Aside from all the excitement around elections – all candidate events, get out the vote effort, and even scrutineering at the polls (hey, if you like democracy, you should take part in it) – there were other events happening in the City over the last couple of weeks, so here is my what-I’ve-been-up-to report.
The annual New Westminster Homelessness Coalition fundraiser was on October 15th at the Columbia Theatre. I sat with other politicians, activists, advocates, outreach workers, staff members of service agencies, volunteers, and concerned citizens. We were there to raise money to help those who seek to house people in New Westminster, but we were also there to talk about past successes and failures, and about the challenges ahead.
We were given an inspirational (and at times heartbreaking) speech by Judy Graves who made a career of her calling – direct outreach to Vancouver homeless to find out what they need to get into a shelter, or just to get through the day. We also heard time and time again that New Westminster is doing great things to help homelessness, punching above our weight when senior governments are dropping the ball.
The election is over, so it is a good time to remember that Canada is the only G7 country without a national housing program. We used to have one, several actually: one to help people buy houses, another to help builders increase the stock, more to help people form a Co-op and manage their own affordable housing alternatives. But the Liberals withdrew funding from new social housing in 1993, and in 1996 they announced they were getting out of the business of subsidies to existing social housing. Some provinces (notably BC in the late 90s and Quebec) stepped up to fill the gap, most did not. Where Canada built 20,000 units of social housing annually in the 1980s, that number dropped to about 1,000 annually in the late 1990s. When the Conservatives took over, they did nothing to change this file. I am optimistic that this trend will change with the new government.
On October 17th, I did a repeat of the walking tour I led earlier in the year as part of Jane’s Walk, talking about the geology of the building stones of New Westminster. This is a slightly different look at the History of New Westminster – a 250-Million-year history of the rocks that make up some of our notable buildings, from Nanaimo Group sandstone at the Fisheries Building and CPR Station to the andesite of the Federal Building and the Jura limestone of the Anvil centre. No real point to this talk, but a fun mix if Geology 101 and local history.
Also on October 17th was the annual Tailgate Auction fundraiser for the Hyacks Football Program. This is a fun night of music and entertainment, with the centerpiece being an arm-wrestling challenge between several of the burlier looking Hyack Players. It is a great fun, and a good way to support a program that has done a lot to build confidence in a generation of players and pride in our school and City.
On October 21st I attended a wake for an old friend – the Newsleader Newspaper. As sad as it was to watch the Leader close and some real talent end up out of work, Wednesday’s get-together was generally a positive event, people looking back at the good work they did. I also got to meet some reporters whose work I have followed for years, but have never met, like Jeff Nagel, who is easily the best Civic Affairs reporter in the Lower Mainland.
On October 22nd, The Arts Council of New Westminster held a public engagement session to get feedback on their Strategic Plan for the year(s) ahead. If you are interested in the Arts in New West and how they are developed, you can take their survey here to help them reach you better!
October 23rd there was a Craft Beer Event at the RiverMarket, put on by our local craft beer mecca Barley’s Home Brewing. This was a well-attended event, where some regional craft beers were tasted, and an expert panel answered questions from the technical to the arcane about home brewing, the local industry, and the state of beer in a rapidly evolving market. Amongst the panelists was New Westminster’s own Jorden Foss of Steel & Oak, who coincidentally won an award for Best Lager at the BC Craft Beer Awards this last weekend. After having many conversations and a few beers, and hearing how the local industry is working together to build a local industry of fresh beer, I only reinforced my conclusion that beer people are good people.
October 24th, the Council of the Councils was held in Surrey at their new City Hall. This is a semi-annual meeting of Mayors and Councillors from around greater Vancouver, where the operational Boards and Committees of Metro Vancouver report out on happenings in the your water supply, sewer and liquid waste treatment systems, solid waste management, and parks and regional planning. It also provides us an opportunity to ask questions and fill in the details of how the regional government is going. Short version: water conservation worked this summer, we are going to be spending a lot of money updating the Lions Gate and Iona Water Sewage Treatment Plants, and we are doing well towards our solid waste reduction goals.
I also had a chance to tour Surrey’s new City Hall. It is rather amazing what $100Million will get you. Yowza.
Finally, this last Saturday night was the ninth (9th!) PechaKucha New Westminster event, at the Anvil Centre. I don’t know how Neal and Melinda Michael manage to always cob together 10 compelling and talented people to present at these events, but this event (coordinated with the Momentum Youth Festival) showed that after 3 years, they can still pull it off. It was a wonderful collection of talks, starting with funny, moving through challenging and heart-wrenching, and ending with hilarious. There was a juxtaposition of talks in the first half that had the entire crowd buzzing at the intermission, and the final punchline was a professional designer agreeing that the aesthetics of Kingsway match perfectly the transportation and urban planning aspects of the street: ugly. Much laughter ensued.