The December 12th meeting had an unprecedented 7 motions presented and motivated by a single member of Council. This was surprising not only because it is the number of motions a proactive Council Member may typically present in a typical year, but also because Council has not yet finished onboarding (indeed there were onboarding meetings and tours continuing this week), and the Council has not yet had time to do the regular Strategic Planning to set priorities for the year or the term.
But here we are.
There was a lot of politicking going on during these motions, and though I think most members of Council were genuinely trying to find consensus positions that could be supported, this was challenged by rhetorical questions and some confrontational approaches that did not make consensus easy to find. We have some work to do to determine how we will be working together in the best interest of the City. As it is hard for me to talk about this politicking without engaging in it a bit myself, I do need to emphasize that this blog, as always, is my viewpoint and opinions, and not official position of the City or Council.
1:Halting the Phase-out of the Royal City Moniker
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster halt the phasing out of the ‘Royal City’ moniker in our branding; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT no future change to the branding shall be undertaken without due notice and proper consultation with our residents, businesses and Indigenous people.
This resolution asked staff to do two things. The first was asking them to “halt” something that was not an actual activity they were undertaking. The use of the moniker in any real way was effectively phased out more than a decade ago, and no-one knows when the last time it was part of the City’s official branding at all, but it was at least before 2009. The second was to ask for a public consultation before undertaking re-branding, which is exactly the instruction given to staff 6 months ago.
So the first half asks staff to stop doing something they aren’t doing, and the second half asks staff to do something they re already doing, so it passing or failing changes nothing. Since there is no functional difference between supporting and defeating the motion, it is moot. I ruled the motion out of order.
Frankly, this motion could have used a bit of conversation with staff to talk about what is actually happening, and to avoid confusion over terms like “moniker”, and what constitutes branding. It seems that creating confusion about this was a political tactic during the election, suggesting something vaguely nefarious is going on is always populist. But I think thing will become clearer when staff come back with the promised engagement strategy around branding, but I m not sure that is going to happen very soon given the number of priorities the City is dealing with right now.
2:Elimination of Train Whistle Noise and Supporting Increased Liveability
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council re-establish the Railway Community Advisory Panel and that staff report back to Council on the updated terms of reference by no later than
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City of New Westminster establishes a target of eliminating all unnecessary train whistles which are negatively impacting the quality of life for thousands of Sapperton and Queensborough residents by no later than 2026; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that City Council draft a letter to the Federal Minister of Transportation advising that we wish to accelerate negotiations with the Federal Government to get their support and assistance with whistle cessation in our neighbourhoods; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff be required to provide quarterly updates to City Council and the public regarding progress made to eliminate unnecessary train whistles; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff ensure the website containing critical information regarding whistle cessation is updated with the latest information; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff report back on the capital costs related to the infrastructure upgrade to the Sapperton and Queensborough train crossings and if we are eligible to apply for provincial or federal infrastructure funding to lower the tax burden on city ratepayers.
This is a motion that would have also benefitted from waiting until after onboarding so the member could discuss with staff the rather complex background behind train whistle cessation. This blog doesn’t have space to go down every hallway here, but suffice to say there is no such thing as an “unnecessary train whistle” – they are required by law every time they sound. The Federal Minister of Transportation has no role in “negotiating” Whistle Cessation (unless the member is hoping we will lobby to change the Rail Safety Act, which I’m not sure would be the best use of staff time), nor is there “negotiation” over the standards being applied. Half of our crossings are not even regulated by Transport Canada, but by Technical Safety BC. The application of arbitrary deadlines is also challenging as we (the City and senior governments) have no control over the timelines the four railways operate by when reviewing and approving plans. And the final question about Grants is really a simple question to staff (yes there are federal grants available for rail crossing safety, we have already received and spent many of them).
I think everyone on Council agreed train whistle cessation is a goal, not all agreed these steps were the best way to get there. Through some discussion, this motion was split up with Council ageing to postpone the striking of a committee (and determining the nature of that committee) until after Strategic Planning; approving the request for more frequent updates from staff and online of the progress of whistle cessation; and referring the other sections back to staff for a report with background.
3:Reducing Crime and Increasing Public Safety in New Westminster
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT a new Crime Reduction and Public Safety Advisory Committee be created and that staff report back to Council on the terms of reference for the Task Force by no later than January 31, 2023.
At the very beginning of the term, I made a commitment to the council that we would not significantly change the task force and committee structure until we had onboarding and Strategic Planning, so that all of council could be informed enough and given an opportunity to take part in the priority setting. So we postponed consideration of this motion until after that work is done very early in the new year.
This does not mean public safety isn’t a priority. Indeed, we spent the first hour of this meeting talking about the Downtown Livability Strategy where safety for all businesses and residents (including the most vulnerable) was a central theme, and coordination with stakeholders was key. The Motion strangely had several “whereas” clauses referencing police budgets, and there is already a City committee comprised mostly of members of the public who are empowered by the Province to address Police budget and resources – it is called the Police Board. It exists at arms-length from City Council by provincial Law, and it was never made clear in the deliberations where it is intended for this committee to overlap with the intersection between Council work and Police Board work. Council will have an opportunity to speak to police board budgeting the upcoming budget discussions, but this seems like a motion that once again could have benefitted from more background work before it got here, and the postponing it is a good idea.
4:Creation of a New Finance and City Services Standing Committee
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council recommend to the Mayor he establish a new Finance and City Services Standing Committee and that staff report back to Council on the terms of reference by no later than January 31, 2023.
Earlier in the meeting, we had a staff report on council efficiencies, and the idea of a finance-related Committee of the Whole was raised. A Standing Committee is strictly defined in Section 141 of the Charter, and is a sub-majority of Council given standing of majority, but on finance questions, we have had a practice of involving all of Council. Indeed, most municipalities that have “finance committees” make them Committees of the Whole. There was also discussion of where asset Management and Finance overlap right now, as recent motions to dip into our reserves (already not in the healthy place our finance staff would prefer) to give one-time fee reductions demonstrate the need to think fiscally when making those kind of commitments.
Council agreed to explore this idea more following Strategic Planning in the new year.
5:Creation of a New Amateur Sport and Recreation Advisory Committee
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT a new Amateur Sport and Recreation Advisory Committee be created and that staff report back to Council on the terms of reference by no later than January 31, 2023.
Once again, this committee idea was not opposed so much as suggested it needs to come back after Strategic Planning and priority setting – taking a collaborative approach. So like the other ones that pre-empt those discussions, we postponed consideration of this motion until after that work is done early in the new year.
6:Advocacy to the BC Government to Increase Housing and Wrap-Around Supports for People Living with Mental Illness
BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council request the Mayor write to Premier David Eby and request that funding be set aside and prioritized in the 2023 Provincial Budget to begin the planning, development and construction of large-scale, community-based, modern mental health residential care facilities in the Metro Vancouver area; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT staff create a motion with a similar intent that can be sent to the LMLGA and UBCM for consideration.
This motion was somewhat contentious and brought out some passions in Council. The idea that people suffering from mental health challenges and addiction need more support from all levels of government is not controversial. A motion that invokes Riverview and frames those supports (by poorly chosen words if not by intent) as being large-scale, residential and not connected to the community is not one I want to take to senior government or UBCM.
New Westminster has its own terrible history of institutionalization with Woodlands, one we have tried as a community to reconcile through memorialization. When talking about mental health support, it behooves us to be cognizant of this history, and to choose our advocacy path very carefully. Earlier this meeting, we talked about the various areas we can advocate to help people in our community feeling the impacts of the mental health and opioid crises. There is no lack of opportunity to advocate for community-based, compassionate, and progressive supports. This is what the peer community, the people with lived experience, are calling for, and we should amplify their voices. Council voted to not endorse this resolution.
7:Supporting Better Governance, Decision-Making and Public Engagement at City Hall
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City Clerk make the agenda and supporting documents available to members of Council no less than five business days prior to the meeting;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT Council direct staff to bring forward changes to the Procedure Bylaw No. 6910, 2004 to reflect the new council package distribution timelines
A big part of Council work is being prepared for meetings. We get hundreds of pages of material to read before each meeting, some of it very technical, some digging deep into complex policy. The more time we have to read and absorb this info, the better prepared we will be for Monday meetings. On the counter to that, the closer to Monday the council reports are ready, the more time staff have to hone them and assure they are up to date.
Last term we got most Council Packages (in digital form) on the Thursday before the meeting, giving us 3-4 days to read them. That started to slip to Friday as COVID put pressure on staff and the decisions we made were increasingly reactive to very dynamic situation. The request in this motion is to assure packages are available 5 business days before the meeting, meaning (as I interpret it) Thursday or Friday the second week before council. So if we have a meeting on two consecutive Mondays, we will have two active packages at a time.
We have excellent staff preparing these agendas, and good processes to make sure Council has the information it needs to make informed decisions. We also need to balance the need to for lots of lead time with the desire to be nimble and proactive in addressing emergent issues, a long and rigid timeline for agenda completion works against our desire to be nimble. It adds a rigid bureaucracy where flexibility allows us to get more done, faster
Council was split on whether this provided enough flexibility for staff, but in the end voted to support this resolution.
So by my count, of the 7 motions we had 1 passed as written, 1 spilt and partially passed, 1 outright defeated, 1 that was moot, and 3 that were postponed. All were heartily debated, and you can watch the video if you want more insight into any of the discussions. Or you could spend some quality time with the ones you love doing the things you love over the holiday break.