Opening Salvo: Mayoral Candidates

As reviewed in a previous post, all 17 candidates for Mayor and Council were present at the Oct 21st All Candidates Meeting, hosted by the Queensborough Residents Association. We have heard from the Council hopefuls already. Here I review my impressions on the Mayoral candidates; Wayne Wright (incumbent) and Blair Armitage. Each man had an opening and closing statement and moderator Dean Wells had a number of questions reserved just for the Mayor’s race.

Blair Armitage looks the part. He is a squarely built, senatorial and businesslike and he began his remarks forcefully calling for a police depot to be built in Queensborough, perhaps into the addition planned for the community center. A law an order candidate; that is how he came across. Cleaning up crime and graffiti (I just did some cleaning my self as a matter of fact, on the back fence) and making the town safe for all the families.

Armitage was cutting in his attack on what he views as an aloof council (and Mayor) that doesn’t listen to the views of the citizens groups. He cites opposition to development projects and towers that were approved even though they were spoken against in council meetings. He did come across as being against further development or building. I would be interested to hear more on how he would plan to handle the pressure for growth in the Lower Mainland.

During the question period, many of his answers were direct and matter of fact and he often did not use the time alloted to him by the moderators. During one memorable answer Armitage insinuated Mayor Wright had presented a Gucci Plan to cover the open ditches in the neighborhood with the design that it would be rejected and that Queensborough residents really wanted a modest plan. Mayor Wright’s proposal to deal with the shocking projected cost of the ditch remediation plan was to do a pilot project over a short block to get a better idea on the true costs. Both candidates received hearty applause for their positions.

The loudest and most sustained applause was after Mayor Wright’s opening remarks. He passionately (and maybe a little too loudly) boosted the record of the last council and New Westminster as a city. He was a bit of a bull-dog politician during this two minute opener but he used that time to insist that he looked after the whole city, as a unit and that he maintained an open door policy for any citizen. I was almost a little uncomfortable hearing him loudly “take full responsibility for the lase six years” of governance. It was as if you were a kid watching your dad in an argument with your principal. After insisting that no city in the Lower Mainland was better prepared for the expected recession, he took his seat to a full and lengthly applause. I noticed VOICE candidates Wandell and Osterman shifting uncomfortably as the hall went quiet again.

One Exchange I appreciated was a question on illegal suites:

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?

Mr. Armitage, presented a position that “we can not allow our citizens to blatantly thumb their nose” at the by-laws and he suggested a mechanism to make it easier or more attractive for owner’s of illegal suites in New Westminster to get their suites approved and updated to code. Mayor Wright’s response showed a clear difference in philosophy between the candidates as he firmly insisted that unless great strides were made in affordable housing with more participation from other levels of government, illegal suites were a necessity in the city and should only be monitored to ensure public safety. In my view this was the one point on the debate that showed the greatest contrast. I have included the answers here on a video for you to decide.

Opening Salvo: Council Candidates

The Queensborough Residents Association hosted what was for some, the opening salvo of the 208 Civic Election Season in New Westminster. With 25 days until voting day, this all candidates night at the Queensborough Community Center was the first of five similar nights where the 2 Mayoral Candidates and 15 prospective city councilors present their views to the public. The night was moderated by QRA President Dean Wells.
The roughly 35 citizens who attended the ‘debate’ were treated to a list of questions, some pre-posted and some freshly minted by the Queensborough Residents Association. Each candidate also presented opening and closing remarks. The event started at 7pm and lasted about 2 hours.
With so many questions and 17 candidates there is no way to present each answer or position here but it was a great night to see the personalities on display. My perception of the event was that it was lively and upbeat but with an undercurrent of dis-satisfaction and even rancor amongst the Voice New Westminster candidates and Mayor Wright and others that support him. I am no NW political insider but I seemed like this election is the latest battle in a larger struggle between the two groups.
Matthew Laird (council, ind) I was surprised by this candidate. I have spent some time on his website and he has some very interesting ideas and suggestions, many of witch I find compelling. In his remarks, he certainly has a good list of practical, achievable improvements (increased composting and others) but he seemed to have his emotion or frustration with city council run away with him. He made his points aggressively and with a fast speaking style and was hostile to the record of the last councils. My wonder was how he would be able to work with the next council and team if he was elected. He certainly has vision but a more friendly and less confrontational pitch style might come in handy.
Bill Harper (council, ind, incumbent) Bill Harper is known by many New Westminster-ites but less by me so this really was an introduction. He was proud to highlight the past councils record and strengths and stress the importance of business growth and the re-development of commercial corridors. Harper is affiliated with the CUPE union backed campaign.
Lynda Fletcher-Gordon (council, ind) One of 5 female candidates (with Betty McIntosh, Susan Wandell, Lorrie Williams and Lorraine Brett) wanted to look to the future to determine our needs and find a mandate from residents through consultation and active collaboration. Her ‘research and sound planning platform’ might resonate with some even as it leaves out any policy proscriptions for today.
Jamie MacEvoy (council, ind), a labour endorsed candidate was at easy with his message after decades of volunteerism and activism with New Westminster’s homelessness, refugee and low income assistance issues. In my view he presented a positive vision on how New West can continue re-building its commercial base. I liked his up-beat attitude on the past 6 years and the future of the city and his ‘pledge’ to work diligently with any and all of the elected candidates if he is chosen as a counselor.
Gavin Palmer (council, VOICE) Introducing himself as “Palmer, Gavin Palmer”, this Q’bro resident and founder of the QRA highlighted his past work for traffic and bridge safety in that neighbourhood and felt at home with an easy, likable manner and a folksy way of relating to others. Mirroring the VOICE position of criticizing a lack of transparency on the current council, his remarks prompted Lorrie Williams to shake her head in disbelief from her position at the table.
Lorrie Williams (council, Ind, incumbent) herself a teacher and Q’bro resident and a labour endorsed candidate was in fact the first to speak and the last of the evening. She also had the bad luck of being asked wild-card questions (that were not previously released to the candidates) rather than the pre-printed ones simply on the basis of the debate lottery. She spoke well and highlighted her dedication to Q’bro and New West. In her closing remarks she said how she loves this city and watches it closely. I appreciated that.
Steve McClurg (council, VOICE) campaigned for the VOICE slate in its entirety rather than focusing on his own attributes as a candidate. Not one of the most positive or up-beat candidates, McClurg also presented the last council as unfortunate and the views of citizens as unheeded.
Calvin Donnelly (council, ind, incumbent) has served the council for 18 years and his experience with the issues showed in his answers. He is often found at civic events hosting amplified public karaoke parties in the streets. He was the only candidate to evoke the New Westminster of past generations in his description of yesterday’s Queensborough as a farming community filled with hard workers. His facility with the details of tendered contracts, city policies and mandated legal procedures showed (as it did for Betty McIntosh) but he did not offer any new ideas or policies to bring to this election. I would have liked an indication that he is working to meet the challenges we have in front of us as a city and I will be looking or that in the next debate.
Betty McIntosh (council, VOICE, incumbent) surprised me by saying she was with the VOICE slate and that “we can think what we want about that”, meaning that if we thought it was good, well fine, but if we disapproved, don’t hold it against her because she is her own boss. I believe it too. She presented herself, as always, as a competent, positive individual with a keen and judgmental point of view on the daily topics. Her 9 years on council and many years as a nurse root her to the community and she seemed fully happy and casual in the role of candidate.
Jonathan Cote (council, ind, incumbent) is one of the four younger candidates on the 17 remember list. In his answers and speeches he so artfully avoided saying anything concrete or notable that the most I learned about him was that I was pronouncing his name wrong (Koat-ay, not Kote). While he had a positive attitude and a professional manner, his catch-phrases and buzz words only really revealed that he wanted to get elected again, not why he should be on council for 3 more years. Cote is a labour endorsed candidate.
Terry Owen (council, ind) is a business owner on Columbia St with a very entertaining way of talking. He seems unpredictable and he talks very fast. He is running on a policy of good fiscal planning and a thorough examination of the issues. I will have to reserve further judgment for another experience though. Mr. Owen seemed a bit nervous addressing us folkies but that could all disappear by the time the next candidates night is held. Mr. Owen was asked to run for council by incumbent Mayoral candidate, Wayne Wright.
Niel Powell (council, VOICE), another younger candidate highlighted his work on the NW Police Services committee and as a member of Sapperton/McBride Residents Association. A teacher and comfortable speaker, Mr. Powell’s ongoing priorities were the preservation of our natural environment and the opposition of the Waste to Energy Plant at the CanFor location in Sapperton. I liked this candidate but he is in my demographic. He repeatedly referred the the ‘stewardship of our natural resources which I think is odd for such a small, heavily urbanized fully integrated city. What natural resources, the rose garden in Queen’s Park? Poplar Island?
Bob Osterman (council, VOICE, incumbent) is looking or re-election on the voice slate as a candidate firmly against Wayne Wright and others on the current council. His remarks indicate a fluency with the issues and the responsibilities and operation of civic government and like many of the voice candidates, he call for the Mayor and Council to listen more to the citizens. No candidate explained why this was really and issue but it came up a few times. Mr. Osterman is concerned with towers being built here, and there and with the direction of development in the city .

That sums up the counselor’s portion of the event. Check back soon for my take on the Mayoral Candidates and some uploaded video of some of their answers.

Voting is hard!

In the last federal election, Canadian voter turnout hit a record low, with just shy of 60% of the population casting a ballot on October 14, 2008. Hearing that over one-third of us chose not to exercise the right to vote is depressing … until you hear that fewer than one-third of us bothered to vote at all in the last round of civic elections in British Columbia in 2005. With 26% voter turnout, New Westminster was only slightly below the B.C. average of 30%.

This is not something to be proud of.

And yet, this year’s election, we may see even worse numbers. Few people in Canada were happy with this month’s federal election results, no matter who they voted for. The whole exercise, as Rick Mercer pointed out, was nothing but a $300M waste of time.

Says Wikipedia:

The basic formula for determining whether someone will vote is

PB + D > C[4]

Here, P is the probability that an individual’s vote will affect the outcome of an election, and B is the perceived benefit of that person’s favored political party or candidate being elected. D originally stood for democracy or civic duty, but today represents any social or personal gratification an individual gets from voting. C is the time, effort, and financial cost involved in voting. Since P is virtually zero in most elections, PB is also near zero, and D is thus the most important element in motivating people to vote. For a person to vote, these factors must outweigh C. (Emphasis mine)

Whether or not the formula above is strictly true, it sure sums up the feeling for most people.

It takes creative thinking and an Annie-like sense of optimism to believe that your individual vote will impact the outcome of an election at the best of times. When you live in B.C. and CBC literally calls the outcome of the election the minute the polls close in your province, before any ballots in your province are counted, it’s almost impossible.

Add to this a growing cynicism about the political system and the politicians in general, and you get a populace who don’t feel their vote matters and doesn’t feel there’s much benefit in choosing one person or party over another (because “they’re all crooks”). That leaves only civic duty – or in today’s context, a sense of social or personal satisfaction in voting- to get you to the polling-place.

What does all this have to do with the civic election? Well having just gone through the rigamarole of a federal election that cost millions of dollars and changed virtually nothing, what little sense of ‘duty’ that still exists today has been spent.

For conscientious voters, it also means that having done the research to pick a federal candidate, you now have to start over and select not only one favourite, but a pack of them, including mayor, councillors and school board.

The time-pressed among us simply pick a party at the federal level rather than getting to know the local candidates, but that’s often not an option at the municipal level. Here in New West, party politics are only just beginning to infiltrate the local political scene, but it’s not really clear what policies really differentiate Voice New West from the current council other than a dislike of current mayor Wayne Wright (note to Wayne: time to update your site … it’s still plugging all-candidates’ meetings from 2005!).

To paraphrase Teen Talk Barbie, “Voting is hard!” By which I mean, yes there’s some work involved, but it’s time to suck it up buttercup. Your city council is guaranteed to make decisions that will impact your quality of life, from potentially increasing property taxes to supporting community gardens, to improving parks and rec facilities and shaping the character of your neighbourhood.

Will and I will blog the information and impressions we have regarding New Westminster politics leading up to and beyond V-day. We’re trying to line up some interviews with our local candidates, and we’ll also try to dig into some of the top issues we see here in New West.

Drop us a line in the comments if you’ve got a specific question or issue you want us to tackle before the election and we’ll do our best to accommodate.

Election 2008!

It is a great time to start a blog about New Westminster. Not only have we just completed a federal election cycle (where two incumbent New Democrat MPs Peter Julian and Dawn Black were returned to Ottawa to represent their ridings) but a municipal election is at hand as well. Hope for a warm, dry day for Saturday November 14th 15th! That is our day to go to the polls. The City web-page has information here and you can find links to many of the candidates running for Mayor, council or as a school trustee in the sidebar of this site.
In keeping with this blog’s mandate to be about all things New West, I will to my best to keep the site updated, add commentary and present some of the interesting personalities and highlights of the campaign. I have emails in
now with a number of candidates asking for interviews or statements and just this weekend I kicked things off with a visit to the official campaign launch events for both Mayoral candidates.

I have to say, this might be a confusing year for some New Westminster
voters. For the first time that I know of, there will be a slate of candidates known as Voice of New Westminster running as a team against all other candidates. The Mayoral candidate for Voice, Blair Armitage is one of the founding members on the slate and the current Chair for the VANOC (2010 Olympic games) steering committee for the athletes village. On Saturday, yesterday, Voice New Westminster opened their office at the base of Belmont towers (near the Hub Barbershop, across from Starbucks). The office was busy with lots of supporters and street traffic and they were serving coffee, tea and cookies.I have not really gotten to the bottom of the reason for the slate as it has been the usual practice to run as an individual candidate in New Westminster elections. With some luc

k, I hope to have some direct information from their campaign.

Today was the opening of the campaign office for the re-election of the incumbent candidate, Mayor Wayne Wright. Their office in the 600 block of 12th st was also busy as a number of supporters shared laughs, hot-dogs, empanadas, and refreshments. Mayor since 2002 and often cited as the driving force behind “The Worlds Largest Tin Soldier” Wayne Wright shared the day with other candidates, supporters, curious citizens and other notables like members of the city’s emergency services and recently re-elected MP, Peter Julian.
From my uninformed position, the voice group does seem motivated to change the landscape of New Westminster city politics but the folks at Mayor Wright’s campaign do not lack for a positive attitude. The atmosphere at the 12th street campaign office was upbeat and festive. I expect to see a lively contest between the Armitage/voice contingent and those supporting Wayne Wright’s bid for re-election. I hope to get into this more as the campaign goes on. Check back here for updates.