Council – Feb 22, 2021

We had a bit of a lengthy Council Meeting on Monday; an Agenda heavy with Public Hearing and Opportunities to be Heard. It is telling about the unpredictability of City Council that we had two really big topics – the annual budget and a change to the Secondary Suites program that effectively impacts every single family detached home in the City – and no-one came to speak to those, but we had three hours of delegations on the renovation of a butcher shop. This job is strange.

Financial Plan, 2021 – 2025
The 5 year financial plan bylaws have been sketched up, and we had an Opportunity to be Heard on the Bylaws. We received two pieces of correspondence asking questions, but nobody came to delegate or clarify on points in the plan. I have a follow up blog to go into a bit more detail about the feedback we received in the last month or so as the annual budget was finalized, but for now I just want to note it was a challenging year to do this work, and I have to send kudos to our staff for getting this work done swiftly, fur the extraordinary efforts they took to engage the public in the budget process, and the quality of the presentations that Council has received that allow us to understand the finances well enough to not just vote on it, but to explain to our constituents about how and why we made the decisions we did.

Council gave the Bylaw three readings and adopted it. On to 2021!

We then had three Public Hearings:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Secondary Suite Requirements) No. 8154, 2021
We are updating and streamlining our Secondary Suite program. There are currently more than 800 authorized secondary suites in ostensibly “single family homes” in the City (likely more, as there are undoubtedly many unauthorized units in the City). Most new houses are built with a secondary suite, or to accommodate a secondary suite if the owner so decides. With changes in the BC building Code on 2019, staff saw a need to revise our Zoning Bylaw to make it easier for compliance and approval. In short, these changes streamline and simplify approvals of secondary suites.

There are slightly different standards for secondary suites in buildings that already exist and for new secondary suites to be built after September, 2021. Base-line life safety standards exist for both, but as we can be more prescriptive on new builds we are adding further livability requirements, such as limiting ventilation between the main and secondary living units, assuring tenants have control of their own utilities and heating.
In the end, this a Zoning Bylaw amendment will replace more complicated documents and processes while assuring life safety and livability standards are met and avoid some redundancy with the BC Building Code. This also requires amendments to our enforcement bylaws.

We received a couple of pieces of correspondence about this, more inquiries about details than opposition or support, and no-one came to speak to the issue. Council voted to support the changes.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (1135 Tanaka Court) No. 8250, 2021
There is a business that would like to start manufacturing food products that include cannabis ingredients in a Light Industrial property in Queensborough. If there wasn’t cannabis involved, this kind of use would be within zoning and no public hearing would occur, but Provincial Regulations and our own Bylaws around the devil’s cabbage are still peri-prohibitionist. So a zoning language amendment is required to permit this use.

There is no growing of cannabis, or retail sales of the product anticipated at the site. There shouldn’t be any specific odour or security concerns apart from any other light industrial manufacturing site, and their operations will be licensed by Health Canada.

We received one piece correspondence (the applicant, in favour), and we had no-one come to speak to us on this application. Council voted to support it.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw (404 Second Street) No. 8235, 2020 and
Heritage Designation Bylaw (404 Second Street) No. 8236, 2020
The owner of the little butcher shop that has been (in various forms) on the corner of Second Street and Fourth Ave in the middle of Queens Park for more than 100 years is looking to do some building improvements and expansion to make her business operate better. This includes a small expansion on the Fourth Ave side, the completion of a full basement, and some building restoration and rejuvenation to bring it back to its Mid-Century glory (but not its original 1920’s form). As the current use is non-conforming with the zoning bylaw (because the current use is decades older than the zoning bylaw itself), this expansion either required rezoning for formalize that use, or a Heritage Restoration Agreement which provides essentially the same function as a rezoning, but adds permanent protection of the historic building. The application was for the latter.

We received 79 pieces of correspondence on this (about 55% in favour and 45% against) and had 24 speakers (about evenly split between for and against), with significant overlap between the two. I cannot go through all of the comments (you can watch the hearing if you really want to dig in), but do want to paraphrase some of the major concern I heard, with my own (editorializing?) responses.

This is a violation of the rules (OCP, zoning, HRA), or of the spirit of the rules: This application complies with the language and spirit of the Official Community Plan. It is indeed non-conforming with the Zoning Bylaw, but the Heritage Restoration Agreement is a tool to bring this into compliance. This is the exact purpose of HRAs, and it is being used appropriate, both within the Local government Act and out local Bylaws.

Tripling the FSR is too much: The current FSR is 35%, and with the expansion planned the FSR above grade will be 50%. This is in line with form common in the neighbourhood. The full FSR will be 100% only when a full basement is added, and the FSR below grade will have no impact on the street expression or massing of the building. Allowing a full basement for storage and preparation is a reasonable request to me considering it has no impact whatsoever on the neighbourhood or form of the building.

Parking is insufficient: Yep, we are giving a parking relaxation, recognizing this business has operated at this site for almost 100 years, and in its current setting for about 70 years, and is not noted for creating parking chaos. Second Street is a quiet street with curbside parking almost always available, and this is a local small business that mostly serves local customers in a cycling- and walking-friendly neighbourhood. Parking can’t stop us having good things, or all we will ever have is parking.

Too many alternate uses possible: The current non-conforming retail use of the site is being formalized through the HRA, but the HRA does not fundamentally change the possible uses. As the current non-conforming use predates the zoning bylaw, another form of retail/commercial would be able to operate in the site (pending compliance with business bylaws, health code, etc.) if the butcher shut down even before the HRA. Notably, many people from the neighbourhood suggested a café or expanded retail might not be a bad thing for the community, but a welcome addition. That said, the owner has indicated they plan to operate a butcher and deli similar to the current operation for the foreseeable future.

Why 1950s and not 1920s: Many Heritage advocates would prefer if this building was re-shaped to better reflect the pre-1940 fashion of the bulk of the preserved residential houses in the neighbourhood. The problem with this is that most of the building is not from the original 1920s structure, but was added in the extensive 1951 renovation, that is the form that exists to be preserved. I was also compelled by some correspondence and the heritage statement that talks about architectural diversity, 1950s examples being an important compliment to the pre-war heritage of the neighbourhood, and speaking to the importance of the retail strip that used to exist along this block of Second Street before the others were torn down to build modern residential houses. There is a mid-century story being told by this building that is as important from a heritage point of view as the aesthetics of the pre-war period.

What is heritage win?: Some neighbours feel there was a lot given the landowner here (essentially FSR and reduced setbacks on two sides) for little community benefit. Aside from the community benefit of having this business operating in the community (the value of which many neighbours came to speak to), the HRA will assure permanent preservation of a mid-century small retail space, the last of its type after similar businesses were demolished along this block. Fundamentally, preservation of a building of demonstrated heritage value is the “heritage win” of any HRA.

There were other concerns raised, and indeed many came to speak in support of the project. The discussion even got a little philosophical at times as we delved into the balance between heritage as physical objects and heritage and intangibles (it is, most would agree, both). This was put into context by the final delegate whose father used to operate the butcher in question, and who actually grew up in the attached residential unit.

In the end, I supported the land use question put before us. And was comfortable that the HRA was an appropriate tool appropriately applied in this case. I hope the butcher can continue to provide a valued local service in Queens Park. Council voted unanimously to support the application and gave Third Reading to the Bylaws.

Dangerous, indeed

I’m going to go on a rant here, and yes it is about Motordom. Some people don’t like when I rant about this, because most of us have cars, many of us are dependent on cars, and any questioning of the role of automobiles in our society is seen as an attack on individuals. Soon someone un-ironically mentions the War on Cars. But Motordom is not about personal choice or behavior, it is a societal structure that steals choice from us. And Motordom is so threaded through the fabric of North American society that it is invisible. Until you recognize it, then you see it everywhere.

This rant was caused by a segment about Dangerous Driving on the CBC television program Marketplace. For those not familiar with the program, it has been Canada’s premier (sorry Street Cent$) consumer protection news program for almost 5 decades.  They call themselves “Canada’s Consumer Watchdog”.

Last week I saw they were looking to be taking on dangerous cars, so I thought I would tune in, this being an interest of mine. What a great target – a product category that is directly responsible for at least 2,000 Canadian deaths and untold suffering every year. Alas, it was clear from the beginning that they paradoxically missed the consumer protection approach, and are instead emphasizing “Dangerous Drivers”.

From this framing forward, the story sequence is predictable, I guess. COVID streets are emptier, and this is opening them up for bad behaviour by faceless Dangerous Drivers. Or so say the various police agencies that the reporters interview. There are many nods here to various pieces of incredibly expensive police equipment (high-speed SUVs, thermal imaging cameras, helicopters) that they are throwing at this problem, apparently to no avail. What can be done?

This was followed by the human interest side – the interview with the families of victims killed by this product behaviour, and their Lawyers. Much anger is directed at Dangerous Drivers, but this being a consumer interest show, Marketplace must hold someone’s feet to the fire. In this case, those faceless feet are the seemingly unaccountable Courts, for making it nearly impossible to throw Dangerous Drivers into jail or take their car away. Maslow’s Hammer is applied judiciously.

Politicians need to pass meaningful laws” is a great call. But what are they asking for here? Stiffer fines and sentences for unlawful drivers? Or are they suggesting laws that address the safety of the consumer products in the middle of this? Remember, you are “Canada’s Consumer Watchdog”. We won’t know because they break for commercial.

In my CBC Gem stream, that commercial break includes a video ad for a new 300hp two-ton SUV capable of 230km/h, being marketed with images of different cars shifting and drifting at high speeds while Freddy Mercury implores us to “Tear it up! Shake it up! Break it up! Bayybeee!”Professional Driver. Closed Course. Do not attempt. Wink Wink.

When they get back, they take us – I kid you not – to a stunt driving school. There is some concern raised by Police that Dangerous Drivers are “making money off this” by shooting YouTube Videos of their dangerous exploits (kids today!) then they take us to a freaking stunt driving school:Wink wink.

Only Motordom can explain how “Canada’s Consumer Watchdog” can spend 16 minutes talking about this public hazard, and not even mention the product, instead emphasizing the irresponsibility of some of the consumers.

Imagine a company sold a coffee maker that, when used irresponsibly by a significant portion of its users, resulted hundreds or thousands of deaths. Would Marketplace dedicate an episode to chastising the people who used the coffee maker incorrectly? What if the deadly, irresponsible use of that coffee maker was what the manufacturer advertised when selling the coffee maker, even during an episode of Marketplace? What if features emphasizing this irresponsible use were designed right into the coffee maker as a selling feature? I’d like to think Marketplace would call for the coffee maker to be modified to make it less deadly or taken off the market. Or would they suggest stiffer penalties for irresponsible coffee maker consumers?

Only automobiles get this pass. That is Motordom.

Of course, this isn’t just the CBC. Even the Police whose job it is to enforce traffic safety, and who have the grim task of investigating those thousands of deaths, seem to be unable to get off the personal-responsibility narrative. There is a weird quote part way through the show by a featured traffic enforcement officer that I had to listen to a few times and transcribe to understand what the hell he was saying:

…its fine line from exceeding the speed limit to then, almost, bordering on the line of dangerous driving, if you will. Speed kills

What is this “fine line” he is talking about? Is he trying to separate what we all do (they just told us that 1 in 3 Canadians admit to speeding) and those actions of Dangerous Drivers, as if only the latter is actually doing something wrong? This is a traffic cop! Is it really that fine a line, or a line made fuzzy by Motordom?

If we agree speed kills, why are we allowed to sell cars that speed? Why is Acura advertising during this program a 6-passenger SUV that can travel more than twice the legal speed limit of any road in Canada? Why are there no automobile safety standards in Canada that serve to protect people who are not inside the automobile? These are easy problems to fix, and questions a consumer protection program should be asking the makers of these products and the people who regulate them.

We need cars, just like we need coffee makers. Not everyone needs them, of course, many live happily without them. However, we have built our communities around automobiles in the same way many of us have structured our brain chemistry around caffeine. The problem is, we are too shy to have a serious discussion about what cars actually are. Even our flagship “consumer protection” program seems to pretend that we cannot regulate the makers of cars to make Dangerous Drivers less deadly, by making the consumer product they are using less deadly.

And yeah, “Politicians need to pass meaningful laws”. I absolutely 100% agree with this. We need to replace the archaic Motor Vehicle Act here in BC and in most jurisdictions. We need to make it illegal to sell a car that travels twice the speed legal anywhere in the country. We need to make road hazards like this illegal. These are all much, much more important than saving drivers a couple hundred bucks on their annual car insurance.

But we won’t do any of those things. Because the marketers own the marketplace, and because of Motordom.

Council – Feb 8, 2021

It seems we are meeting a lot these days, but we also have relatively short open agendas, amazing how that works out. This week’s meeting started out with a great staff presentation on the draft budget:

Draft 2021 – 2025 Financial Plan
There is a report here, and a power point presentation with some great diagrams about the 5-year financial plan. Staff will now put this plan together into the appropriate empowering bylaws.

We have been through several workshops, and have done the most comprehensive consultation with the community of any budget process I have been through in 6 years on Council. We have spent a lot of time working on the Capital Plan especially, as it is especially significant this year. All of this discussion and compromise and debate is going to, inevitably, to be distilled down to one number. And this year that number looks to be 4.9%.

The proposed property tax increase is made up of a 2.3% increase that is a result of inflationary pressure on the existing program (both inflation for fixed costs and bargained wage increases), 2.0% to go directly to financing the debt on the NWACC project, which we are going to have to start paying for in 2021, and another 0.6% increase that represents new services. Utility rates are also going up, mostly due to increased fees being charged by the regional suppliers, though we are also continuing to invest locally to assure our long-term reserves are healthy.

We will read and potentially adopt the Bylaw on February 22nd, so if you have opinions, please let us know here! But please at least read the report first or watch the Power Point in the Video to get a sense of where this is coming from.

We then had a DVP for Approval:

Development Variance Permit DVP00686 for 632 Carnarvon Street
An operator wants to open a much-needed-in-downtown childcare space in the old Fisheries Building downtown, but needs to repurpose some outdoor space to play space to meet Fraser Health requirements, which will erode their ability to provide off-street parking for their staff to meet our zoning minimums for the use. This requires a DVP, which we put notice out about last month. We received a single piece of correspondence concerned about traffic impacts on the Court building. Council moved to approve the DVP, and I can’t speak for everyone, but my only thinking was that childcare space is in much greater need in downtown than parking space.

We had three items on the Consent Agenda, two of which we removed from consent to talk about, but you’ll have to watch the video to see which ones! Ha!

Recruitment 2021: Appointments to Board of Variance (BOV)
The Board of Variance is a provincially-mandated committee the City has to review variances if the person who is requesting the variance would rather appeal to someone other than Council. Ours does not meet very often, but we assign people to it, because that’s the law!

Landscaping Guidelines for Laneway Houses in Queen’s Park
We had a delegation a few weeks ago concerned about a chain link fence in the Queens Park neighbourhood. Seriously.

Indeed, chain link is not a preferred material in the design guidelines (which are guidelines, not laws), and as fences are typically not subject to permits or inspections (aside from having limited heights), fencing materials may be included in guidelines applied for new construction in the HCA… I honestly cannot believe we spent staff and Council time digging into this when there are an almost infinite number of more important things going on but…

Turns out we got an e-mail from a neighbour, and there are some weird details here around how the existing fence was removed that fall under that nebulous world of Fence Law which is actually a fascinating body of jurisprudence that doesn’t really involve the City directly unless there are building permits. Anyway, we are going to ask staff to go back and help the neighbours work this thing out if they can.

Westminster Pier Park Management Oversight Committee: Westminster Pier Park – Fire Recovery Update
The good news: the playground inside the loop of the new ramp entrance is being built as we speak, and will be ready this spring. The bad news: the entire damn park is still closed, and it may take until April to get it opened again. The reasoning here is a need for a level crossing access for vehicles for public safety reasons.

We had a bit of discussion here, and I am frankly disappointed where we are. The Fire department feels we need to be able to drive a vehicle into the Park for emergency response before we open it. This seemed strange to me, as there are two foot accesses to the park, one at each end, and there are many places in the City where you cannot drive a vehicle that are nonetheless accessible for park use. The middle of Hume Park, the “beach” in Queensborough, areas of Glenbrook Ravine. I am not a first responder, but it was not really made clear to me what the operational restrictions are, or if efforts were found to address those restrictions that didn’t involve months of negotiation with the railways, procuring road building, etc.

My point for pushing here is that I just didn’t feel a sense of urgency, or an understanding of how important this par space is for the many people who live in Downtown New West. This is an area of the community where density is, where many residents are renters, and many don’t have access to outdoor private space. The Pier Park is literally their back yard, and vital to the livability of the community for them. During COVID we have lost so much of our social and collective space – people are feeling trapped in their homes – they need this space, and it has been closed for almost 5 months now, with another couple of months of closure on the horizon.

It is a diminished space, and yes I know it is winter, but to have a sunny day like last Saturday and for the thousands of people downtown to have no access to their premier park space – that is not the level of service our residents should expect. We need to do better, find a creative solution, and get this park space back into the hands and under the butts of our residents.

Finally, we had a Bylaw and related Motion:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (457 East Columbia Street) No. 8227, 2020
The operator of the Arcade in Sapperton wants a liquor primary license. We adopted the Rezoning Bylaw that made that happen, and moved the resolution the province needs from us to get the Liquor Primary licence approved.

The operator of the Arcade in Sapperton wants a liquor primary license. We adopted the Rezoning Bylaw, and moved the resolution the Province needs from us to get the licence approved.

And look at me getting my Council Report out the morning after the meeting!

Council – Feb 1, 2021

Yep, Council met last week, and we had more than just that one item on the agenda. I’m late getting this out (and have another Council Package to read this weekend!) so here is a quick summary, that started with a Presentation:

ReDiscover New West Campaign Presentation,
The City is working with our BIAs and Tourism New West to promote locals helping our local business community to help reframe 2021 after a slightly dismal 2020. There is a great video with familiar (masked!) faces and places, promotions of local businesses, and a contest you can take part in to support out local business community right now. See it all here.

We are really fortunate in NewWest that our BIAs (formal and informal) are really effective advocates and great partners to the City. Send your local favourites some love in February – it is always a bad month for the restaurant business especially, so let’s help them out so they will be here for us when we emerge from our mandated slumber.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
This is our regular update on the work of the City’s COVID taskforces. We got Federal funding for part of our Food Security work, are working on providing better access to showers for unhoused people in the City, continue to work on the Health Outreach Centre, and continue to work with the business community to keep them connected and find out what types of supports we can provide.

COVID-19 At-Risk and Vulnerable Populations Task Force: New Westminster Digital Inclusion Project Update and Potential City Contribution to Project
One of the goals of our Intelligent City Action Plan is to make digital connection more inclusive – so people who cannot necessarily afford a phone or home computer can be connected to some internet services – as so much of our public services are oriented around internes connectivity. Partnering with Douglas College, Purpose, and other community organizations, with a SPARC grant, we can get phones to people. We can also provide WiFi hotspots and connectivity hubs in the City to access the internet with those devices. The City is also providing older devices (iPhone 7s) to the cause.

34 South Dyke Road: Development Variance Permit Application to Vary Access to Tandem Parking
This 16-unit Townhouse development in Queensborough was approved by Council last year, but we overlooked the need for a DVP to allow the parking to be tandem-style instead of side-by-side. So we are giving notice that we will consider this DVP, likely at the March 1st meeting. If you have opinions, let us know!

Sapperton Green: Official Community Plan Amendment Section 475 and 476 Consultation Report
Sapperton Green are working through their revised Master Plan to accommodate increased affordable housing, as was presented in a preliminary way to City Council a year ago (yes, this stuff takes time). As this increases the residential density beyond the current OCP, we are required by law to do formal consultation regionally before it comes back to Council for eventual Public Hearing. This report outlines who will be consulted. Yes, it includes the Board of Education for School District 40.

759 Carnarvon Street (The Metro): Rezoning and Liquor Primary Applications – Preliminary Report
The Metro is a banquet hall Downtown where people have been holding events without any trouble for something like 13 years. They have operated on Special Event licenses when those events included alcohol sales (something like 100 nights a year!) and they want to get a Liquor Primary license. They are not planning on changing their business – it’s not becoming a pub, for example – but trying to simplify their operations and align better with changes in the Provincial licensing regime. An LP license requires a change in the language of the Zoning Bylaw. We are doing an expedited process here, but will likely go to Public Hearing in March, so I’ll hold further comment until then.

2020 Filming Activity Overview
This is the annual report on filming activity in the City. The City has a Film Coordinator on staff who manages the myriad of ways film operations interact with the City’s operations – road closures, policing, use of City buildings, permits, etc. We also charge permit fees to recover these costs, to the tune of more than $700,000 a year. This is a bit down from the peak of 2017, but still a significant budget item. This is just City revenues, and does not include the salaries paid to the nearly 1,000 New Westminster residents who work in the film industry, or the money paid to home and business owners to lease their spaces for filming.

There was also a story on the TeeVee News that was ostensibly about Vancouver as Hollywood North, but ended up having a bunch of New West content.

Youth Advisory Committee Recommendation re Indigenous Workshop for City Committee Members
The Youth Advisory Committee sent a recommendation to Council (as is their job!) asking that include training for Advisory Committee members on Indigenous issues and reconciliation. It is actually a good idea to expand the scope of the training we are undergoing with staff to include Advisory committee members, I think it will result in better informed advice coming to Council and it will be a value add for the members who volunteer their time to help the city.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

E-Comm nominations for 2020-2021
As one of the cities that receives 911 service from E-Comm, we get a part vote – shared with the Tri Cities – on two seats on the Board that governs the organization. The last time a New Westminster had a representative was Councillor Trentadue few years ago. We recently ran into some challenges in filling recent vacancies, with New West a bit of a hold-out as we are trying to encourage our partners to consider gender and diversity in their nominations. And it has been, unfortunately, a challenge. So a vacancy remains.

We are escalating a bit here on an issue that has been going on somewhat in the background for a couple of years. The report lays out how hard we have tried to make our case to our neighbouring communities, and the various steps forward and backward along the way. We have now asked staff to prepare formal correspondence to the entire EComm board asking that they take some responsibility and commit to improving the diversity of their board, and asking that our partner Cities commit to gender diversity immediately by assuring all future nomination include at least 50% women or non-binary representatives. We are also going to elevate this to the Lower Mainland LGA. More to come here.

805 Boyd Street (Walmart): Development Variance Permit Application to Vary Sign Bylaw Requirements for Directional Signage
Walmart in Queensborough wants to add some signage to point people to their new pick up area, that doesn’t strictly meet our Sign Bylaw limitations, but they are pretty small and on the side of a Walmart, so the impact on neighbourhood aesthetics seems pretty limited. Regardless, we are giving notice that we will consider this DVP, likely at the March 1st meeting. If you have opinions, let us know. “I hate Walmart” is, frankly, not really useful input here, this is about wayfinding signage, not global capitalism.

Single-Use Item Reduction Advocacy for Consistent Regional Regulation
Following up on our talk about single-use plastics two meetings ago, Staff have provided some guidance on a path forward for regional and senior government advocacy.

Finally, we had a bit of New Business:

Bill C-213, an Act to enact the Canada Pharmacare Act
Councillor McEvoy brought this motion, similar to what numerous municipalities across the Country are asking for right now:

BE IT RESOLVED THAT New Westminster City Council support Bill C-213, An Act to enact the Canada Pharmacare Act.

It helps that the Bill was introduced by our own Member of Parliament, but this is a long-overdue promise made by several Liberal Governments, and it is well past time to hold them to their promise. As the ancient proverb says, the best time to introduce Universal Pharmacare is 20 years ago when the Liberals first promised it; the second best time is now.

And that was it, see you again Monday!

Police Budget redux

We had a full Council meeting on Monday, with several important topics on the agenda, But I am really busy his week, and I want to write about this one first and separately, because it seems to have caught a little media attention, and wouldn’t hurt from a more detailed discussion.

Before I start, I want to do one of my regular reminders that this blog is, as always, my personal opinion, and not official City communications. There are a spectrum of opinions on Council about this, and we have had a few split votes, so I don’t want anyone to think I am providing an official position of council, or that I am speaking for my Council colleagues. I respect where my colleagues are coming from here, this is a difficult topic, and will try really hard to avoid putting word in their mouths. There is a video available if you want to hear the full discussion.

New Westminster Municipal Police Board letter dated January 25, 2021 regarding New Westminster Police Department 2021 Budget
The Police Board has replied to Council’s previous request that they review their enhancement requests and revise the budget increase requested for 2021. They have replied with the assertion that the requested 2.9% increase is inflationary and does not support increasing police services, but maintains the status quo as far as service levels. That is an unfortunate turn of phrase, because the entire point of this discussion is that status quo needs to be challenged, but I don’t want to get mired in pedantry.

I’ve written previously in this post and this post about the jurisdictional challenges here. In short, Council has no authority to direct how police do their work, or even how they allocate their budget, that is the job of the Police Board. Council are required by law to approve a budget. If we do not approve the one offered by the Police Board, then the Minister of Public Safety is asked to adjudicate. In the past when Councils have not agreed with Police Board requests, the Minister has always sided with the Police Board. We know where this was going.

I had honestly hoped that the Police Board would come back to us with an adjusted budget, or a more detailed explanation of where their specific budget pressures are. They did not really do that. They did make it clear, however, that this was the budget they were offering. It did not include all of the enhancements (which is the term we use in municipal budgeting for “things we want to do/pay for this year that we didn’t do/pay for last year”) they were originally looking for when the budget process began, but it similarly did not represent an increase in service levels. It effectively equaled an inflation adjustment over last year. It is hard for me to challenge this, as one of the uncertainties I feel on Council is that the scale and nature of the Police budget is not as transparent to us or the voting public as most the rest of the City budget. This is by design of the Police Act, and it is troubling.

For those so interested, there is more information about the budget available in the Police Board agenda, which you can read here: (the “package” is the agenda with the attached reports and police budget tables).

If you read the correspondence between the Police Board and Council here, it seems we agree on a few principles. The Police Board acknowledges that aspects of the services they currently provide may be better provided by a non-policing model, and if you draw a Venn diagram of how this overlaps with “Police Reform”, it certainly wouldn’t be a circle. However, The Police Board strongly feels that until those alternative delivery models are in place, they cannot responsibly suspend, or in any way reduce, the current delivery model. This puts us in a chicken-and-egg quandary, as there is currently no one with the jurisdiction, resources, and willingness to bring those delivery models into place. So it could seem we are stuck.

Ultimately, change is going to require the Police Board to resource some review of their internal operations. It is going to require Local Governments to identify how their residents want services delivered, and potentially to see what services the Local Government can deliver and fund though alternative models. Mostly, it is going to require the Provincial Government to reform the Police Act, and to resource the Health Authorities, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, and potentially other agencies to deliver their resources differently. This is going to take coordination, and cooperation.

The good news is that everyone is signaling that they want to do this. The New West Police Board has sent us some more details about their plan to begin addressing this process. It isn’t perfect, but it is clear in its intent. The Provincial Government has also begun to work on a Police Act reform consultation, and the City of New Westminster has made it clear to them that we want in at the ground floor on those discussions – we are the right City to be in the center of this, with our own Police Force, a very proactive group of community service agencies, and all partners willing to see change.

So, to get back to the decision before Council, the options now were to approve the budget presented by the Police Board or not. There is no mandate for negotiation. As much as I want to push for systemic changes that the Board is alluding to, that Council and the public have asked for, and that may arise from the provincial Police Act review, I am not sure these ends are served by the Police Board spending the next few months engaging in a Provincial Government appeal process to get their budget approved. This feels like time wasted when it seems certain the Province will deliver the budget the Police Board requests. There may be a message to be sent by forcing the Public Safety Minister to issue that order, but I think we have other pathways to send that message, including two new MLAs who are in a caucus with that Minister and are itching to represent New Westminster in Victoria.

So I voted to support the budget as proposed, and supported Councillor McEvoy’s follow-up motion to call on the Police Board to be more proactive in engaging with Council and the Community in the work we all agree needs to be done. I hope we can use our time more effectively rowing in the same direction, and I expect the Police Board to be accountable to the community they serve for the commitments they have made to the community along with asking for this maintaining budget.