Debating History

The Festival of Volunteers took place this past Saturday at Royal City Centre and the anachronistic thrills my co-author Briana referred to here did not disappoint. 

There is something about bagpipe music that just makes me smile -I have no idea what it is. So when I finished my shift at the booth I was volunteering for, it was perfect timing to grab a cup of chai from the Beverage Station in the centre court of the mall and grab a seat and listen to a procession being piped in by a member of the Delta Police Pipe Band. It was quite the sight to see Mayor Wayne Wright in all his finest office accoutrements along with Sir James Douglas, Councillor Jaimie McEvoy, John Irving – all were bedecked in appropriate debating garb. I have to apologize for the quality of these photos – my camera died and these were taken using my cell phone. 

Debate participants are introduced by John Irving
Debate participants are introduced by John Irving

The debate did not disappoint. True to misogynistic form,  Sir James Douglas downplayed his decision to build parliament in Victoria and steal away the capital city moniker from New Westminster, by suggesting that it was simply to restore the declining city of Victoria. He resisted the idea that it had something to do with nepotism and displayed shock when Mayor Wright reminded him of a few of his shadier deals. Both McEvoy and Mayor Wright were well informed and the spluttering James Douglas certainly lost the debate. The assembled crowd snickered and laughed a few times throughout the debate – it was entertaining to see such great pieces of our collective history come alive. 


Councillor McEvoy and Mayor Wright look incredulous at Douglas' assertions
Councillor McEvoy and Mayor Wright look incredulous at Douglas' assertions

There was a pretty decent sized crowd assembled, including many members of council:


Members of Council look on as the debate occurs
Members of Council look on as the debate occurs

Mayor Wright also took advantage of this debate to remind citizens that New Westminster has big plans for the future of our Fraser River waterfront, and the crowd responded with cheers – I’m anxious to see plans.

Kudos goes to the actors who portrayed the famous Canadians so well and to the city staff and volunteers who organized such a unique mock debate.



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Anachronistic thrills at Festival of Volunteers

I have had the rare pleasure of having a local newspaper delivered to my door (seriously, our paperboy must be stockpiling them for a Piñata-making party), and after reading through the agenda in the two-page ad for the Festival of Volunteers, I see now that they’ve buried the lede.

My co-author Jen has already covered the altruistic reasons to head out to Royal City Centre this Saturday for the Festival of Volunteers. But even if you have zero interest in volunteering, it will be worth it to come out to see Mayor Wayne Wright take Gov. James Douglas (d. 1877) to task for allowing cheeky Victoria to steal away our birthright as capital city of British Columbia.

Up until 1868, New Westminster was the capital city of British Columbia, before that honour was snatched away by Victoria. Find out how such a historic injustice could have occurred! Join Mayor Wayne Wright for a spirited discussion with Governor James Douglas (first Governor of B.C.) on the merits of restoring the Royal City of New Westminster as B.C.’s rightful capital.

Source: Festival of Volunteers ad, page B2 & B3 of The Record

Actors from The Royal City Engineers Living History Group will play Sir James Douglas, Lady Amelia Douglas, riverboat captain John Irving, New Westminster’s first Sheriff Chartres Brew and a Royal Engineer. It gets better: Colin Barrett of the Delta Police Pipe Band (warning: autoloading audio files if you follow the link) will play a period bagpiper, skirling away! 

The historical re-enactment portion of the Festival of Volunteers is from 11am to noon. The actors will be available for photos by donation, with proceeds going to support The Royal City Volunteers. 

Other events include: 

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How Suite It Is

I am one of the many home owners in New Westminster with a rented suite. We have a sunny, clean one bedroom that is rented to a lovely tenant. When we purchased our home, the suite allowed us to buy a home that we could truly live in, and we did not have to move to Surrey. Try as we might South of the Fraser, we could not find a neighbourhood that we were willing to live in. I was elated to find this house, with all of its heritage quirks, partly because the suite could help make it all happen. My suite, unlike so many in this city, is registered. I have a small 4 x 4 cm aluminum square on my sidewalk to prove it.

Victoria city, that place over the fog that stole our thunder, our capitol status and our streetlamps (fist shaking) has proposed a civic measure to help alleviate the dearth of rental properties in that city and tackle the affordable housing issue. (CBC Report) The city of Victoria will offer a limited number of homeowners $5000.00 to create a rentable secondary suite in their home or to upgrade an existing one to code, and have it registered. FANTASTIC I say. Not only will this place homeowners on better legal ground and assist some to make that reno dream come true, it will provide homes in a town with an unbelievably competitive vacancy rate and bring in a rise in tax revenue from all of the homeowners who took advantage of the program. I am sure that City of Victoria will repay the quarter million program investment quickly with the increased revenues and smell like roses to boot. The homeowners won’t complain about the extra tax as they will be bringing in an extra $800-$1500 per month.

I suggest the same thing happen here. I can not benefit from the program as I am already legal beagle but so many other rented suites are just a few thou’ away from being a reality and so many others can be brought into the cleansing gleam of daylight with just a bit of an upgrade.

Mayor Wayne Wright has comedown strongly infavour of enabling New Wesminster taxpayers to rent suites in their houses where appropriate but to achieve the goal of affordable housing, has had so shy away from rigourous enforcement of the zoning bylaws. I have attached a recent video (October, Queensborough) of Mayor Wright and Mr. Blair Armitage on the campaign trail answering a question on how to enforce the legal suite bylaws to illustrate his position. This program would offer Mayor and Council a way to achieve many important goals. I suggest they adopt a similar policy.

Illegal suites have not been closed down and the likelihood of our city’s bylaw being enforced is remote. What is your position on this?

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Interview With Mayoral Candididate, Wayne Wright

Several weeks ago, I contacted both candidates for mayor: Wayne Wright (independent incumbent) and Blair Armitage (Voice New Westminster) and invited them to reply to an email interview to discuss various topics and give voters a view into what they were both like as people. I say I contacted them but really I contacted Wayne Wright and a few gatekeepers for Mr. Armitage. After striving twice and half-heatedly feigning interest for a third time, I gave up on the possibility that Mr. Armitage would lend his ‘voice’ to this blog; so this post goes to Mayor Wright alone.

Getting the answers from Mayor Wright was no stroll through the Queen’s Park Rose Garden either I will tell you. The response email was not sent properly or perhaps sent correctly but to someone else, and I did not receive it when the Mayor intended me to. After some back and forth however, he did promptly return a call and arrange for a moment where we could go over the responses via telephone. I was pleased that he had followed up to ensure I had the email and impressed at how generous he was with his time. Perhaps he learned the earth shattering importance of this blog from Matthew Laird, a recently featured candidate for council…
Well then, here are the questions and answers, presented as paraphrase, not verbatim:

10-2TF: What is the best part about being the Mayor of New Westminster? What has been the most fun?

It is really the people I meet and have met in the city. That is the most fun. The best thing is to really move forward on the issues and make a difference.

TF: What advice would you give to any new councillors that may be elected this year?
Wright: For our new councillors, I think it will be really important to listen and learn and get a sense of how things are done before diving into a topic or an issue.

102-TF: What big issue or problem led to the formation of the ‘Voice New Westminster’ slate?

I think they are basing their campaign on dishonesty. They talk about problems that are dealt with and dissatisfaction in the city when a very recent Ipsos-Reid Poll measured an almost 90% satisfaction rate from the citizens of this city. By all of the meaningful statistics, our crime rate has also fallen and is now lower than at any time in the last ten years.

TF: What kind of administration would we see from Wayne Wright, if re-elected, over the next three years?

Residents would see the same kind of administration as they see now with an open door policy to anyone who wants to lend their advice or opinions. They will continue to see an inclusive and responsive Mayor’s office.

TF: What role, if any, do you see New Westminster playing as we host the world for the Olympics in 2010?

New Westminster does not have a direct role in the games but we will have a role to play hosting the world. I have a few surprises that we are working on that will really leave an impression but I won’t be saying anything about that yet. We also have the opportunity at that time to really invite everyone to join us in ‘Celebrate 150’ as New Westminster commemorates our 150th year.

I have a few surprises that we are working on that will really leave an impression but I won’t be saying anything about that yet.

10-2TF: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?

Wright: An eagle. I was named as an eagle by the First Nations. The name was a gift and I was honoured by their choice. (Citizens may recall that an eagle illustration decorates the back of the Mayor’s somewhat antique Ford Truck as a spare tyre cover, along with the phrase “Good Bye, Good Luck!”.

TF: There has been a lot of talk in this campaign about the mood or attitude of the various platforms. Some candidates speak endlessly about ‘being positive’ while others have presented a very dark and negative view about life in the city and have suggested that a souring relationship with city staff is an example of this attitude. What do you think needs to happen to improve this?

If you walk into City Hall –and ask anybody–people will say that it is a fantastic place to work, it is the best and it always has been. We have the support of our staff.

TF: For some voters, environmental concerns may be at the top of the list of issues that are important to them. What initiatives do you propose that might improve our environment?

Now there we have just completed a study of all city vehicles in use and have some great recommendations on how to better use the vehicles we have for better fuel economy and, where appropriate, to change the way we use some vehicles and change some of the vehicles that we use. Also, we will continue to encourage responsible development in the city and environmental construction methods. When it is complete, New Westminster will have the only gold standard LEED constructed building in British Columbia. We should be proud of that and we will do more in the future. (Note: LEED is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, provides standards for environmentally sustainable construction.

TF: Many voters are most interested in social issues. What do you see as an area for improvement?

Wright: It is our parks, we need more parkland in this city and we are working hard on that for our waterfront. We need to see more amenities like the Civic Center for downtown and investments in other parts of the city. We will have the casino revenues to assist with that.

TF: For business and employment: what is the best way to foster growth in the City?

We have to preserve the industrial lands we have left and mixed use lands. In the downtown we have seen a real benefit from changing the traffic and driving methods there. Also, while keeping our historical heritage in place, we need to be flexible with the developers that are here to do business in our city.

TF: Thanks for being a part of this questionnaire! I have only one more question. What is something funny about yourself that you could share to help voters relate to you as a candidate?

I’ll tell you one thing. In the Philippines, in Quezon — our sister city there — the Mayor, Sonny Balmonte, started giving me a nickname, “Sunny Wright.” In parts of the Philippines, they are not as fortunate as here. They paint their houses bright colours to help keep up the spirit and I guess he thought I had a “Sunny Disposition.” Recently, also, Fidel Ramos, the “Savior of Democracy” in the Philippines, stopped by here in New Westminster for a visit while on his way back from Toronto. The Consul General called and asked if I would mind meeting with him and I jumped at the chance. It is great to meet with leaders like that and represent the people of New Westminster.

Well that is it folks. I wish I had something for you to compare it to but only the one mayoral candidate sees the awesome power of the mighty blog, I suppose.

Traffic congestion in New West

Traffic congestion and public transit infrastructure are named among the top issues for most civic election candidates in New Westminster – and it seems we’re not alone. Greater Vancouver is experiencing major growing pains related to suburbun expansion. Cost of living has boosted growth in areas like Pitt Meadows, Coquitlam, Surrey and Abbotsford, but the majority of jobs are still located in Vancouver. The result is gridlock due to the funnel effect of so many people coming into the downtown area through a limited number of access points.

Unsurprisingly, those at the wide end of the funnel want to twin the Port Mann bridge, hoping it will speed their commute into town. We at the narrow end – New Westminster, Burnaby and Vancouver – are more likely to oppose it, fearing it will only bring more non-residential traffic into our communities.

Writes the Vancouver Sun:

In the south-of-the-Fraser communities of Langley, Surrey, Delta and White Rock, where gridlock on the bridge is a huge issue, nearly 75 per cent of candidates agreed or agreed strongly that the bridge should be twinned.

Artist's rendition of a twinned Port Mann Bridge.

Artist’s rendition of a twinned Port Mann Bridge.


In the Tri-Cities area, support was even higher. Eighty-five per cent of candidates agreed.

In the core communities of Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster, where many fear that more lanes will bring more traffic, only 30 per cent either agreed or agreed strongly with the bridge twinning.

New Westminster council candidate Betty McIntosh said she’d like to see the new South Fraser Perimeter Road completed to siphon off some of the traffic that now runs through New Westminster, which, as the geographical centre of the region, has a disproportionate number of vehicles travelling through it
“New Westminster is a compact, well-planned city with a large volume of transit users. We can work, live and play within our city boundaries,” she said.

Lorrie Williams, also running in New Westminster, said the city could “easily become just the crossroad to other places” and it needs well-planned commuter and truck routes and cooperation with other municipalities to share the burden.

As a central access point for the Lower Mainland, New West benefits from proximity to both the city and the suburbs, but as this issue highlights, there is a dark side. Too much traffic is just pass-through traffic, and it impacts local traffic, air quality, quality of life and also our businesses. 

The Sun quoted Williams and McIntosh, but here are some opinions from other local candidates on the traffic situation here in New West and what to do about it (quotes from the Sun’s poll data and candidate websites): 

Mayoral candidates:

  • Wayne Wright (incumbent): “Always a problem in a Geographic centered city like N.W. Biggest issue is North Fraser Perimeter Road and bridges and how they will be brought through the city.The road goes directly though the middle of downtown and our new residential areas and the bridge heads are congested already.We will be working directly with Translink and the Province to address these problems. There will be solutions but there will be large capital costs necessary to do the right thing.”
  • Blair Armitage:  Ipsos Reid poll rates traffic as high priority with New West voters (note: I tried looking for more detail on the Voice website but I was unable to find the info I was looking for. If you’re reading this Voice, SEO is everything. Get your Google juice on!)

Council candidates:

  • Jaimie McEvoy: New Westminster needs more support for cyclists, include more bike routes and bike racks throughout the city ….. We need to ensure that when Patullo Bridge is replaced that city council is a strong advocate for its citizens, ensuring that the new bridge improves traffic, and does not increase traffic on our local streets.”
  • Matthew Laird: “New Westminster is at the cross roads of the Lower Mainland, we have an opportunity to be an example of progressive urban planning, making a walkable, livable city focused on sustainability.”
  • Bob Osterman: “New Westminster has over 350,000 cars driving through our city each day, our roads are clogged and the consequent accidents and car pollution concern every resident. To go from West to East at rush hour can take 30 minutes to travel 2 miles.”
  • Lynda Fletcher-Gordon: The amount of traffic in New Westminster will not decrease. In fact, without the provision of more public rapid transit, it is likely to increase. While we want to have a walkable city, we also need to consider how to keep the traffic moving and avoid gridlock. While I support traffic calming devices generally, the traffic calming devices on the main roads and intersections contribute to the gridlock that often happen – especially at 6th and Royal. They cause congestion as those drivers who want to use an alternative route or merely turn from Royal onto 6th are prevented from doing that.”
  • Terrance Owen: “New West suffers from severe road and rail cross-traffic to and from other municipalities. These road and rail routes fall under federal and provincial jurisdictions. The city needs the cooperation and support of these senior levels of government to provide alternate routes and containment that will alleviate the problems created for New West.”
The Vancouver Sun is leveraging the data gathered in their municipal candidates’ issues survey well here, but this quote from their article again highlights how they missed the mark from a technology standpoint.

To help you on voting day, Nov. 15, you can use the database as a personal ballot, printing off a list of all candidates and then circling those that best reflect your views.

Print it out and circle the candidates you’re voting for? C’mon Sun, you can do better. The data is there, all that is needed is the technical execution to make it more useful. If the Sun doesn’t have the technical resources, they could at least provide the data in an easily remixed format so that others with the knowledge and the desire could create something better suited for the Web.

Readers, if you notice that I’m missing a candidate’s published comments on the issue, leave a note in the comments. If any political candidates wish to expand on their comments, go right ahead!

New West candidates on the issues

When it comes to e-campaigning, many of our local candidates fall short.

A few – the Voice slate, Jonathan Cote, Matthew Laird – are doing a reasonable job of leveraging the web to communicate stance on the issues.

The others who have inadequate web presences or lacking any website at all are doing both their campaigns and New West citizens a disservice.

Mass media can only communicate so much about municipal politics, due to the constraints of the form. The web, on the other hand, has the potential to provide much more detailed and localized information if leveraged appropriately.

Thankfully, for New West voters, The Vancouver Sun has stepped in to help fill the information gap. The Sun has published a municipal election database online incorporating information from civic candidates around the region about where they stand on local issues.

Here’s how it breaks down in New West.

According to their survey answers, here are the key differences between mayoral incumbent Wayne Wright and rival Blair Armitage:

While Wright is running on his record as a capable, experienced manager of our city, Armitage is out to change the status quo. In particular, Armitage feels that council hasn’t been responsive to citizen concerns regarding proposed developments.

  • Both candidates named crime and traffic congestion in their top three issues, however Armitage also feels taxation is an issue while Wright is concerned with homelessness
  • Armitage’s answers are research-based, citing poll data, news reports and regional statistics to support his points; Wright’s responses seem more qualitative, drawing on his experience as mayor for the last six years.
  • Wright supports maintaining our local independent police force, while Armitage would like to see a consolidated Metro Vancouver police force
  • Armitage strongly supports increasing development fees, while Wright is neutral on the issue
  • Armitage wants to proceed with twinning the Port Mann; Wright opposes the project
  • Armitage believes New West is “plagued with sprawl and poor land-use planning” while Wright disagrees
  • Armitage believes government bureaucracy and inefficiency is costing taxpayers
  • Armitage supports changing from an at-large election system to wards

I’m finding the Sun’s data very helpful in gaining clarity on what each candidate stands for. As a blogger and data nerd, I do have some constructive criticism.

The data should be fully indexed and easily searched/compared. It is, after all, intended to help aid comparison between candidates. It’s hard to get that perspective when you must look at one at a time.

Ideally, the Sun would make the raw data available for people to parse & sort as needed to extract the information they seek. The experience as it stands is exactly like a printed pull-out voters’ guide. I appreciate that it is accessible online and that the paper made the effort to compile the information, but I also can’t help see it as an opportunity lost.

UPDATE: I figured if I wanted the data I better do something about it. I’ve published a consolidated spreadsheet online via Google Docs aggregating the info from the Sun. It’s only partial – many of our candidates have not responded yet – but I will update as I see that new candidates’ views are added.