My reign-ending speech

The New Westminster Environmental Partners held their Annual General Meeting last week. It was a good event, with a couple of guest speakers talking about Energy Resiliency, or the challenges and opportunities that we face going into a reduced-greenhouse-gas and post-peak-oil economy. The event attendance was O.K., but could have been better.true to various planning conflicts, the only date we could hold the event happened to be on the same day that New Westminster was inaugurating it’s new City Council, so A lot of the movers and shakers in town were up at City Hall. We still had representation for the City and a couple of the candidates from the last election in attendance, and a diverse group of people, many I have not seen at an NWEP event before, which was great to see.

Since it was the Annual General Meeting , I was required to give a “State of the Partners” speech. People who know me know I can tend to run on, but am not that good reading from a script, so I had some notes and started rambling from them. Here, for the record, is a roughly accurate but in no way transcribed transcript of my speech. 

Hello and thank you for coming. It is my last task as President of the NWEP to provide a State of the Society speech. I am Patrick Johnstone, and I have been working as President of the NWEP for two years, not since the beginning of the NWEP, but since the beginning of the NWEP as a registered non-profit society. 

The NWEP mission is on our website and reads as such:

New Westminster Environmental Partners will work with residents, businesses and government agencies within the city, to achieve environmental, social and economic sustainability in New Westminster through the identification of issues, education, public advocacy, the promotion of best practices and the implementation of effective projects.

So maybe I can highlight a few ways we have fulfilled this mission since last year’s AGM.

Actually, it started with last year’s AGM, when we held a forum on Sustainable Transportation. The thinking at the time was the upcoming Master Transportation Plan for the City, the potential impacts off the Gateway Program on New Westminster, and the ongoing debate about TransLink governance and funding issues around starting work on the Evergreen Line. It was a great discussion, and remarkably prescient, considering that only 9 days after our 2010 AGM, was the infamous “Donnybrook” TransLink open house that introduced the United Boulevard Extension to the people of New Westminster.

Fresh from sharing new ideas on Sustainable Transportation at last year’s forum, the NWEP Transportation Group got very involved in the UBE consultations, and worked with the  MSRA, VACC, and the Council of Canadians, to see that any project that came forward supported sustainable transportation planning. When it became apparent that this project was going to have significant negative impacts on the livability of New Westminster, The Transportation group were pretty happy to see TransLink recognize that their plans did not meet the expectations of the community and call off the UBE. A year later, the City is planning to develop our waterfront to be human space, now that the North Fraser Perimeter Road is no longer threatening to replace our waterfront with a freeway.

There were critics of TransLink and the consultation process, and there were those calling for protest and taking a more confrontational approach, but the NWEP are not all that good at protest. We have more commonly taken an engagement approach. The UBE experience showed that this approach can be effective. This consultation did not end with the cancellation of the UBE – but continued, as the Transportation Group has continued to engage stakeholders, including a presentation to the TransLink board, on addressing ongoing goods and people movement issues in New Westminster.

Another thing the NWEP did this year is improve our on-line presence, with a new website (NWEP.CA). First off, it looks great, and the architecture is, I’m told, much more modern and easier to manage. The Matts – Lorenzi and Laird – have put in a lot of time and a lot of their combined techie knowledge into making it work, and I thank them. Now that the structure is good, we need to put a bit of effort as a larger group into adding content and applications to it, to give people a reason to come to the site on a regular basis. we have also reached out in the Social Media with a more active Facebook Page ( or group or like or whatever Facebook is calling it this week) and a Twitter presence.

There were two elections this year – federal and municipal. The NWEP is non-partisan as an organization, but that doesn’t mean our members don’t have opinions! However, as most NWEP members think sustainability should be on every party’s and candidate’s platform – we have seen our role as assuring that those issues become part of the conversation during the election cycle. We did this in two ways:

   -Working with 10th to the Fraser, we created candidate surveys asking questions relevant to sustainability to hear where the different candidates stand on these issues, and provided the answers for the public to review.

  – Working again with 10th to the Fraser and NEXT New West, we held an all-candidates event for each election.  Instead of having another dull debate-style meeting in a school gym with bad acoustics and worse communications,  we held more social meetings where speeches were kept to a minimum and the voters were encouraged to have one-on-one conversations with the candidates. This allowed the public to actually meet the Candidates, learn who they are, and have their concerns addressed on a more personal level. These events were incredibly well received by both the voters and the candidates, and I hope this is a model that spreads across the land. 

This year saw the first annual New West Doc Fest, organized mostly by Andrew Murray working with the Green Ideas Network. This was an incredibly well-run and well-received event. For people running a film festival for the first time, it went brilliantly, technically perfect, lots of interesting movies and other entertainment opportunities, and a chance to expand the sustainability conversation in the city. Far a first year, this was a great chance to work out the bugs or running this type of event, and still ended up running a small surplus to serve as seed funding for next year’s Fest. The NWEP role in the Doc Fest was to provide logistical support, some banking help, and a ton of volunteer help.

New Westminster’s local public contribution to the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup was largely the result of a lot of hard work by Karla Olsen. We worked with the City’s environment and engineering departments, and with Evergreen to pull it off.  A group of public volunteers, including two City Councillors,  collected 95 kg of trash from the Queensborough shoreline, and did a concentrated invasive species pull: saving a Douglas fir from an English ivy attack, and knocking back a patch of Japanese Knotweed to keep the shoreline as pristine as possible. This was all because Karla thought it would be a good idea, and found a group of people at the NWEP to help out, provide some  facilitating contacts, and some media connections. Again, we just provided resources and assistance, this is an event that was powered my a small group of volunteers and took Karla’s persistence and unrelenting energy to be successful. 

This is an important thing about how the NWEP works. The NWEP is not a board of 7 people who come up with ideas about how to save the world, then tell the membership to go do it. The model we have been operating on is one where the members bring ideas to meetings, and find like-minded people to help out. The job of the board is to provide the structure that allows us to operate under the Societies Act – structures like this AGM. Structures like a bank account and financial documentation to apply for grants, get appropriate insurance, or attract sponsors for things like the New West Doc Fest. Structures like a volunteer core and a network in the media and in the City to help the members’s ideas see the light of day like we did in the Shoreline Cleanup. 

If you are familiar with Venn diagrams: that is what the member list of the NWEP might look like. The NWEP have various groups like the Transportation Group, the Energy Group, the Trash Talkers, and a Board, and like spheres in a Venn Diagram, these groups overlap somewhat. When a new set of issues come up, or an initiative comes up, we don’t look to the board to organize it, we look at who might be interested, and get them involved. 

This model doesn’t work perfectly. Often people have ideas that are great, but we don’t have the critical mass of members or volunteers to make it happen. Sometimes the group can’t come up with the strategy of how to move an initiative forward.  But this model allows a small group of volunteers to concentrate on things for which they have a passion, and to assure you are never, as a volunteer, stuck doing something you do not believe in.  One thing that doesn’t work in this model is for someone to come to an NWEP meeting and say “you should do something about X”. Whenever someone says that to me, I reply: “you are right, you should do something! maybe we can help…” 

So maybe you came here tonight with an idea about what the NWEP should be doing, or maybe today’s talk by our speakers will spark an idea that you think deserves following up here in New West…If those happen, then I ask you to consider what you think you can do, and how you think the NWEP can help.  

So thank you for coming out and listening to my pitch, thank you to the many people I see out there who helped on one or more initiatives this year. As I said, I have decided not to serve a third term as President, as I think fresh ideas bring renewed energy. I am going to keep working with the NWEP, though, because I think we do good work, punch well above our weight, and that the organization is making New Westminster a better place to live and do business. So thank you all for caring enough to do what you can.
As I have told several people who asked, I am not leaving the NWEP, nor is there some sort of rift in the group (at least not that I’m aware of!) However, as a relatively young organization, I think it is good if we provide lots of opportunities for different people to set the vision. The standing Directors going into the second year of their terms (Vladimir Krasnogor, Andrew Murray and Marcel Pitre) are complimented by the re-elected Founder of the NWEP Matt Laird; long time Trash Talker and Energy Group activist Ginny Ayers; renowned cyclist, physicist, and knitter Reena Meijer Drees; and author and organizer Karla Olsen. It is a good team, and I hope to see good things in the next year. I’ll be there as Past President serving as a non-voting board member. I also have a few creative ideas about projects for next year, but will wait until the first NWEP meeting in January to talk about those.

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