Council – Feb 23, 2024

We got a lot of work done at Council on Monday night, with a fairly long agenda, starting with an increasingly unusual Public Hearing:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw No. 8425, 2024 and Heritage Designation Bylaw No. 8435, 2024 for 203 Pembina Street
It’s been a while since we have had Public Hearing, as we have adopted the now-mandated practice that rezoning applications that fully comply with the Official Community Plan don’t require public hearings. Heritage Revitalization Agreements, however, still require them, so here we are.

HRAs are functionally very similar to rezoning, except in rezoning the City gives a landowner some “value” by allowing them to build more or differently on a lot that the zoning bylaw allows, and in exchange, they provide some “value” to the city, in contributing to amenities or making a contribution to our amenity reserve funds. In an HRA, at least part of the “value” given to the city is the preservation of a heritage asset through permanent Heritage Designation. Usually, that is a heritage building, though it can be a landscape, a fence, or in this case, a Heritage Tree. This is a first for New West.

The project is a small 6-unit townhouse development that fits in the neighbourhood in Queensborough. The challenge with the specimen Red Oak tree is that it is located within the “building envelope” already permitted on the site, so the Tree Protection Bylaw would permit its removal. SO the proponent and staff worked on the HRA pathway to allow development of the land in a way that protects the tree, as it is felt to have acquired cultural importance in the community as a landmark and gathering space. The requirements to care for the tree will be baked into a Heritage Designation Bylaw tied to the property.

The Community Heritage Commission did not support using an HRA in this case, but did hope the City could apply a different tool to protect the tree, but the Land Use Planning Committee chose the HRA route. Other than the tree, the proposal aligns with the RT-3 zoning used for townhouse developments of this type in Queensborough, except for a couple of setbacks adjusted to give the tree more room. Public consultation we generally positive.

We had two written submissions to the Public Hearing and the proponent delegated in favour of the project. We also had 5 delegates speak (multiple times each) against the application. I would characterize their feedback as not opposing the development (none lived near the project) or the tree preservation (they all favoured it), but not liking the tool of the HRA being used this way, for non-specific reasons.

In the end, the majority of Council voted to support the application and designation.

The regular meeting Agenda began with the following items Moved on Consent:

Development Cost Charge Bylaw – Inflationary Amendment
We collect Development Cost Charges from new developments to pay for infrastructure costs related to growth. The amounts are based on a budgeted cost to build the specific infrastructure. Since the cost to build that infrastructure goes up every year, we can do inflationary changes to the DCC rates to help pay for part of this inflationary increase, but need to do so through Bylaw to keep things transparent.

Unfortunately, the provincial DCC regulation requires that we use CPI to calculate this inflation increase, and the CPI “basket of goods” does not reflect the massive inflation in concrete, steel, wood, and construction services which are the things the City buys with DCC money. This is one of the unwieldy aspects of the DCC process that comes along with the transparency and predictability benefits the DCC process provides. Everything in government is a compromise.

Then the rest of the items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

12 K de K Court Esplanade Boulevard Trees
Trees are interesting things. They add to the value of property, the quality of life, climate resilience, air quality, and social cohesion. To some they are the view, to others they block a view. A set of trees planted in City lands along the Quayside 15 years ago are reaching maturity, and some adjacent property owners feel they are too large, block their views of the river and light penetration to their homes. The City has been doing extra maintenance to reduce negative impacts, but some residents want them removed. The city is not in the practice of removing City trees, as it does not align with our Urban Forest Management Strategy, or our climate and livability goals. Staff have been working with the owners to address ongoing concerns, and are drafting a Letter or Understanding letter that outlines the city’s commitment to tree maintenance of the three trees of concern.

Budget 2024: 2024 – 2028 Five-Year Financial Plan Bylaw
These are the Bylaws representing the 5-Year Financial Plan worked out through numerous Council workshops and meetings. If you have been following along, there is not a lot of news here, but I will write a follow-up post or two with some of the details of the annual budget. This also includes some public feedback received on the budget, including a request for us to spend more on Bus Priority Measures (we boosted this in 2024, but the writer would like to see MOAR!), some concern that the 7.7% increase was high relative to inflation and Port Coquitlam, and some surprisingly details questions about how we account for the delay of hiring new staff. Once again, the Budget was approved for Three Readings.

Grant Program Refinements
New Westminster has one of the most generous Community Grant programs of any City in the Lower Mainland, with almost $1 million in grants awarded every year to community social development, arts, sports, economic development, environmental and cultural programs. This aligns with Council priorities, so staff are doing a review of the process to make it work more efficiently and serve the community better.

Since I have been on Council, there have already been significant changes to the program. The value handed out has gone up a lot (form $700k in 2015 to $1m now) and we have worked to remove Council from review and approval process to make it more community-centered and improve transparency, while giving more power to the Grant Committee model that includes volunteers from the community. We shifted from 8 streams to 3 portfolios in 2019 to make it easier to manage, but it still takes a considerable amount of staff time to manage.

There is a plan to do a comprehensive review of how this process works, aligned with Council’s Strategic Priority of “Community Belonging and Connecting”, but in the short term, there are some smaller changes being made to address staffing challenges and clunkiness in the existing system. The One-Time Small Grants process has not worked very well, and will need to be revised or rolled into the main grant program. For now, it fails the value-for-money test as it takes a lot of staff time for the small amount it gives out.

As the grant program has evolved over the decades, it’s ad-hoc accounting has become more of a challenge as the values get into the seven figures. More applications arrive every year than value in the budget, and not all of the grants are eventually handed out, as many applicants fail to deliver the idea they asked to grant. So we are undersubscribed, and also underspend, making for a complicated Operational budget impact. A more responsible easy to manage this is to set up a Reserve Fund, so non-allotted money in one year can extend over to the following year, and those carryover funds can help address more applications. There are some complications here, as some of the grant value is in-kind services, but staff are asking to set up a process that is accountable and transparent.

There is more to come here, and there will be some deeper conversation with the community about how to structure major changes if that is where Council goes.

Initiating process for updating the City’s corporate logo
The City replaced its corporate logo in 2008, replacing the Coat of Arms with a gold crown. It’s time for a refresh. The City will engage a professional Graphic Designer, who will lead a two-phase community engagement around this. Look for opportunities to engage soon!

Leave of Absence for Councillor McEvoy
If you follow the news, Councillor McEvoy had a heart attack a couple of weeks ago. He received incredible are at RCH, and is recovering from surgery at home. The best practice in local government is to grant medical leave and keep his seat warm for him until his return. He does have some committee roles that we need to fill in his absence, and we did so.

Rezoning and Housing Agreement: 145-209 East Columbia Street – Bylaws for First, Second and Third Readings
The owners of an empty lot in Sapperton what to build a six-story mixed-use building. It is aligned with the OCP, but requires a rezoning. This would have retail at grade, offices on the second floor, and 99 Purpose Built Rental homes, adding to the vibrancy of Lower Columbia. The 99 PBR homes meet the City’s Family Friendly Housing minimums and will provide active cooling to all units. As part of the “great dentist office debate of 2024”, the owners are concerned they will not be able to lease the ground floor unless some flexibility is offered to allow medial services in come of the units, and staff have hammered out a compromise.

Public consultation on this project was generally neutral to positive, with some concerns raised regarding parking (natch) and impact on traffic (double natch). There were some who felt it was too big for the location (though this being within 400m of a SkyTrain station, the new TOA provincial regulations would actually permit 8 stories). We also received a bit of “it is being built specifically for renters, meaning this project puts the safety and security of our quiet neighborhood in jeopardy” kind of feedback, which seems out of touch with the reality of our housing crisis, and is rather disrespectful to the 45% of the people in New Westminster who are renters. In the end, Council voted to approve three readings of this project.

We then read a bunch of Bylaws, including the following Bylaws for Adoption:

Development Cost Charge Reserve Funds Expenditure Bylaw No 8437, 2024
This Bylaw that allows us to spend ~$3 million from our DCC funds on the projects they were earmarked for was approved by Council.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (810 Agnes Street) No. 8390, 2023 and Housing Agreement (810 Agnes Street) Bylaw No 8389, 2023
These Bylaws that facilitate development of a 33 storey high-rise tower with 352 Purpose Built Rental homes and a publicly accessible indoor community space and adjacent community park at 824 Agnes Street were approved by Council.

We then went through a raft of Motions from Council.

An information report on a Crime and Safety Townhall Forum hosted by the New West Progressives
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine and Councillor Minhas

Whereas the issue of crime and public safety is of concern to the citizens and business owners of New Westminster; and Whereas Councillors Daniel Fontaine and Paul Minhas hosted a community forum attended by over 120 individuals in November 2023; and
Whereas Councillors Fontaine and Minhas committed to drafting a summary report and submitting it to Council and the Police Board via the Chair;
BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council receive for information a summary report from Councillors Paul Minhas and Daniel Fontaine regarding a crime and safety forum they co-hosted in November 2023.

The motion here was to “receive the report”. There were no actions coming out of it, which made it a bit weird for a Notice of Motion process. But that aside, the report is a bit of a mess. It is perhaps a demonstration how public engagement without a clear direction or plan is useless at the reporting out stage. I have no doubt people at the event had valuable input and suggestions, but what is reported out here is a series of strangely unanswered questions, quotes pulled from a newspaper story, and unattributed statements that follow no real theme and draw no conclusions. As a result, no clear recommendations can come out of this, excepting the few things in the summary that read like suggestion to do the things we are already doing.

NOTE: the rest of these Motions below are resolutions intended to be considered at the Lower Mainland LGA conference in May, this being the formal process through which we collectively advocate to senior governments for changes in policy or funding

Allowing local governments to apply commercial rent controls
Submitted by Councillor Henderson

WHEREAS the Province of British Columbia regulates annual allowable residential rent increases through the Residential Tenancy Regulation, B.C. Reg. 477/2003, to protect lower income renters from housing insecurity; and
WHEREAS there is currently no similar Provincial policy to protect small businesses or community-serving commercial tenants from unsustainable, unpredictable, and increasingly significant rent increases;
BE IT RESOLVED that the Province of British Columbia provide local governments with the legislative authority to enable special economic zones where commercial rent control and demo/renoviction policies could be applied to ensure predictability in commercial lease costs, so local small businesses and community-serving commercial tenants can continue to serve their communities.

There has been quite a bit of discussion in the community lately about ground-based retail and commercial, and what the City can do to protect local small businesses that make our neighbourhoods more lively. There have been a few stories recently of businesses facing 200% or 300% lease increases, and deciding it is just not viable to run a small business in the face of that. Though commercial leases are different that residential rent, the impact is the same – if a landlord was able to triple your rent overnight, there would be no such thing as secure affordable housing in our community. One important difference is that small businesses often invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in building improvements to make their business fit in a space, which makes it hard to walk away when the lease changes, and creates too much risk with onerous demolition clauses.

We can complain about 7.7% tax increases (which landlords directly download to leasing businesses), but that pales in comparison to 300% lease increases. The first is hundreds of dollars, the second is tens of thousands. We need to find a way to level the playing field between the people who own the commercial buildings and those who want to set up small community-serving businesses.

I’m not sure how the Lower Mainland LGA is going to respond to this, and there are certainly many details to work out on how rent protections would be applied in the commercial market, but we are asking the Province to consider giving Local Governments the authority to explore these ideas within identified areas of the City which has specific economic development goals.

Additional funding for overdose prevention sites across municipalities
Submitted by Councillor Henderson and Councillor Nakagawa

WHEREAS the Province of British Columbia declared a drug toxicity public emergency in 2016, acknowledging the rapid increase in overdose deaths and the need to deploy the necessary harm reduction strategies with urgency to prevent additional deaths; and
WHEREAS over 13,000 people have died of toxic drugs since 2016 in communities across British Columbia, including at least 2,500 people in 2023, about two-thirds of which were from inhalation, yet only about 40% of supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites in British Columbia offer inhalation services;
BE IT RESOLVED that the Province of British Columbia increase funding for Health Authorities to augment existing and to open new supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites, including related inhalation services, across British Columbia and including municipalities which do not currently
offer this service to residents.

Health Outreach Centers with safe, supervised consumption save lives. People who deny this fact are denying the published research of health care professionals. Too many people in British Columbia are dying from the toxic drug supply for us to engage in that kind of denialism. They are not the complete solution, but they save lives and get people connected to other supports including recovery from their addiction. We need these in every community, because every community has people dying of toxic drugs. We also need to fund them adequately so they can provide health outreach and programs to move people beyond addiction. We also need to fund them so that inhalation is available, as this is largely replacing intravenous drug use in the overdose death statistics.

This resolution is asking the Province to increase funding for this important component of addressing the poisoned drug supply crisis.

Eliminating Barriers to Public Home Care Services and Social Supports for Aging in Place and Public Long-Term Care
Submitted by Councillor Campbell

Whereas seniors, families and seniors organizations have been advocating to improve access to public home care services and supports to assist seniors to live at home, in their communities, longer and to delay or prevent premature admissions to public long-term care facilities; and
Whereas finances can become an impediment to access the required home care services such as housekeeping, more frequent bathing and meal preparation necessary to age in place, and community programs that have been designed to try and meet seniors’ needs are unable to fulfil the increasing
Therefore be it resolved that the Province eliminate financial and accessibility barriers by investing in more public home care services and social supports required to age in place, and by further investing in public long-term care to ensure seniors are well supported in the continuum of care.

For those who read my Newsletter (link here to subscribe!), you know the outgoing BC Seniors Advocate was at Century House last month talking about senior services, and the places in our province where we need to bring more support to seniors. Not just because it is the right thing to do for seniors, but because investment in seniors home care save the health care system money, and investments in public residential care save seniors money while providing a higher level of care than for-profit homes do. This is advocacy the folks at Century House asked Council to do, and Council voted to support it.

Creating a Ministry of Hospitality
Submitted by Councillor Campbell

Whereas British Columbia is home to over 15,000 restaurants and foodservice vendors that employ over 185,000 workers across the province, generate $18 billion in annual sales and play a key role in supporting BC workers, families, and vital industries such as agriculture, transportation, and tourism and
are at the heart of every community in this province; and
Whereas the costs of food, supplies and transportation have substantially increased, commercial property owners are passing commercial property taxes on to restaurant and food service tenants, many of whom continue to experience longterm impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic;
Therefore be it resolved the Province create a Ministry of Hospitality to support and engage restaurants, food service vendors and the hospitality sector generally by acting as advocates within government for policy development and reform.

This idea is a bit out of left field, but comes directly from the same advocacy efforts that informed the approach to commercial lease rates control proposed above, the “Save BC Restaurants” campaign led by the BC Restaurant & Foodservices Association and Restaurants Canada. Our Local Chamber of Commerce also supported this. The combines voices of hundreds of New West businesses, thousands of BC restaurants, and tens of thousands of food service business across Canada. Let’s hope the Lower Mainland LGA also hears this call.

E-Comm Governance Review
Submitted by Mayor Johnstone

Whereas E-Comm has struggled to provide service levels that meet established standards or the expectations of the communities they serve, while the cost of E-Comm is increasing at an unsustainable rate, creating budget uncertainty for local Police and Fire services, and
Whereas the imminent introduction of next-Gen 911 will represent the single largest change in emergency communications delivery since the introduction of 911, with uncertain cost and operational impacts,
Therefore be it resolved the Provincial Government engage local governments in a comprehensive review of the governance structure and delivery model of 911 emergency call taking, related non-emergency call taking, and emergency dispatch services across BC with a goal to assure reliable, affordable, and sustainable services for all communities.

This resolution was developed in working with the New Westminster Police Board, who are increasingly frustrated with the lack of value for cost we are getting from EComm, the organization that provides 911 call taking, non-emergency call taking, and/or emergency dispatch services for various municipalities across BC.

I don’t think it is necessary for me to list the challenges with EComm that have been impacting our first responders for the last few years. Exacerbated with challenges in BC Ambulance, worsened during the COVID19 Pandemic, and highlighted during the tragic Heat Dome event of 2021, EComm has been challenged to meet not only the service standards set for their industry, but the service levels expected of the community, for years. New Westminster Police could no longer rely on EComm to provide non-emergency call taking because of the massive number of dropped calls and unacceptable wait times, and have taken the measure of bringing non-emerg calls in house at our own cost. Despite recent improvements, 911 service at the best of times can barely meet industry standards, and there is no evidence that resiliency exists in the system to assure it will operate when even a small a regional disaster strikes. At the same time, costs for our Fire Department and Police related to EComm call taking and dispatch are increasing at an unsustainable rate. Meanwhile, on the horizon is the integration of next-Gen 911 that is already looking technically challenging and massively expensive. Community confidence in EComm being able to address these overlapping challenges in a timely way low.

We am hoping the Lower Mainland LGA will support us in asking for the province to step in and lead a comprehensive review of how emergency communications are managed across the province.

And that was the end of a long meeting, with hundreds of rental housing units approved, a new budget bylaw approved, advocacy on major issues impacting our community, a pretty good Monday all around.

Council – Feb 5, 2024

The Monday meeting was an eventful one, and I have already written some initial thoughts about that, and have more thinking and work to do. But before that all, we did get through our full Agenda, which started with us moving the following items on Consent:

Development Cost Charges Expenditure Bylaw No. 8437, 2024
We collect Development Cost Charges from developers to pay for infrastructure related to growth. To spend those DCC funds, we need authorization from Council. This Bylaw authorizes spending (numbers here approximate, itemized to the dollar in the report) $380,000 from our Drainage DCC and $1.2 million from our Sanitary Sewer DCC for sewer separation and modelling work, $145,000 from our Transportation DCC for pedestrian safety improvements, applying $450,000 from our Park Acquisition DCC towards the Pier Park loan, and $850,000 from the Water DCC for water main replacement.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation: 203 Pembina Street – Bylaws for First and Second Readings
There is a property in Queensborough where the owner wants to build townhouses consistent with the OCP, and they require a rezoning to do so. As the City and the community expressed concern about losing a prominent tree on the site, the owner agreed to a path where an HRA is offered instead of a typical rezoning. This provides permanent protection to the tree. This has not happened before in New West, but seems a creative way to balance development and tree preservation. The HRA will go to a Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then to respect the process.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8436 (Miscellaneous Zoning Bylaw Amendments) for Consideration
This is a bit of an omnibus bylaw to update our zoning bylaw in various small ways, correcting the inconsistencies, redundancies, language changes, and administrative errors that accumulate in such a complex Bylaw document. There are also a few minor changes to reflect best practice that are not properly codified in our existing Bylaw.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: Metro Vancouver Valve Replacements (660 East Columbia Street)
A required valve replacement in the Sapperton Water Main that they are coinciding with some TransLink work for a bunch of good efficiency and operational reasons, and it is going to require some work outside of regular construction hours, which received Council approval.

The following items were Removed from consent for discussion:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 660 Quayside Drive)
The construction of the Bosa development on the waterfront is nearing completion, and they need to remove the crane, which requires Saturday work outside of regular construction hours. Council granted a Noise Bylaw exemption to permit this.

Budget 2024: Draft 2024 – 2028 Five Year Financial Plan
Our budget is approved by Council in the form of a Five Year Financial Plan, with a 5-year Capital Budget that sits alongside it. We have had a half dozen open workshops on this, over 9 hours of discussion and deliberation, including going back and forth with staff on the line items in the plan and the strategy for paying for all of the items in the plan. There were some significant changes made through the last couple of meetings, and asked staff to take all of that away and draft it into a Bylaw we can vote on (as per Section 165 of the Community Charter).

Our Utility rates are going up between 3.3% and 12.0%, driven primarily by the increased cost of service being passed down to us by Metro Vancouver (for water, sewer, and solid waste services), and our long-term asset management plan that is pushing capital investment to upgrade our utility networks and maintain sustainable reserve levels for the future of the utilizes.

Our five-year Capital Plan is pegged at $208.8 million for general City services (e.g. those funded by taxes) and another $272.9 Million in utility investments for a total of $481.7 million. As we are wrapping up a couple of large capital projects, a good portion of our 2024 capital budget will be funded by reserves set up for this purpose, meaning those reserves will be going down, from $256.8 million to $177.9 million. The 5-year plan sees these building back up to $238 million by 2028 as part of our long-term commitment to a sustainable reserves policy aligned with best practices.

Our “General Fund” operating budget has reached $189 million, which requires a 7.7% tax increase to support. More than half of this reflects inflationary increases and new labour contracts secured in 2023. And I wil write up a follow-up piece on the things that informed our budget decisions.

After reading a few Bylaws (none for Adoption at this time, we moved on to Motions from Council:

Establishing delegation to visit Port Coquitlam to review best practices for limiting tax increases while increasing services
Councillor Minhas

Whereas the City of Port Coquitlam with a population of approximately 60,000 people has consistently registered some of lowest year-over-year property tax increases in Metro Vancouver over the last decade and beyond; and
Whereas the City of Port Coquitlam has proudly continued to expand core services for their residents and businesses including the recent addition of 57 free parking spaces in their downtown core; and
Whereas the City of New Westminster experienced a record high level of property tax in 2023;
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Mayor request a meeting with elected officials and senior city staff from Port Coquitlam to explore if any of their best practices could be implemented locally with a goal of limiting future property taxes while enhancing service standards

Any motion that starts with inaccurate statements in the preamble needs to be considered in that context. This is far from a “record high” property tax increase, as compelling a political speaking point as that may be. It also seems like I have already had this conversation

On the subject of the motion, I already noted that we had 9 hours of open workshop this year discussing every aspect of the City’s Budget – and the budget was on the agenda today during the meeting – and the mover of this motion had ample opportunity to ask questions of our experienced and professional staff about comparators or different approaches, and those questions were not asked by the mover. Since I was challenged in Council on this point, I encourage folks to watch the 9 hours of publicly accessible video of those workshops and not take my word for it. (they are all available here, The workshop dates were Oct. 16, Nov 20, Nov. 27, Dec 11, Jan 8, and Jan 22). You can confirm for yourself how proactive the mover was in those discussions.

Further, every City’s budgets are open books – the Province even prepares spreadsheets and posts them comparing every City at the end of the year. Any member of Council or public can look at those spreadsheets and see where we are the same, or where we differ. You can not only compare us to PoCo, but to the other 21 municipalities in Metro Vancouver or the other 160 municipalities in BC. There is no “secret formula” or “tips and tricks” used by PoCo or any other City. Public Service accounting standards are used, and audits are publicly reported. The numbers below are not mine, they are directly from the BC Government site I link to above.

If a Councillor or member of the public does that bit of reading, they find PoCo’s increase of own-source taxation on a per capita basis has gone up 32% over the last decade (a timeline mentioned in the motion). New Westminster’s has gone up 35%, with both of us well below the metro Vancouver average of 41%:

At the same time, as there was significant speechmaking in the meeting about PoCo’s investments in infrastructure, PoCo’s 2024 Capital Plan is $33 Million. New Westminster’s is $152 Million. (the numbers I quoted in chambers were off the top of my head, and not accurate – these ones are).

On the topic of best practices, we have talked at length with our staff over the last year and a half about the best practice of asset management. This has informed our ongoing effort to take a sustainable approach to asset replacement and a responsible approach to asset reserves. Besides spending much more on capital projects, there is a significant difference in our reserves over the last 5 years – the timeline when New West began its serious efforts to address Asset Management. In New West they have more than doubled and are now approaching the 5% of asset value that represents best practice. Over the same decade, PoCo has chosen to not invest in their reserves, and they have not grown at all, to the point where PoCo has some of the lowest reserves in the region. This is not secret, this is not trick, this is a choice.

Now, to be fair, this is not a competition. PoCo opened a new recreation facility in 2021, that puts downward pressure on reserves; we are opening our this year, and that will put downward pressure on our reserves. But the choice to assure our 5-year plan offsets this downward pressure over the term of the plan was discussed several times around the Council Table in the last year, and Council has made a clear decision to follow this accounting best practice. Every City is different and has different pressures. We don’t need to go to PoCo to lecture them about this, nor do we need to bother their staff when we have experienced, knowledgeable and professional staff here ready to answer any question the Councillor is willing to ask whenever they arise. in a public meeting. So I could not support this motion, because it wastes the time of professional staff in two cities.

Increasing support in Budget 2024 to enhance the work done by our local resident associations
Councillor Fontaine

Whereas our resident associations have a long history of engaging with City Hall and actively encouraging community participation and engagement; and
Whereas resident associations only receive $200 each to support the funding of their operations; and
Whereas the grants provided to resident associations have not been adjusted in recent memory and they are not tied to the rate of inflation;
BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff be directed to increase the annual resident association budget by up to an additional $200 in the 2024 operational budget; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT this additional increase in base grant funding be available upon written request of the resident association; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT resident associations with a bona fide and active membership base over 150 individuals on December 31st of the previous calendar year are further eligible to request an additional $200 in funding to support their operations

I hate to once again be correcting the information inherent in the preamble to a resolution, but grants provided to RAs were adjusted in very recent memory – about two years ago to address on-line engagement costs related to COVID.

Although I support the spirit of this motion, I was not in support of the resolutions as written. This is because it is not aligned with the requests made by Residents Associations themselves during our most recent RA Forum. Though I recognize the author of this motion was not present at the Forum, and may have not read the follow-up communications I sent to RAs and members of Council.

There was some direction given to staff to help work out a new model that supports the digital engagement the RAs are requesting (and technical assistance may be more appropriate than funding) more fairly reflects the new world of digital engagement, but also recognizes the varied nature of the RAs. Some RAs are in very strong financial shape and have tech-savvy volunteers, some don’t even request the small subsidy the City provides. If there was a more common concern, it was access to meeting space due to insurance challenges, and we are also working on better supporting them in that area. Those discussions are ongoing, and I hope we have some clear direction to take back to the next RA forum with some proposed solutions. What is important here is that we include them in those discussions to put support where it is needed, not just throw money at a problem when that has not been a clear request from the RAs.

Council agreed to provide a bit more funding to the RAs that request it in the short term, but the “bonus” for having higher membership clause was not supported. None of this takes away from the ongoing work we need to do to support RAs.

And that was the end of the business part of the Agenda!

Humility and Power

We had a challenging meeting on Monday. I am still a little unsettled by what occurred, and as the person required to chair meetings, I am still uncertain about how we could have managed the situation differently. To frame the challenges, I need to first talk about power. Power is an uncomfortable thing to talk about for people who hold it.

As a Mayor, I hold power. Some 6676 people in this community voted for me, giving me some power over how council meetings are run. There are limits on that power, in legislation and procedure bylaws written by people who similarly won some number of votes sufficient to give them power to make those decisions. The vast majority of people granted the power to make those decisions are people like me. People with privilege that comes predominantly with whiteness, maleness, access to education and wealth.

Through these systems created by people like me, we make decisions that impact our community, and impact people with much less power in our community. To do that justly, we in power need to bring humility into decision-making. The history of broken systems is not one of the most vulnerable being protected and supported, so even if we aspire to adapt those systems to make them more just, we must practically operate within the unjust systems to serve our community as best we can until they can be fixed.

And I am going way too deep into sociology for a geologist, so let me get away from the abstract here.

In a recent meeting of Council, a member of the community felt they were harmed by the comments of a member of Council. In a just system, this member of the community would be able to hold the member of Council accountable for those harms. Part of our system is the opportunity to delegate at a public meeting and bring to Council and the community’s attention the harm that was caused in the same forum in which those harms occurred. In some ways, this is a beautiful expression of democracy. Except we have not set up our system to support this.

We have a Procedures Bylaw and a slightly vague set of community standards around what can and cannot be said in that Delegation. We ask that delegates not speak about members of Council or other people. We ask that people speak about issues, not about people. But what if the issue is the words or actions of a person? What if that person is one of those holding power in that room?

In our meeting on Monday, we had a proclamation declaring a Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia. This was not controversial, we have had similar declarations in previous years, and agreed unanimously as a Council in this very meeting that this was appropriate and something we support. What was different this year is that we had a delegate, a Muslim person, saying that they heard Islamophobia in our chamber in a recent meeting, and they wanted to speak out about that. Here is a person with personal and intimate experience with Islamophobia in our community who wishes to speak to personal experience in a system not well designed for them to speak their truth to power.

The question is whether that delegate did so in a way that was consistent with “rules of order” – those procedures and practices that people like me, people with power, have constructed.

When a member of Council calls “point of order”, I am required to pause any other speaker and hear that concern. When the point of order raised is “What that person said is inappropriate”, I have two options in front of me: exert the power given me, or show some humility to the power given me. To be honest, my reflex is to do the former and revert to the procedures and practice that put me in this place and shut the conversation down if there is any hint of impropriety. If you watch the meeting, you see me and other members of Council applying these systems by calling “Point of Order” when the comments seemed to be directed at a single member of Council. But in exercising humility we must consider: does this member of the community have a right to ask an elected official to be accountable for words they spoke in the Council chamber, that the member of the community believed to be Islamophobic? Can I, a non-Muslim person, judge or dismiss the impact these words have on a Muslim person speaking of that impact? Do our positions of power protect us from criticism in delegation? Is that what the system was designed to do?

I have been in many Council meetings where delegates and other members of Council quoted my words back at me in unflattering ways (indeed, it seems inevitable that some part of this post will be quoted back to me, stripped of context). I have also seen this happen to other members of Council. I do not recall ever having heard “point of order” used to repeatedly shut down delegates who unflatteringly quote members of Council and then speak to how those words impact them. What changed here?

My questions here are mostly rhetorical, and many of us will have different answers based on our experience and bias. Could I have managed my Chair role better? Possibly, but whether you think “managing it better” means I should have shut down the delegate sooner, or it means I should have let the delegate speak is likely informed by your relative position of power compared to the delegate. And as a person of privilege, I cannot dismiss that there may be an Islamophobic or other bias in how I view what is fair, what is just, in how I approach a conflict like this. This is why it still matters that a City like New Westminster proclaims that action on Islamophobia is important. If we are unwilling to even hear a Muslim person telling us that we expressed Islamophobia in our work in this chamber, what does that proclamation even mean?

I don’t support a person occupying space in our Council Chambers in a way that takes voice away from the 8 other people who wanted to delegate to Council on matters that are important to them on Monday. But more than this, I don’t like that our systems are so bad at addressing conflict and inherent bias that this occupation of the space was the only way a member of the community felt they could hold power accountable after that person in power would not let them speak.

Ultimately, this is a difficult space, at a difficult time, and as such I think leadership needs to lean more on humility than on power. We all have learning to do, and humility will be needed for that learning.