Still Banging on Doors!

Here is a long-delayed update on campaign progress. It has been an incredibly busy last month, and the results of all that work will soon become apparent, as the campaign season is entering full swing. It hasn’t all been eating Salmon Chowder


Last week was interesting for several reasons:

Other candidates have finally started to pop up. Although none of the announcements so far have been surprising, it is good to know we will have a diverse crowd of interested people ready to share their vision of the community and contribute to the conversation. For myself, I picked up my package from City Hall and am filling in the paperwork!


Last weekend I knocked on my 1,000th door of the campaign. I have had doorstep conversations in every neighbourhood of the City, from Hume Park to Queensborough, and have learned a lot about how different issues are viewed by the vibrant mix of people we have in New Westminster. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and even the people who I may disagree with on some policy ideas seem to be happy that someone is willing to engage.


Also, last week was the first chance for multiple candidates to sit down and answer questions for a group of voters. The Massey Victory Heights Residents Association invited the declared candidates to their monthly meeting to have a “living room chat” about issues in the City. Even a few people from Quayside and Downtown managed to show up. The discussion was wide-ranging (common topics: the High School replacement project, traffic, City Hall responsiveness, the Anvil Centre, and how to engage voters better), but the conversation was civil and the ideas were flowing. It was a very positive experience.

This week’s efforts are in putting together a few interesting campaign materials, and finalizing the plans for Sunday’s fundraiser (have I mentioned my FUNdraiser yet? It will be fun, and you really should buy tickets, because there is a good chance we will sell out before Saturday), and working on the next phase of door-knocking and webpage updates. Now that the campaign has started in earnest, expect more of the materials I have been working on with my Campaign Team to arrive here. The campaign platform will be outlined piece by piece with increasing detail on this page, as I find time to write and make comprehensible the amalgamation of what I know, what I am hearing, and what I could see working in New Westminster.


In the meantime, a big thank you to all the volunteers who have helped so far, and for the much larger number who have offered to help, but who I haven’t put to work yet. I will be in touch soon.

For everyone else: I’ll see you out there on the doorstep!

…and that’s all I have to say about the Whitecaps.

Yes, I am busy these days and haven’t had the writing time I would like, but I thought it was appropriate for me to finish off the Whitecaps story here, to follow up on my earlier optimism turned into creeping suspicion. People on the doorstep are still talking about the issue, and I think there are lessons to be learned from this process that deserve a bit of a debrief.

I’m going to come right out and say I think Council made the right decision, and from listening to their comments at the meeting and in the press, they made it for the right reasons.

As many of us suspected, it came down to the money. A rushed estimate had the City adding more than $11 Million in capital improvements to Queens Park to accommodate the needs of the Whitecaps and the other park users. This compared to $3 Million the City was already budgeting to spend in similar projects over the same timeframe. The “gap” between those two amounts was the central debate.

The breakdown, from the September 15th Meeting. 

Was this the best way for the City to spend $8 Million in capital improvements for Parks and Recreation right now? How does this priority line up against the need to address the Canada Games Pool, or to provide a second sheet of ice in Queens Park, as was included in the Master Plan? (admitted bias here: Ms.NWimby is tired of having to drive to Coquitlam to play hockey when we have two skating rinks within a few blocks of our house but there is no women’s hockey in New Westminster).

To be fair, we don’t know half the deal – the amount of money the Whitecaps were willing to provide, and the potential for other revenues arising from the project. Because of the nature of in camera negotiations, and because I’m sure the Whitecaps don’t want to make their offer public knowledge, as they are likely to be shopping around to other Cities, we can only speculate on whether their contribution would be enough to cover the capital investment costs, or if the less-tangible benefits to the community would have been worth the investment. Clearly, Council did not feel the offer was good enough.

Aside from the money, there were other reasons to support or oppose this project. Some argued the cachet of hosting a USL Pro Team, while other argued it was inappropriate to have what is essentially a for-profit private business operate on publicly-owned park land. If there is one thing I lament through this process, it’s that we didn’t really have a chance to hash out those debates in a meaningful way as a community. I think it would have been instructive going forward as we plan for the next phase of our city’s growth.

Alas, the timing was too short. If the Whitecaps had come around 12 or 18 months ago with a vision, there may (or may not) have had a different result, but we definitely would have had a different process and discussion.

On that timeline, we could have done the due diligence on the plan and the cost. We could have seen a mock-up of what the proposal was and make the inevitable and sometimes subtle changes that would be required to address unforeseen issues. New Westminster baseball could have been better engaged in the planning process, and could have been empowered to build the facility of their dreams without the risk of a lost season that may have hurt their organizations’ momentum. We could have done a comprehensive evaluation of the financial impact on the community and residents (good and bad). We, the residents, could have had a discussion about costs/benefits based on an actual plan, not on conjecture and suspicion. The Whitecaps could have worked with the Queens Park Neighbourhood to reduce impacts, and with TransLink and the Justice Institute or the Uptown malls to develop parking alternatives.

We could have also had time to not mix all of this business planning with the other big debate – is this something the City wants? The (I’m sorry, but it is ideological) debate around the entire idea of having a professional sports franchise operate in our limited parks facilitates. Some oppose this as too financially risky, others on pure ideological reasons, but that important discussion in the City could not happen in a meaningful way as part of this rushed business plan

This may turn out to be a bullet we dodged, or it may turn out to be an opportunity lost, and I guess we won’t really know. However, what was lost was an opportunity for a better community discussion, again forced by an unreasonably tight deadline.

One interesting thing that did come out of this was this post-mortem article in the NewsLeader which shows the balance between boosterism for the City and prudent municipal management. This is a theme that I will be talking about more as the election goes on. If I ever find the time to write!

More on the Whitecaps

It’s been a while since I commented on the Whitecaps proposal for New Westminster – not that everyone isn’t asking. For reasons that should be painfully obvious by now, I have been knocking on doors over the last several weeks, asking people about their issues, concerns, gripes and kudos about the City.

Actually, outside of two neighbourhoods, the topic has rarely come up. However, in Queens Park and Glenbrook North, pretty much every second person raises the topic. If I was to summarize the reaction (acknowledging there is nothing at all scientific about my survey techniques), I would say there is a slight majority of people in favour of the project, but that wider support also seems shallower (in that people say “It looks like a good idea, and it would be pretty cool, if they can work out the issue of…”). Where the opposition may not be quite as wide, but it definitely makes up for it in depth (those who are opposed are really opposed, and have a variety of reasons).

When asked my opinion, I have to give the honest, but completely unsatisfying, answer: I just don’t know! There is still so little information available on the project, that I hate to approve or oppose it out of hand. To quote a friend of mine quoting a friend of his in a ranting Facebook post last week (copyright attribution avoided to protect the possibly innocent):

“I am getting so MAD at the stupidity surrounding the Whitecaps USL team proposal. There are so many lies going around about how Queen’s Park will be paved over for parking, Youth teams will suffer BLAH BLAH BLAH. Where are these people getting their info from? Stop the freakin’ fear mongering people WTF. It’s 14 freaking games on an afternoon, there is a turf field already in the City’s capital plans, the City will make money off of sponsorship, concession stands, they will move to baseball team to another site (right beside it!) and guess what our local restaurants and businesses will make more money. AND they are asking the Whitecaps to pony up for a freakin’ shuttle buses to and from the sky train. STOP spreading and engaging in stupid lies about how this will ruin new west. Gah. End Rant.”

The way I see it, more than half the problem here is a lack of clarity on what is being proposed. I have been to the early Open House, I have followed the battling petitions online, the Twitter accounts for and against, read the Facebook pages for and against, read the Whitecaps half-page ad, attended two City council meetings, one where 21 people spoke unanimously against the proposal, one where 21 People spoke in favour of the project and 12 more people spoke in opposition, yet I still feel like I have no idea if this is a good or bad deal for the City.

Most of the actual data I have been seen (100 trees cut down, field available all but 14 days a year for public use, $20 Million cost with a 5-year lease agreement) are speculative, and have not come from the only two parties who would actually know- the City and the Whitecaps.

As a member of the public was challenged on the veracity of her financial information at Council on August 25th, she said: “when there is no good information provided, that void is filled with speculation. When speculation is the only information we have, what else are we to believe?”

Lack of information is the problem, information is the answer. Until I have that information, I can’t provide a position. That said, I can say some definitive things about how I would make this decision:

  • I would not support building a stadium with public money on public land for the exclusive use of the Whitecaps, or any private enterprise. Any new facility in Queens Park will be a community facility, with clearly defined limits to how the Whitecaps use it. As a growing City, we cannot afford to lose public spaces, so any facility that may be built must be available for other community use when the lessee is not utilizing it. The conditions of that use will be part of the financial arrangement;
  • I would not allow New Westminster Baseball to go homeless. The club is important to our community, and clearly has a strong support base and traditions. We must assure they have a home appropriate for their needs, regardless of whether this proposal moves forward;
  • I will not support adding more paved parking areas to Queens Park. The City has limited green and public space, and parking cars is not an appropriate use for it;
  • I would not agree to an arrangement where the financial costs to the City will outweigh the demonstrated benefits to the community. Those costs must include the ancillary costs we will need to budget for managing the various disruptions this project may bring to the Queens Park neighbourhood, and the benefits must include the opportunity for savings in acquiring a new public amenity, and the benefits to our broader business and social communities across the City.
Now, it is easy for me, an unelected person with no knowledge of how this deal is being cooked up, to draw these clear boundaries, but as a voter in the city, these are the boundaries I would put around my acceptance of this proposal. Of course this is a not a comprehensive list of issues, but a starting point for the discussions. The first three are things I, personally, believe are important and need to be part of the deal, but it is the fourth that I suspect will be the linchpin here: do the numbers make sense for New Westminster?

Actually, at yesterday’s meeting, Council members said various versions of the above, and that did not satisfy some of the more outspoken members of the audience (especially those in opposition). If you care about this issue, it is really worth your time to skip ahead to the part on the archived video of yesterday’s meeting and see what the Council Members actually said, for the first time on the record, about this project:

The link is here, select the Regular Council Meeting for September 8, 2014, and scroll to 2:45:30.

What I heard was a healthy skepticism on the part of Council. I noted during the earlier delegations that the most firmly-directed questions Council members had were reserved for those people in favour of the project. (paraphrased example: “When you say you would support this project as long as it is a financially responsible one for the City, what criteria would you use to define the financial responsibility of it?”). I don’t get a sense that Council is sold on this idea yet. Which should make next week’s meeting interesting.

There will be vocal criticism of the decision no matter which way it is made: just look at the archived video of the last two council meetings. Politically, this may be lose-lose. However, building trust in the process through communication is one way a divisive issue like this can bring us together as a community, even while we fill in our opposing petitions.

FUNdraiser announcement!

The Campaign Team is happy to announce that enough details are now worked out that we can announce the FUNdriaser!

Go to this page to read about, get excited, and sign up.

It will be a fun evening that combines three things I love the most about New Westminster: curling at the Royal City Curling Club (the best curling club in BC – but I might be biased); food and drinks from great local small businesses that believe in building their community; and a large group of engaged people talking local issues and getting involved in making democracy happen. There will be a few extra fun surprises, with details to follow, but ticket numbers are limited, so sign up soon…

Since we are talking about fundraising, this is a good time to talk about why I need to raise funds.

Running a legitimate campaign for City Council costs money. I know many who are reading this know me, support me, see me everywhere, and wonder why I need to spend money advertising. However (believe it or not), being a fully engaged member of the community puts you in the minority. There are a lot of people who just aren’t as engaged, and won’t be paying attention to who is moving the conversation forward in New Westminster until the election hype starts to ramp up.

The election period is about reaching those voters: people who care about the City, the direction it takes, and who represents them on Council, but haven’t spent the three years since the last election thinking about the next one like you have. Reaching them is why I have spent August knocking on doors, why I am still knocking on doors every spare moment I have in September, and why I will be knocking on doors until November 14th. This face-to-face connection costs little except time and volunteer effort. For everything else, we fundraise.

Lawn signs are shockingly expensive to someone who has never run before. The paper leaflets with my contact info that I leave with people at doorsteps cost more per item than you might think, and I am already through a couple of thousand of them. Advertising in the local media will be a significant cost coming up in the next few months. Website hosting, e-mail services, communications costs, printing and stationary costs to manage my neighbourhood planning and doorknocking data: these all add up. I have a great army of volunteers willing to help out, but for some things you just need to hire professional services. This list goes on.

Every time my campaign team comes up with a great idea, my exceptional Financial Agent is there to ask: where is this in the budget? The better the budget, the better the ideas we can fit in it, the better I can get my face and my name and my ideas in front of people who may not have otherwise engaged.

Everything we receive as a donation must be declared after the election. Elections BC rules do not permit donations of any amount from a business or organization to be anonymous, and individuals can only provide anonymous donations under $50. And no, you cannot dodge that rule and donate $49 to me twice, hoping to remain anonymous. Any donation of any amount must have a name attached, but it is only those that add up to more than $50 per individual that I must declare on the official forms. There is no upper limit to the amount you can donate. Note, there is some nuance and a lot of little details in the rules that I am omitting here for space. If you have questions or concerns about this process, please contact me or my Financial Agent at 778-791-1002. She is super friendly and damn smart.

So please, if you can attend the FUNdraiser October 5th, do so. It will be fun, and the portion of your ticket price above costs will fund the Campaign. However, if you really want to help out, you can go to my Donate Page and send a donation through PayPal, or you can bring your chequebook to the FUNdraiser and contribute there, or you can mail a donation to 708 Third Ave., New Westminster V3M 1N7. Or you can stop me on the street and hand me a cheque.

Meanwhile, I am going to keep wearing out my shoes doorknocking.