhaps because we are so compact, so small-town, we feel the impact more greatly. Julian spoke quite convincingly of a need for provincial and federal relief for New Westminster, to fund badly needed infrastructure improvements, to provide adequate resources to assist the homeless and those living in poverty, and so on. I agree that is part of the solution, but one line from Barack Obama‘s campaign has been drumming in my head of late:

We are the change we seek.

It is such a simple statement, and yet so powerful. We are the change we seek. Our governments, local, provincial and federal, all have a role to play, but we must not shirk our individual responsibility to do whatever is in our power to realize the change we wish to see in our community. None of us alone can feed all who are hungry or house all who are homeless, but there is always something we can do. Take the initiative to paint over some graffiti or pick up some garbage, volunteer at the UGM , vote in your elections and above all connect with your community.