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.

Council – Jan 22, 2024

We were back to a full agenda in our January 22nd meeting, so let’s get right into it with a few Information Reports that were pulled for discussion:

Member Selection for the Community Advisory Assembly
This is a report for information on the Community Advisory Assembly. We had more than 200 applicants, and staff used a member selection process to assure the Assembly as best as possible matched the demographics of the city. The statistics shown in this report demonstrate they did an incredible job.

One bit of update is that the assembly met for the first time two weeks ago, and informal get-together that was unfortunately a little choppy because of the snow event, but we had a great turnout nonetheless. The members were able to get together and meet one another for the first time. A couple of members of Council were there to meet the participants, answer questions, and thank them for their participation. It was a fun group of people from around the city, and it was a pleasure to meet a couple of dozen people I had never met before, but shared only an interest in making their community a better place. This is really exciting work.

Outcomes from Attending the United Nations Conference on Climate Change
This is a report out form Staff on their key take-aways of their participation at the Local Climate Action Summit and COP28. It was a unique opportunity for staff to learn from and share with their professional cohort around the world, and to connect with government and industry leaders in Climate Action on topics as far-ranging as updating the grid to youth engagement. I’m really happy the City was invited to take part, as it will make our City more prepared as we implement our aggressive climate plans.

Train Whistle Cessation – 2023 – Q4 Update
This is our regular quarterly update on Whistle cessation. This information is also available on the city’s website. There is a technical challenge on the Spruce Street crossing that we are taking to the CTA for a ruling, which is a hiccup, but a demonstration of how uncertain this work is.


We then moved the following items On Consent:

Child Care Facility Lease Agreement at 65 E. Sixth Ave
The new TACC includes a childcare facility – 12 infant/toddler and 25 pre-school child care spaces. This is thanks to a $3Million ChildCare BC grant, with the City contributing about $100,000 in construction and furniture and such, along with administering the lease agreement with a non-profit provider. The City went through an EOI then RFS process, and the YMCA of BC was the successful bidder. We charge a sustainable lease rate that is consistent with the non-profit childcare sector and allows us to recover operational costs for that portion of the building. This is the third City-owned and non-profit operate childcare in City buildings, along with the secured new childcare on Furness in Queensborough.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption: 651 Carnarvon Street
The Provincial Courthouse is doing some extensive envelope work. They are of the opinion that this work cannot occur while the Courthouse is in operation. We granted them a shorter-duration exemption to our noise bylaw to keep them accountable to the neighbourhood. We have not received a flood of complaints (in my recollection, Council has received a single complaint). It seems the construction company is demonstrating a level of concern about mitigating neighbourhood impacts. Council agreed to grant the extension.

Funding Submission to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) Regional Community to Community Program 2023/2024
We are working through our Year of Truth and reconciliation actions. A large part of this is engaging in a more proactive way with Host Nations and others with a relationship with the City, and UBCM provides a fund to help cover some of these costs, so we are asking for some money from that grant fund.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Addictions Treatment and Supportive Recovery Residences: Proposed Conditions Related to Rezonings and Temporary Use Permits
This is a report from staff on our efforts to support treatment and recovery in the City of New Westminster. We have been proactive in the City in all aspects of the ongoing poisoned drug supply crisis, and we need to frame this conversation by recognizing that this crisis of overdose deaths is multi-faceted. Not all people dying of opioid overdose are addicts, and not all people living with addiction are at risk of overdose, so there needs to be a spectrum of services and supports. Treatment and recovery are a part of that spectrum, and for many people access to treatment and recovery is the best pathway to not just surviving this crisis, but to improving the quality of their life. Currently, access is not sufficient to meet the need.

New Westminster has many treatment and recovery programs operating, and they have traditionally been integrated into community, because that is how they are most effective. These are rarely embraced by the community when proposed, as they represent uncertainty to many people, but once operating the city rarely has concerns raised about the programs. The City traditionally regulates this landuse using Temporary Use Permits or a Rezoning. This report outlines work staff have been doing to identify potential policy or guidelines to guide future TUP or RZ decisions regarding residential treatment and recovery facilities.

E-Bike Share Implementation Plan
Bike Share may finally be coming to New West. Staff have taken a cautious approach here, and I am confident we have done our due diligence. Shared mobility is a part of our Master Transportation Plan, our eMobility Strategy, and TransLink’s 2050 Regional Transportation Strategy, but we also need to take an approach that recognizes the complexity and potential externalities of new mobility. We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of some other jurisdictions, but we do want to learn from their example. There is a great report here folks who geek out on transportation should read.

There are several models of shared e-mobility. For simplicity (because there is more complexity in all three of these than can fit in one paragraph), we can think of three main models: the Vancouver/Montreal model where the City itself runs the bikeshare program. This provides a lot of control over how it operates, but in every example we see in North America this comes at a significant subsidy cost to the City. The San Diego model is more of a free-for-all; let the market see what works. This looks cheap and easy, but created such chaos in San Diego with multiple scooter share programs and questionable practices that San Diego had to bring in a bunch of regulations after the fact that ended up pushing all of the providers out of the market, paradoxically going from way too many to absolutely none in only a couple of years. The third model is a request-for-service like the North Shore, Richmond, and Coquitlam are doing (and like San Diego is migrating to), where the City doesn’t provide the service, but asks a service provider to bid on the opportunity to provide the service. This gives the city some authority through the contract to manage the externalities, while allowing the market to guide how the service is operated. We are going with #3 here.

Financial Statements Audit Planning Report for Fiscal Year ended December 31, 2023
Our financial statements are prepared to follow Provincial Law and the Public Service Accounting Board standards, and we have auditors who review them every year. This is always an interesting report because it outlines some of the new requirements under PSAB standards (there never seems to be a reduction in standards but only new standards applied). We need to appoint those auditors, this report does so. The cost of appointing auditors has gone up about 50%, but that appears to be consistent with the market. So much for 7% inflation!

Food Security Update and Funding Request
Since the GVFB announced they were ending distribution from their current location in the Brow of the Hill for logistical reasons, I have been working with staff to engage with food security providers in the City (GVFB, Don’t Go Hungry, St. Barnabas Shiloh Fifth Avenue, and Hope Omid) to determine what the GVFB move means to service in the community, and how the province can help to assure that people in need for food bank services can continue to get the help their families need.

We may have found a solution for GVFB in an underused City facility, but it is not clear that it will work for everyone, as the building is clearly end-of-life, slated for demolition for some time, and we need some clarity about the cost/benefit of re-investing in upgrades for building in this condition, especially as this may be a very short-term investment without a long-term value to the City. In the scope of out $200+ million capital budget, it is a small line item, but Council wants to be clear what the ask is before we make this investment.

The rest of this report (including one-time support to a couple of food hamper providers) speaks a bit our grant structure, the need for a reserve fund for grants to give us ability to react to this type of situation from a reliable and transparent funding source.

Report back to Council on September 11, 2023 motion regarding Samson V oil spill
This is a report back on the clean-up of the oil spill from the Samson V, and work done to prevent a re-occurrence. The good news is that the spill was remedied within a couple of days, and 100% of the spilled oil and impacted sediments were removed and properly disposed of to the satisfaction of the Regulatory Agency (the Coast Guard). The remediation cost for the spill in the river was about $35,000, and the required end-of-spill report was issued indicating that no detrimental impact on human health, aquatic ecosystems, flora or fauna was identified as resulting from the spill.

This also launched us to do some work that no-one in the city knew had to be done, because staff did not know there was oil in the Samson V. For whatever reason, the City assumed the fuel had been removed when it took possession of the boat from a local not-for-profit a couple of decades ago. So staff did now what staff should have done back then, and had the oil removed from the boat and installed a bilge hydrocarbon filter system, which all total cost us about $180,000.


We then closed with Motions from Council:

Request for a full accounting and report back to Council regarding trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates by Mayor Johnstone
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Mayor provide a report to Council regarding the details pertaining to his recent business trip to Dubai, UAE; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the report include the following information:
• Detailed breakdown of the financial costs pertaining to the trip including items such as meals, flights, hotel accommodation, ground transportation etc.
• Detailed summary of what the 3rd party funder offered the Mayor’s Office by way of free trips to Dubai for either himself, City staff or any members of his family
• A day-by-day itinerary of all meetings and events attended by the Mayor while in Dubai
• Estimated carbon footprint of attending the Dubai conference in-person rather than virtually
• Summary of the direct benefits to the City of New Westminster of the Mayor’s office delegation to Dubai
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the City’s new Ethics Commissioner be requested to conduct a workshop with Council regarding the Community Charter Act with a particular emphasis on section 105 pertaining to the restrictions imposed on municipal officials by the Province of BC regarding the acceptance of gifts.

Section 100(2)b of the Community Charter requires that members of Council self-declare if they have a potential conflict of interest in a discussion at Council, and recuse themselves if it is so. I sought advice from the City’s legal staff and they advised me that there was no pecuniary conflict of interest, but the motion was worded in a way that challenged my actions, and as such, I could potentially be challenged with Conflict – how can I fairly moderate a debate on my own actions? So it was recommended to me that I recuse myself from the discussion in order to assure compliance with the Charter.

You are best to watch the video if you want to see how the discussion went down, but the short result is that Council did not support the first two clauses of this motion, but did support asking the new Ethics Commissioner to provide a workshop to Council on Conflict of Interest and Section 105.

And that was the end of the program. Once again, if you want a shorter news update with a different style of take, sign up for my newsletter here, coming out (almost) every Wednesday.

Council – Jan 8, 2024

For the first time I remember in my 9+ years on council, I was not present at a council meeting! Back in September, we planned a family vacation that I recognized may overlap with the first council meeting of the year, but also recognized that the agenda for that first meeting was likely to be very light coming off the Christmas Break, and indeed there were only two items on the Agenda.

Since I wasn’t there, and I still feel compelled to write a report about it as some sort of Completest thing, I am going to take a slightly different approach. I will talk a bit more about the process we see by watching from the video, I finally had time today to watch the video, so here goes.

Adopting the Agenda:
Council voted to adopt the agenda as usual, though there was a dissenting vote. One Councillor wanted to bring an information report forward this meeting for discussion. This is highly unusual and that takes us into our first process discussion.

We have adopted a practice this term of moving “Information Reports” to the end of the agenda. What makes these reports different is that they require no decision from council, no commitment of new resources of money, and no new direction or guidance. As the name implies, they are there simply to provide information to council. This speeds things up a bit as we don’t have to formally approve the report, but it also economizes a bit on staff resources. Having staff who are providing an Information Report hang around until 9 or 10 at night to see if there are questions or follow-up on what should be a straight forward report is not a good use of their valuable time (yes, staff are paid for the time they spend in Council Chambers, it is a job). If a member of council has a question or needs clarity on an item in the report, they can either ask the CAO to provide council a follow-up email with that info, or they can “pull the report” for the next council meeting, as Councillor Henderson did for the Whistle Cessation Report on the agenda (at the end of the meeting). Staff are then informed there are questions, and a week or two later, appropriate staff will attend council that night to address the questions. This meeting had four information reports (not an unusual number), and the Councillor wanted to “pull” one (again, not unusual).

What is unusual is that the Councillor wanted to pull it forward to be discussed at this meeting. That is not a typical practice, and has not in my recollection ever been suggested before. Staff who prepared the report were not present, so they would not be able to answer the questions. The Councillor continued to assert he wanted to “debate” the report, which is a strange thing to do for an Information Report, but safe to say there was some political showmanship going on here. Council wisely decided to follow standard established practice and pull the Information Report next meeting.

We then had a second request from the Councillor to amend the Agenda, adding a Notice of Motion that was not included in the Agenda because it was not submitted in time for inclusion according to the timeline provide to Council. There was some discussion about the date it was submitted and whether staff calculated the timeline correctly which I frankly had a hard time following. Council wisely decided to err on the side of good faith and allowed the Notice of Motion to be read so the Motion can be debated next meeting.

As a bit of a political aside, I do want to note that a similar motion last meeting to bring a Motion on Notice (the motion debated later this meeting, in fact) forward when we had a room full of audience members interested in hearing that debate was defeated by the same Councillor who made this motion to move his motion forward this meeting. Council could have saved hours of time at this meeting if that Councillor had voted for an accommodation that meeting that he requested and was granted this meeting. I have never seen it taking 20 minutes to adopt an agenda at Council before, and no criticism of the Chair here, I think Acting Mayor McEvoy did a great job wrangling the unusual procedures before him with a Councillor who showed no respect for the rules of order and intentionally misled the public on how the procedures of Council operate, but kudos to Councillor Fontaine for managing to say some variation of “the Mayor’s Trip to Dubai” eight times over a few minutes when it wasn’t even on the agenda.


The following item was Removed from Consent for discussion.

Construction Noise Bylaw Variance Request: Metro Vancouver Front Street Pressure Sewer – Manhole Abandonments
This is a request to do night work on Front Street to allow work on the sewer at a time when the sewer can be shut down (middle of the night when people do much less flushing, and on a day when it isn’t raining hard. It’s the reality of sewer work, folks. Council approved the request.


We then had Public Delegations which are not usually something I report on here, but I do want to speak a bit to process at delegations. We have a practice at New West where anyone can come to council to delegate for 5 minutes on pretty much any topic (except those not permitted under the Community Charter). There is a practical issue here, in that there needs to be some limit on how long we spend hearing delegations, and we therefore limit it to 10 people ,and have a process for people to sign up to delegate. Notably, this is more accommodating to Public Delegation than any other City in the Lower Mainland that I am aware of – some allow 2 or three minutes, some strictly limit delegations by topic, and some don’t permit delegation at all. 10 people at 5 minutes each, with time for discussion, usually takes one and half or two hours. That is a *lot* of council and staff time, but the principle of open local government is important in New West.

A problem with limiting it to 10 is that one relatively small group can sign up for all 10 spots on a single topic, and effectively crowd out others with contrary opinions, or people on other important topics. So staff have developed a procedure to prioritize delegates, a first-come-first served process, but also accommodating as wide as possible a range of topics. If 10 people sign up to talk about A and one signs up to talk about B, staff will allow only the first 9 speakers on A to accommodate the one speaker on B. It’s not perfect, but up to now it has worked pretty well on the few occasions when we have had more than 10 people sign up.

Alas, much like the rest of our processes, this is based on the principle of good faith – the assumption people will be respectful to the community and truthful to council. This meeting, some people chose to not be respectful or truthful, and mislead staff on the topics they wish to discuss with a clear intent to crowd other speakers out. I’m really disappointed this happened, and again commend Acting Mayor McEvoy for handling this with the grace and professionalism I am not sure I would have been able to show in the same situation.

Which brings us to the single Motion from Council:

Call for a Ceasefire in Gaza
Councillor Nakagawa

WHEREAS human rights groups such as Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders and the United Nations have cited growing atrocities in Israel and Gaza including the deaths of many civilians, including children; and
WHEREAS the City of New Westminster condemns the rising incidences of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in our communities; and
WHEREAS the City of New Westminster stands up strongly for human rights everywhere
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster write a letter to the Prime Minister urging the Canadian government to immediately:
Call for a ceasefire
Support unrestricted access to humanitarian aid
Secure the release of all hostages.
• Call for an end to the siege of Gaza;
• Support unrestricted access to humanitarian aid;
• Support actions to secure the release of all hostages, including both Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners, and
• Stop all arms shipments, sales, and trade to Israel in compliance with Canadian Law.

Respecting the process of us getting a motion in front of Council takes a couple of weeks, the Christmas Break added time to this schedule, events in Gaza and the actions of the Canadian Government (due to pressure at all levels, including motions like proposed in New Westminster passing in numerous Canadian cities) have changed since the original motion was presented, and an amendment (as seen above) was moved to the motion.

In yet another procedural challenge, two members of Council tried to abstain from a vote by walking out. They did this after first taking part in the debate. They provided speeches on the topic, then made like Brave Sir Robin. The problem being that the Community Charter does not permit abstention from votes unless there is a direct Conflict of Interest. Neither member indicated Conflict of Interest, so choosing not to vote is a violation of the Community Charter. The Clerk and Acting Mayor could have brought this to the members, but engaging in a debate then leaving the room before a retort is something I have not seen in my 9 years on Council. Amazing.

In the end, the Motion as amended was unanimously supported by Council, and if I had been present, I would have also supported it. I am not someone who typically brings these types of motions to Council, but I think Acting Mayor McEvoy eloquently made the case for why Local Governments will bring issues of conscience to the Chamber. When a motion like this is put in front of me as a member of council, I look at the material of the motion and how it aligns with the principles I hold and have represented to the public in my time as an elected official. In this case, I want humanitarianism to take hold in Gaza, and I want Canada to stand up and call for it. This includes the release of Israeli Palestinian prisoners, and unrestricted access to humanitarian aid in Gaza. I want Canada to more firmly stand against Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia here in Canada. The things this motion are asking for are things I support.

COP28 part 3

I have written a couple of posts now on New Westminster’s presence at COP28, and the experience of the Local Climate Action Summit. I’m going to try to wrap up this series pulling highlights and major themes that came out of the event instead of daily run-down, because this blog series is already 5,000+ words and because there were a LOT of topics covered and incredible speakers:

Aside from the LCAS, every day had overlapping conference events at different locations; it was simply impossible to attend them all. I spent some time at Bloomberg Green Forum, at the Canada Pavilion, at the Urbanization Pavilion and EU Pavilion, and other event sites. My criteria for choosing what to attend was partly geographic (see my first post about the expansive site), but I tried to attend events that spoke to local climate action (inspiration!), financing the transition (where’s the money?), innovation in electrical grid upgrades (very relevant to New West), and “Just Transition” discussions that spoke to what that means in the “developed world” context (this is one area where, interesting enough, the US is way ahead of Canada in many ways).


The global challenge to get a new energy grid built was an interesting theme. A place where some technical challenges need to be solved (and a better place for our innovation investment than CCS in my opinion). The core of the issue is that the world needs increasing amounts of electricity, and the cheapest ways to generate electricity, by far, are solar and wind. However, these sources rely on an integrated grid and grid storage technology that has technical, logistical, and even jurisdictional barriers to implementation. Coal and gas are dirty, and increasingly expensive, but they are easy, so the Global South and most rapidly-growing economies are still seeing them as a viable way to achieve their development goals. The grid is the problem, and there are lots of people looking to fix it, but will it be a public grid? (more on that later)


The Canada Pavilion had some interesting sessions. Don Iveson (former Mayor of Edmonton) led a panel on Canada’s National Adaptation Strategy (where I first heard the term “mutli-solving the polycrisis” as a description of local government climate response, and I will be repeating it) that included the Federal and Provincial Environment Ministers, along with local government represented by FCM and the Mayor of Regina. One interesting framing presented was that Climate Mitigation is primarily an energy problem, where Climate Adaption is primarily a water problem: drought and flooding are the two horsemen of this new apocalypse for Canadian cities. Rest assured, the message to the feds out of this conversation was (am I getting repetitive?) local governments are on the frontlines, and can do this work, if given the resources.

Another excellent presentation at the Canadian Pavillion was on the integration of land use with climate action, addressing how local government land use decisions impact our climate goals. Here I met Serena Mendizabal from Six Nations in Ontario (alas, 2023 Mann Cup Champions) who is doing interesting work bringing First Nations into the energy transition space, and developed a Just Transition Guidebook to help guide governments toward more meaningful Indigenous involvement in local climate action.

As I mentioned earlier, there were some sessions I attended with City Staff, and some where we went our different ways to cover more ground. The more technical aspect of staff’s work here really benefited from their ability to network with their cohort across North America, and even Europe and South America. They also had a chance to get facetime with FCM staff who hold the strings to the Green Municipal Fund, and staff in both the Provincial and Federal Ministries. That relationship building, and the ability to share our successes and our challenges – and demonstrate to them that we are a City committed to doing the work – will pay back in a huge way as staff move forward in implementing the Seven Bold Steps in New Westminster.


On our final day, I attended the Ministerial Meeting on Urbanization & Climate Change. This is where we stood (well, sat) shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the LMGA constituency to make our calls to the collected Ministers of Environment and negotiators from national governments around the world. In a weird coincidence, as I recently wrote about him in my Newsletter (subscribe here!), I sat next to Ravi Bhalla, the Mayor of Hoboken (the “New Westminster” of the New York Metro Region) during this session. I have already mentioned the Call to Action and Open Letter in the last post, so won’t repeat that here, but the dialogue with this group of Ministers was promising.
Also on our last day, we were able to attend the daily briefing of the Canadian negotiation team. This is where the representatives of the Canadian government (Minister Guilbeault and Canada’s Chief Negotiator Michael Bonser) update invited attendees on where the negotiations are, and then spend most of the hour taking questions from the audience. In the room were several stakeholder groups, including Elizabeth May (I didn’t notice any other federal party representatives, but I would be surprised if they were not there), representatives from Provincial Governments (again, I didn’t notice any BC Provincial elected types, though I assume staff from the Ministry of Climate Action and Environment were present), Labour groups, business constituencies, and activist groups. I’m not sure if it is a coincidence or a sign of something different happening in Quebec, but the activist questions to the Minister and negotiation teams were mostly delivered in French.
This was a really informative session for me, and gave insight into how the sausage of putting language to these international agreements is done. They spoke of early success (the Loss and Damage Fund secured on day 1), the failure to secure a food systems agreement, and the role the COP President had put on Canada to “find a landing zone” on Fossil Fuel phase-out (which even given hindsight, is not clearly a win given the weasel words included). Being Canadian, the most common answer to questions from the floor (which were almost all asking for more aggressive action and for Canada to lead in calling for it) was some form of “Yep, we hear you, that is consistent with our position, and we are working on it”.


The feelings brought home from 6 days at COP28 are complicated, but can be summed up in the Good, Bad, and Concerning.

Under “Good”, I am left with the positive feeling that local governments are On It. There were so many examples of local governments and inspiring local leaders doing to the work and building sustainable cities through a Just Transition lens. It was constantly repeated (and I’ll repeat here) that urban areas represent 80% of global GDP and 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and we are at the front line of climate action. At the same time there is pressure from the grassroots for local governments to meet and exceed Paris targets, because local governments from Langkawi to Bogota know that the actions needed to meet targets are the same actions that are going to make our cities cleaner, greener, more healthy, and more affordable to operate and protect.

On the “Bad” side, I don’t leave the conference convinced we were going to make it. I didn’t feel the national governments feel the same urgency that the scientific community is telling us we need. They all speak of concern, we heard many give addresses, from the Prime Minister of India to the President of Kenya and the King of Tonga, they all spoke of urgency, but then the language informing the negotiations gets much more nuanced. The timelines offered for fossil fuel phase-out (with even that bet hedged by talking “unabated emissions” and reliance on the CCS pipedream) or ending the construction of new coal power generation felt unambitious when the gavel fell on the 12th. The Global Stocktake told us clearly that the timeline for 1.5C is passing us by, and 1.77C might be the new ambitious target, and I’m not even convinced our collective national governments are there yet.

The “Concerning” part is a bit more about the nature of the conversations at so many of the panels and workshops, and this speaks a bit to the large presence of Global Capital in the room. There is a strong  neo-liberal drive to get private capital involved at every level in the transition, especially in the Global South, where transition plans seem to bypass any public ownership of life-sustaining assets. I’m not a global finance guy, and cannot pretend to be, but a new language of colonization is apparent when we hear the entire conversation about reliance on private capital from Europe and America in the desire to build a modern energy grid to serve Africa, where wind and solar resources are ample, but the lack of a grid is a real development bottleneck.

The media and pundits loved to criticize the Oil Industry lobbyists being at COP28, but we all know what their game is. Everyone knows there is no viable path to a sustained climate unless we end the unabated emissions of fossil fuels, so let the producers hear that and be part of that conversation. It is the ubiquity of private capital from the Global North that is seeing a profit opportunity in energy transition in the South that is more concerning to me – as the language sounds just as extractive as past colonial discussions of the Global South. Maybe I’m too cynical, but when talk of Africa arose at COP28, at times it sounded like a new Berlin Conference. And with so much of the LGMA conversation about Just Transition and the need for climate solutions to also solve deep inequity problems, I cannot help but wonder how we will solve inequity through the privatization of – or the keeping private of – the next generation of public goods.

This stood in contrast to the LGMA call for local and indigenous-informed action, and maybe that is where I will close this too-long reporting out, quoting Call to Action 10:

Pursuant to their budgets, legislative and executive actions, and leadership mechanisms, subnational governments are publicly accountable institutions. Through the acknowledgement of their role in the Paris Agreement and Glasgow Climate Pact, they also play a key role in driving and engaging their communities into global action. From business to parliamentarians, from civil society to academics, from trade unions and farmers to indigenous communities, from faith groups to generational and gender equality advocates, we invite all stakeholders to consider their subnational governments as their ally in responding to climate emergencies.

COP28 part 2

In my last post, I wrote about how New Westminster was invited to COP28, and what the landscape of COP28 looked like. In this post I am going to write about the role of Local Governments at the event, and detail the Local Climate Action Summit that opened the conference.

The invitation came from ICLEI, which was the key coordinator of the LGMA (“Local Governments and Municipal Authorities”) Constituency to the UNFCCC. They worked with two other organizations, C40 Cities (who managed the travel logistics of Mayors and senior staff from more than 100 cities around the globe) and the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. This is already a long series of posts, so best to follow the links if you want to know who those organizations are and why they exist.

The goal of the LGMA is to influence the UNFCCC negotiations, empowered by the preamble of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which calls on all levels of government to work together, and the Multilevel Action Roadmap put together in 2019. As a Constituency, we put forward a COP28 Position Paper (link here) with a 10-point Call to Action that is delivered to the national level government negotiating teams. The hope is (as is spelled out in their mandate) that these Calls to Action will be integrated into the deal that is struck by the end of COP28. This Paper and an accompanying Open Letter (link here) is delivered through a Ministerial Meeting, but before that, we had a conference to attend.

For us Local Government types, the first part of the COP28 program was a two-day conference-within-a-conference called the Local Climate Action Summit (“LCAS”). This was held in several sites within the COP28 Blue zone, but focused on a pavilion called the LCAS Hub. The LCAS was hosted by the COP28 Presidency, as a part of the commitment the UNFCCC has made since the preamble to the 2015 Paris Agreement to include all levels of government in addressing climate change. COP28 represented the first ever LCAS, and it was opened by the COP28 President Dr. Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber, by the Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, and the Chair of the Board of the C40 Cities (and former Mayor of New York) Michael Bloomberg.

The attendees of the LCAS were Mayors and senior Climate Action staff from several hundred cities around the world. There were local governments from every continent, ranging in size from megacities like Rio De Janerio to small cities like Yellowknife. There were perhaps a half dozen from Canada, with New Westminster being the only municipality in British Columbia represented. The program was intensive and pretty typically conference-like with panel talks, some interactive table-top learning sessions, and lots of opportunity to network and share with local leaders from across the globe. I can’t write everything here, but I will try to summarize a few key takeaways.

In his opening remarks, Secretary General Guterres talked about the importance of this COP in it presenting the first Global Stocktake, while making it clear that conferences aren’t the solution to the existential threat we face, only local action will get us there, and local governments are key to that. Urban areas are where 80% of global GDP is produced, and where 75% of global greenhouse gasses are produced – cities are where the environment and the economy overlap. At the same time, this is where the impacts of climate disruption are being felt the most – floods, droughts, heat waves, and climate-driven human displacement are all impacting urban areas. Cities are the front lines of this battle, and must be the front line of the transition. Most importantly, local governments are closest to the people governments serve and understand the context of change for their community in a way national governments cannot. So while national governments can make deals and drive policy changes, the only way they will achieve on their promises is if they support (and fund!) the local level governments in doing the work.

Panel discussions were as varied as the Cities represented. In Tokyo, the feeling was that solutions will be found in technology (“SUStainability + HIgh tech = SUSHI” was the Japanese tag line). The dynamic and brilliant Mayor of Bogota, Claudia Lopez, spoke of the need for Climate Justice to empower people in need through the transition. There are economic and empowerment benefits to be found in transitioning to low-carbon cities, especially in the developing world and global South. These opportunities need to flow to the many marginalized and under-supported people seeking opportunity in those cities if we hope for the transition, and the communities, to be sustainable. From Cordoba, Argentina, we heard about programs to empower and train youth to do the physical work of transition – from converting streetlights to LEDs to developing stronger local food systems within communities and keep money flowing within the local economy. Most agreed local governments were doing what national governments simply can’t, and were doing it faster than national governments can even imagine.

It was interesting to converse with the Mayor of Copenhagen, and hear their presentation as one of the “Coalition of High Ambition Actors”. On the face, the numbers for Copenhagen and Danish cities sound impressive – they are on target to reduce GHG emissions by 76% (from 1990 levels) before 2030, and 97 of the 99 largest municipalities are on the same track (compare that to the New West and CleanBC Goals of 30% – 50% by 2030 depending on the sector). However, this is driven mostly by the decarbonization of their electricity sector – they are closing coal plants and phasing out all other fossil fuel generation. Compare this to a jurisdiction like BC where 99% of electricity is already non-fossil-fuel, we are not ever going to match their “reduction” numbers. (for context, Danish net GHG emissions per capita are about 10T/yr, compared to about 12 for BC). At the same time, Mayor Haestorp-Andersen was a bit envious of BC’s LGCAP program, by New Westminster’s access to Low Carbon Fuel Credit funding and a climate levy to fund climate action, and even of BC and Canada’s (perhaps tepid, possibly tenuous?) Carbon Tax models. Senior government funding of local climate action is one place we in B.C. are leading over even progressive and high ambition jurisdictions like Denmark.

A theme across many cities was cars, and this is a place we are definitely NOT leading in BC. The transition to EVs is a distraction to the need to shift how and why we move across urban space. In Bogota (where car free days are not just a block party, but occur city-wide), they are serious about the redistribution of road space and are investing in all alternative modes. Mayor Hidalgo of Paris spoke of the “peaceful revolution” happening on the streets of her City as active transportation is taking the space away from congested traffic, with massive air quality, noise pollution, and safety benefits coming on top of GHG reductions. The Mayor of Tirana framed the automobile as anti-child when so much more is spent by his residents on cars than on children – many in his city were spending 30% of their income “raising a car”. He said when he was young, they threw out the Communist dictator, tearing down his statue from the centre of the City, and previously-unheard-of private ownership of automobiles became a symbol of their new freedom. Now, the car itself is the new dictator lording over the centre of the City, preventing them from having the freedoms and economic prosperity they seek. Erion Veliaj, welcome to the War on Cars.

There is another tell in here – “removing cars form the roads” is the almost universal metric in assessing climate action. City X talks about planting Y number of trees, and calls it “equivalent of removing 10,000 cars from the road”. City A builds a new waste resource recovery plant that captured biogas “equal to taking 50,000 cars off the road”. Once your ear is tuned to it, you hear this measure everywhere. This is perhaps unconscious jealousy of places like Bogota and Paris, where they skip the middle man.


The conversations were wide-reaching, but always seemed to come back to youth. One of the quotes stuck on my brain was “Youth don’t believe in action plans, they believe in action”. From Makati to Missoula, there were stories of youth driving climate action in local communities, calling for climate justice, and seeking support to get more work done. This is not an unfamiliar theme in New West, and I was able to share the stories of Babies for Climate Action and the Monkey Rebels, two local ad-hoc organizations centering youth and pushing us towards more aggressive climate goals, while also holding our feet to the fire to achieve them. As part of an Innovation Studio workshop for Mayors, we were given some tools to better understand a 3C “Codesign – Coproduce – Cogovern” model of engagement, effective at giving youth the opportunity to learn and be active in designing the city of their future. We also learned of a fund available to help finance this work (we’ll see if we can tap into that here in New West). In the meantime, I am going to think more deeply about my role as Mayor in empowering young leaders in our community to replace action plans with climate actions.

The LCAS was intense, and a conference worth the time to travel to on its own. In my next post, I’ll try to sum up as briefly as I can the rest of the COP28 program for local governments, and leave you with some thoughts about the good, the bad, and the ugly of COP28.

COP28 (part 1)

Back in early November, I received an email invitation out of the blue from two organizations called C40 Cities and the ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, asking if I wanted to join the LGMA Constituency at COP28 and attend a Local Climate Action Summit as part of COP28. It was so out of the blue that I joked to my EA about it – could you imagine going to Dubai? – and dismissed the invitation pretty quickly.

However, this was followed by an invitation to attend a webinar put together by the ICLEI to learn about the LGMA, the LCAS program, and the role of Local Governments in the UNFCCC process. Hardly a lark, this was an opportunity for our small community to represent British Columbia local governments at an international table, and an opportunity for City Staff to connect with and learn from their cohort around the world. Once I learned that New Westminster’s participation (along with that of ~100 other local governments from around the world) would be sponsored by the C40 Cities Leadership Group (meaning it would not cost the City for me and city staff to participate), I started conversations with City Staff that led us to decide it was a good opportunity for the City, and something we should participate in.

As with most of what I do in this job, I want to use this blog to write about the job, and to open up for folks a bit of how government works and the things local government can and does achieve. In this case, I also got a little glimpse into how International government works, and it was not all that inspiring, but I’m already getting ahead of myself. COP28 occurred in the first week of December, and I finally had a bit of downtime over the Christmas Break to write about this, and that means it went long. So this quick report-out has turned into a series of blog posts about the COP28 experience: The inspiring part (local governments kicking ass!), the less inspiring (national governments writ large), and the terrifying (the neo-colonial solution space).

The 28th Conference of the Parties was a lot of different things, all happening at the same time in the same place. Central to it is the meeting of National Governments from around the world under the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) process. This part is a bit obscure to most people in its function, but is also the source of all of the headlines. As a Canadian, and a designated member of the LGMA (Local Government Municipal Authority) Constituency to the UNFCCC process, I was able to attend briefings by the Canadian negotiating team, and was able to take part in the Ministerial Meeting on Urbanization & Climate Change which was the LGMA contribution to the negotiations (more on that later).

COP28 is also the world’s biggest professional conference of the world’s leaders in addressing climate action, including national and subnational government representatives and people in the public service, private industry, and the non-profit realm who do this work professionally. That is a huge breadth of work, and the conference program is huge. At times I attended events along with a City staff member; at times they had parallel programs and interests that better aligned with their work, so we went separate ways to cover more ground. There were scores of parallel conference streams that attendees could move between, which requires a bit of a discussion of the geography of COP28.

The main conference was held at “Expo City”, which was the site of the 2020 World Exposition in Dubai. This includes one of the largest Convention Centre sites in the world, surrounded by acres of buildings and pavilions like you would expect to see at a World Exposition. To put in a Vancouver perspective, imagine if Expo 86 was still set up and spread across all of False Creek, with a convention centre twice the size of the Vancouver Convention Centre in the middle of it.

This site was divided in to two parts. The “Blue Zone” required UNFCCC accreditation, and was quite secure (metal detectors, ID verification, etc.), and the “Green Zone” that was open to the public. The Blue Zone is where all of the national and theme pavilions were and where the main conference Plenary is held. Walking around the Blue Zone (as we did a lot to get to different talks) felt a bit like walking around a big University Campus, with the surreal United Nations feel – you might walk past the President of France and his entourage, physically bump into Mark Carney as you are rushing around a corner, or see someone you know from SFU searching for the same pavilion as you (all three of these literally happened to me one day, within an hour of each other). And though it was a “secure” area, it was also the site of various protests, as various coalitions of groups pushed the assembled leaders for more climate action, for climate justice, and the end of fossil fuel extraction.

The Green zone was less busy, but was similar in layout. This is where you found a strange amalgam of non-profits, activist groups, and private industry interests set up to talk about and hawk their wares. There was a significant public participation component, lots of educations resources, and much better food offerings than within the Blue Zone.

Finally, COP28 is also a large trade show, and I am going to lump together both large non-profit and social enterprise organizations and the corporate sector here in the spirit of brevity. Several pavilions at the main conference were set up in themes, such as “Empowering the Energy Transition” or “Multilevel Action and Urbanization”, and you will have GE selling wind turbines, major European Capital Funds looking to invest in development of new technologies, Social Enterprises seeking funding for new work in the developing world, and everything in between. I didn’t spend as much time in these spaces, but there is no doubt in looking at the scale of these displays that “Climate Action” is big business.

As COP28 was so big, there were also some parallel programs happening at other sites in the city, and the use of Metro Transit was free to all accredited COP28 attendees. Most LCAS participants were housed in a hotel about an hour from EXPO City by train, and I could go off on another entire blog about the speed, headway, cleanliness, and crowdedness, of Dubai Metro, but suffice to say most of what I saw of Dubai proper was seen at 70kkm/h out the window of a light rail train while straphanging with COP28 participants from around the world and the million young guest workers who keep UAE running.

And with that stage set, my next post will cover the special role of local governments at COP28.

Council, Dec 11, 2023

We had a full Council day on Monday, the last meeting of 2023. It included daytime workshops where among other things we worked through some details of the operational budget (including our first look at potential tax rates for 2024), but I’m here to write about our evening meeting, as that’s the Agenda where the rubber hits the road. We started my moving the following items on Consent:

Authorization of LTSA Document Signing of Corporate Officer
There are some legal documents we sign as the City, most of them require signature from the Mayor and a Corporate Officer. Which member of staff serves that Corporate Officer duty for specific documents is a decision of Council. This changes that assignment for one type of document because of some recent staff changes in the City.

Multilingual Services for Energy Save New West: Outcomes and 2024 Initiatives
Energy Save New West is our program to provide a one-stop-shop for residents and businesses to access local, provincial, and utility-provided energy-saving and emissions-reducing programs, services, and incentives. Want to upgrade your home, look for rebates and support? ESNW should be your first stop.

This report outlines the success we have had in extending ESNW services to 5 new languages, to increase impact and equity. Through this, we have reached 269 multilingual families, distribute 51 energy saving kits and delivered 34 workshops – and helped 15 non-English-speaking families get access to utility rebate programs. It also incorporates some changes to the program that came from feedback of the participants.

2023 Capital and Operating Quarterly Performance Report
This is our quarterly financial report, and there are no big surprises here. Our annual Capital Budget is being adjusted to recognize some increased costs, but the $900k increase is only about a 0.5% increase, which is not scary considering the inflationary pressures we are facing. Operational revenue is up ($33.4M) but so are costs ($4.4M). Notably. Most of the revenue increase is the insurance settlement for Pier Park, though we will be transferring this to capital reserves at the end of the year. We are also seeing higher than anticipated building permits, and more investment interest, which are good for the books.

Renewal of Uptown New Westminster Business Improvement Area – Results from Notification of Affected Property Owners
Before we adopt the BIA Bylaw that sets their rates and budget, legislation requires we survey the property owners affected. Three of the 54 property owners Uptown (5.5%) were opposed. So we proceed.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 2126 Seventh Avenue (22nd Street SkyTrain Station)
The work TransLink is doing at 22nd Street SkyTrain station is taking longer than anticipated, so TransLink’s contractor is asking to extend the construction noise variance until April (excepting the Christmas season, when no work will be done). We have no received any complaints with the existing work, and the request remains reasonable considering the operational needs of transit, so we approved this extension.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2024 Council Appointments to Internal Advisory Bodies of Council and External Organizations
This is a review of the list of appointments to various internal and external committees. For the most part there were no changes proposed or approved. are no changes proposed. Councillor Mihas wanted to be on the Tourism Board, and Council moved to support this. There were also several motions to appoint other Councillors to Metro and TransLink positions that were not supported.

Fire Department Strategic Plan
This is the final version of the Fire Department’s new Strategic Plan. It was heartily endorsed by all of Council, as the Fire Department is in a good place right now, and is being pretty proactive at dealing with the many changes in their service and delivery model related to population growth, climate disruption, and their being at times thrust to the front line of the Three Crises response for the City.

It is clear for us all that it is time to make some perhaps overdue investments in Fire and Rescue Services. WE need to start planning the replacement of Hall #2, that is at end of life. We also need to assure we are investing in the resources to address increased health care response, increased density and more complex building forms, and simply the increase in population. If we bring a true Vision Zero approach to road safety forward in the next year or two, there could be an enhanced role for Fire in the investigation and follow-up of traffic incidents, that will be offset in to the longer term by savings in reduced accident calls (road accidents are about half of current fire department calls), but will require up-front and shorter term investment to see those savings.

Fortunately, we do have some new tools from the provincial government to raise funds for fire hall replacement, in the new housing regulations released by the Province, and new support form senior government for climate adaptation, which Fire and Rescue will be at the forefront of. This Strategic Plan will help us get there with a clear path.

Rezoning (408 East Columbia Street) – Preliminary Report
The owner of one of the ground-level retail units in a new building in Sapperton wants to open a dental office. It’s not strictly “retail”, and we don’t want too much office space at ground level as it does not add to the overall activity of the street (we have lots of second-floor office space of this type in New West!), but staff consider this use reasonable and are recommending a rezoning to adapt the zoning language here. This did lead to a longer conversation about how we are incenting better storefront space use, and what tools we may have to support more local small business. After that, Council agreed to advance this application for further considerations once the bylaws are created.

Temporary Amendment to the Vehicle Procurement Process
There appears to be bit of a supply chain problem in new vehicles in Canada. This means low inventory and long lead times for orders. Our procurement policy requires extra steps that is making it hard to acquire any cars (when a vehicle is found, it is commonly sold to other customers before our purchasing folks can get approval). Staff are asking to suspend the usual process for a bit so they can be more nimble in getting new vehicles when needed. Note, there is no request to increase budget for vehicles here, or reduce transparency in our purchases, just a request to temporarily shift to a more nimble purchase process.


We then read several Bylaws, including the following Bylaws for Adoption:

Building Amendment Bylaw No. 8433, 2023
This Bylaw that establishes new Energy Step Code and Zero Carbon Step Code requirements from 2024 to 2027 was adopted by Council.

Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw No. 8441, 2023
This Bylaw that sets electrical utility rates for 2024 was adopted by Council, but not before all three readings of the Bylaw were challenged (included being voted against by a Councillor who voted to recommend the rates to Council at the Electrical Commission meeting), and a motion to rescind the third reading was defeated. This becomes important further on in the meeting.

Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8440
This Bylaw that sets the rates for various fees and rates in the City was adopted unanimously by Council.

Heritage Designation (441 Fader Street) Bylaw No. 8407, 2023and
Heritage Revitalization Agreement (441 Fader Street) Bylaw No. 8406, 2023
This Bylaw that permanently protects a heritage home in Sapperton in exchange for building an infill house on the same lot was adopted by Council.

Parks Reserve Fund Bylaw No. 8939, 2023
This Bylaw that creates a reserve fund for the Pier Park insurance settlement was adopted by Council.

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 8438, 2023
This Bylaw that authorizes staff to temporarily borrow up to $3 Million to cover any seasonal cash shortage was adopted by Council.

Uptown Business Improvement Area Bylaw No. 8424, 2023
This Bylaw that renews the Uptown BIA agreement for another 5 years was adopted by Council.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (808 Royal Avenue) No. 8416, 2023
This Bylaw that finalizes the zoning for a new academic and residence building for Douglas College was adopted by Council.


We then moved onto Motions from Council

Improving affordability for New West residents by temporarily eliminating the 3.5% Climate Action Levy on electrical rates
Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff incorporate into the City’s 2024 Operating Budget a temporary one-year elimination of the 3.5% Climate Action Levy imposed by the New Westminster Electrical Utility

As is my duty on Council, I ruled this motion out of order. Agreeing on advice from the City Clerk, it was considered a “Motion to Reconsider”. The same effective motion (to suspend the Climate Action Levy) was moved and defeated earlier in the evening under Bylaws, and was moved three separate times in the last meeting as we considered each reading of the empowering Bylaw. Council clearly answered “no” to this request four times over the last two weeks. For practical reasons, there is only so many times a member of Council can ask the same question. Under Roberts Rules and our Procedure Bylaw, a “Motion to Reconsider” is always in order – Council can change its mind once and reconsider a vote – but that motion must come from a member that voted in the majority. No-one at Council who voted with the majority here was willing to put this on the table for reconsideration, so it was out of order.


Creating safer streets for everyone with intersection safety cameras
Councillor Henderson

BE IT RESOLVED that New Westminster City Council direct the Mayor to write a letter to the Provincial Government to request that the Provincial Government install additional speed and red light intersection safety cameras in the City of New Westminster, prioritizing:
• Intersections with a high rate of crashes that resulted in injuries or fatalities as identified in the 2023 New Westminster Intersection Safety Study; and
• Intersections near schools with a high rate of crashes that resulted in injuries or fatalities.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the letter request that the Provincial Government allow BC local governments to install speed and red light cameras at their own cost and collect fines and that the Provincial Government provide all revenue from additional speed and red light cameras to municipalities as grants to be invested in implementing local road safety improvements.

This motion reflects similar motions from other municipalities concerned about road safety, and especially safety around schools. It was endorsed by road safety advocates and the public health officer in town, and council endorsed it. I also added an amendment suggestion that the motion (slightly modified to be broader than just New Westminster) be taken to Lower Mainland LGA and UBCM as a resolution to be endorsed by the members, which amplifies the advocacy level.

Speed and red light cameras work. It has been proven that they reduce dangerous driving behavior and save lives, including those of vulnerable road users. They are also politically popular according to recent polling. There are some technical challenges in rolling them out in bigger numbers, regardless of who holds the management of them, and this motion is not too prescriptive, so we hope the Province can include local governments in development of whatever process works best to get them on the road, because they save lives.


Direct election of Metro Vancouver representatives
Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council support the concept that voters in our region should be asked by way of a ballot question during the 2026 municipal election whether they want to have the opportunity to directly elect their Metro Vancouver representatives; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT Council writes a letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs requesting they undertake a public consultation regarding a governance review of Metro Vancouver with the goal of establishing an appropriate ballot question to be included in the 2026 municipal election.

This turned out to be an interesting conversation at council, with a diversity of ideas presented, and I think a positive example of all of council working to seek a consensus point. Challenging, because several different ideas pop up in this motion. Again, I’ll just speak to my thinking through this process, and how I feel we got to the end, as I don’t want to speak for anyone else.

I am not particularly opposed to a review of governance at Metro Vancouver, but feel this is an area where New Westminster needs to be strategic and consider whether our voice (as only 3% of the region’s population) will be weakened or strengthened by any change. I am not sure that we want to move to a system where more weight is thrown over to the larger cities, with Vancouver and Surrey having combined the balance of population and vote. Many of the votes at the Board are weighted (imperfectly) by population, but no voted at committee are, and committee is where a lot of the work gets done. I’m not sure if a change would continue to support what I think is a strong voice we currently have at Metro, and it is this uncertainty that made it hard for me to support the first half where New West is effectively endorsing a popular vote referendum.

My other challenge with this wording is that it seems non-collaborative with our 22 partners at Metro Vancouver to go directly to the Province without at least including them in this conversation. The Metro Board is working in a fairly open and collaborative way right now, and I want to respect my colleagues there. I think they need to be engaged first in any discussion of a governance review.

In the end, Council did not support the first “Be it resolved” of this motion but did support the second “be it further resolved” half, with the addition of an amendment asking that Metro Vancouver Mayors Committee be engaged first in this conversation. I think it is an interesting conversation for us as a region to undertake, though I enter it cautiously.


And that ended our last meeting of 2023. We will be back together in January, where our first order of work will be to wrap up the 2024 budget.

Housing & Bill 47

I have been writing a series of posts about the changes in how housing approvals are regulated in BC as the provincial government rolls out a series of new legislation. I previously wrote about Bill 44 and multiplexes here, then about Bill 46 and the introduction of ACCs here. This is part three, which could have a profound effect on the shape of New Westminster in the decade ahead:

Bill 47: Transit Oriented Development
This bill requires local governments to designate Transit Oriented Development areas around rapid transit stations and other designated transit exchanges where higher density residential development must be permitted and residential parking minimums cannot be applied. By the letter o the legislation, we will need to update our Official Community Plan to designate TOD areas at all SkyTrain stations by June 2024.

As with other aspects of what’s been introduced, I think this is a transformational change that will make our region more affordable, more sustainable, and more livable, and it probably could have been introduced 20 years ago. But I am afraid we don’t have the human resources available to do an optimal job of implementing it by the deadline.

The province is prescribing a minimum density for these TOD areas, saying the local government can permit more density, and any property owner can choose to build smaller than the prescribed minimum, but the local government cannot restrict density to below the minimums. There are details in how density is distributed with prescribed minimum Floor Space Ratios, but for most folks it is easier to envision building heights. Within 200m of a Sky Train Station (red circles below), heights up to 20 storeys will be prescribed. Within 400m (yellow circles), the minimum is 12 storeys, and within 800m (the green circles), buildings up to 8 storeys will be pre-approved. Here are what those TOD zones look like in New West:

As far as the 200m and 400m TOD zones go, this will not be much of a change for New West excepting the 22nd Street Station area (though this looks aligned with where we anticipated the 22nd Street visioning going) and a bit of Sapperton around RCH. Our Downtown zoning is already in this scale, and aside from Sapperton Green, there isn’t a lot of developable space in Sapperton within the 400m circle that isn’t already being built up. The 800m TOD zone, however, could have huge implications for the West End, the Brow of the Hill, Queens Park and Sapperton.

The implications of Queens Park are perhaps most intriguing. Much of the Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area south of Third Ave is within the 800m TOD area. It is unclear to me at this point if this regulation will supersede a Heritage Conservation Area, but for complicated mechanical regulatory reasons, I suspect it will. I am equally suspecting that Designated heritage properties will be exempt, meaning the extra protection offered properties in Queens Park that have had HRAs applied will be important. But I am perhaps getting ahead of myself and the regulations, so we will wait for clarity when those arrive.

The second part of the regulatory change is that all residential parking minimums will be removed from TOD areas. The City will still be able to require commercial parking and some accommodation will be developed to allow cities to require accessible parking for people with disabilities, but overall the number of general parking spots in new residential will be determined by what the market determines it needs, not regulatory minimums.

This will significantly reduce the cost of developing near SkyTrain stations, and is aligned with the City’s Climate Action plans and the provincial CleanBC transportation goals. I am generally in favour, but again there will again be devils in details. It is unclear what this means to goals for off-street EV charging, and what this will do to increase the need for already over-prescribed public EV charging. This will exacerbate pressure for street parking and increase conflict in communities around precious curbside space. Allowing “the Market” to dictate parking need tends to assume people make rational choices, such as only owning the number of cars for which they have parking, and experience indicates this is not how people behave. Further, the “market” relies on pricing signals, and the amount of grief we get for $50 annual parking passes for street paring in some neighbourhoods suggests people aren’t that enamored with market solutions when they are used to getting something for free.

Finally, Transit Oriented Development assumes that there will be transit service at those stations. That assumption will be tested in the year ahead, as TransLink needs a new financial model to sustain its existing service level, even as transit is back to pre-COVID crowding levels, and the Province holds the levers that will allow the system to survive. As this TOD plan rolls out across the region, it is clear maintaining the level of service we have currently won’t suffice, and the $20 billion Access for Everyone plan will need to be funded to keep up with ridership growth.

With those caveats, I will sum up by saying I am glad to see that we have a provincial government who is willing to take serious moves to address a decades-long housing crisis. For a city like New West that has already been doing so much in housing, meeting and exceeding our Regional Growth Strategy targets, getting region-leading numbers of new Purpose Built Rental built, while protecting the most affordable housing, it is positive to see that the load is going to be spread more widely across the region. These are the kind of moves that housing advocates have been calling for, but probably gave up expecting from a provincial government in Canada.

There will be devils in the details, there will be hurdles and potholes on the way, but a decade from now we may look back at David Eby’s first year as the time British Columbia finally took the housing crisis seriously. Yes, the shape of our neighbourhoods will change, but the change will probably be more gradual that you think (there are only so many developers and builders in the region, and they are mostly already working hard), and ultimately, we will have stronger and more resilient communities because of the changes.

Housing & Bill 46

I’m writing a series of posts about the recent changes the provincial government has introduced to drive the development of new housing in the region and province. In the first post, I wrote about Bill 44 and multiplexes, and some of the complications of putting 4-plexes on lots across New West. I sort of skipped past the 6-plex part of the story. While 4-plexes will be permitted on all “single family” lots in New West, the bill also suggests 6-plexes will be permitted on all residential lots near Transit stops with Frequent Service.

This may shake out in details, but it looks like “near” will mean within 400m, and I have no reason to believe the Province won’t apply TransLink’s “Frequent Service” designation, as show on this map:

I quickly drew 400m radius circles around Frequent Transit Service stops in New Westminster. By my admittedly preliminary assessment, all of New Westminster covered in blue here will be pre-approved for six-plexes:

Note this is a significant part of the Brow of the Hill, Moody Park, Queens Park, Glenbrook North, and Queensborough.  The unshaded areas will be permitted four-plexes in all residential zones under Bill 44. The gray-shaded areas are Transit Oriented Development areas that we’ll discuss when I get to Bill 47 in the next Blog Post. But first, let’s look at:

Bill 46: Paying for growth!
This Bill recognizes that local governments use the power of zoning to pay for infrastructure required to support that growth. With a de-emphasis on zoning, this raised some significant concern about how we will pay for the infrastructure needs that will only increase as we rapidly build new housing. This Bill both gives local governments more tools to do that, while also taking away some other tools.

The biggest tool local governments have for raising money for growth-supporting infrastructure is the Development Cost Charge, or DCC. This is a very prescriptive tool, and most large and medium-sized cities use it in some form, as do Metro Vancouver. In New Westminster, we use it for sewer, drainage, and water utilities, and for park space expansion. It works like this:

A local government identifies through its OCP the amount of growth the community or a neighbourhood will see in the decades ahead. They then evaluate some utility projects that will be needed to support that growth: bigger water pipes, bigger sewer pipes, pump stations, etc. They then (and this is important) plan and budget those improvements. They then make some determination of what percentage of the cost of that project should be allocated to new growth, and what percentage should be charge to existing users, after all we need to replace infrastructure occasionally even without growth.

So lets assume (and all of these numbers are false for simplicity, used just for example) we expect 10,000 new units in Queensborough in the next 20 years, and to support those we need to spend $20 Million in sewer upgrades. We could assume 50% of this cost should go to existing users, so we need to raise $10 Million in DCCs from those 10,000 units. We then apply a $1,000 DCC to each of those new units, and the developer pays that to the City before they are permitted to build. Meanwhile, sewer utility rates go up in the neighbourhood to collect the other $10 Million from existing users. The City puts that collected money in an earmarked reserve, and can only spend it on that sewer project.

Under the current legislation, Local Government can only collect DCCs for specific uses: mostly water, sewer, drainage, roads, and parks acquisition. Bill 46 adds other infrastructure to the pool of things Local Governments can fund through DCCs, including fire halls, police facilities and solid-waste facilities. This is good if you are of the belief that “Growth should pay for Growth”, though the jury is still out on that assumption.

Another tool local governments use to fund infrastructure and amenities in their community are the slightly-misnamed Voluntary Amenity Charges. As its basic level, this is a cash payment developers make to local governments to sweeten the pot of approving a development. Cities are not allowed to demand these (“voluntary” is right in the name!), but they are allowed to suggest what an appropriate contribution might be, based on the size of the development. Developers could offer it or not, but when Cities ultimately and say “no” t rezoning to any development, it starts to not sound so voluntary. And to many, it sounds pretty shady. So Bill 46 is going to do away with VACs. Whether that is good or bad depends on how the City has used them, I suppose.

The City of New Westminster is pretty transparent when it comes to VACs and base expectations on the type of development and location. The City and Developer also commonly work together to develop pro forma estimates of the value of land lift the City is giving a developer when they grant rezoning for larger density projects. The City expects some amenity for the community to come from that “land lift” value. If we are increasing the value of a developer’s land by Millions of dollars when giving them rezoning, the City wants its pound of flesh. Maybe the developer provides a childcare space for a non-profit, or park trail improvements by their property, or a portion of the development be given to a non-profit for affordable housing. These are the kinds of negotiations that happen typically at Rezoning. The VACs are part of that amenity package that the City uses to assess if the community got its share. The City of New Westminster does not put and cash received as VAC into general revenue, but puts it in pre-established reserve funds to pay for everything from Affordable Housing to Childcare to Public Art.

Bill 46 plans to do away with this, and with so much density increase not relying on rezoning, the lever we have as a local government to demand expect Voluntary Amenity Charges is going away anyway. The Province recognizes this and is bringing in a new tool called Amenity Cost Charges. In short, it looks like ACCs are going to operate more or less like DCCs, but will be applicable for a wider range of purposes, including those that VACs often funded, like community and recreation centres and libraries.

The positive side of this is that the charges will be more predictable and earmarked for specific uses, creating a more transparent process. The downside is that local governments will lose some flexibility in how these funds are used – we can’t load up a VAC reserve and apply it to a library or piece of public art or playground enhancements when we feel like it, but must pre-determine and cost the projects that will be funded. That planning a decade or more ahead on community needs and putting a projects cost on them is actually a LOT of technical work for staff in Planning, in Engineering, in Parks, in the Library, etc.

Ultimately, the increased transparency and predictability comes at the cost of more oversight and work required by staff, and perhaps some loss of flexibility in how a community decides to develop amenities. Overall, though, I think it is a better way to do governance and it creates more certainty for the development community and the community at large. If I have a concern it is in our ability to staff up that planning work in time to assure we collect sufficient ACCs if the Transit Oriented Development changes in Bill 47 lead to a building boom. Which I will write about in the next post.

Housing & Bill 44

There has been a *lot* going on in the housing file in BC over the last month. The announcements have been fast and furious from the Ministry of Housing and the Premier, and the responses from Local Governments, housing advocates, and status quo defenders have been all over the place – from this being the worst overreach in provincial history to a long-overdue response to a crisis 20 years in the making. My own feelings about it are similarly all over the place, so I figured I would take some time to unpack it all from a New Westminster perspective, and from the perspective of a local government elected person who has been advocating for serious action on the housing crises.

Maybe I should do one of those caveats where I say “all of this is my opinion, not the official position of the City or anyone else on Council”.  An additional caveat may be that this is all a work in progress, as the province has not provided the enacting regulations yet. Local governments have been told that more details on implementation of the legislation along with instructions and guidelines are coming over the next few months. So the thoughts below are preliminary, and I reserve the right to be corrected in point of fact or event point of intention as this new landscape evolves.

I will go through by headline legislation, dealing with one piece of legislation in each of three separate blog posts. At the same time, recognize that these are overlapping measures in how they will be applied by Local Governments. They aren’t as separable as described here, and need to be viewed holistically. So with that in mind, the first blog post is:

Bill 44 : Multiplexes and more!
There are several components to Bill 44, but the short notes are that it brings to an end the most restrictive form of residential zoning – single Single Family Detached zoning – and requires local government to permit 3, 4, or 6 units per lot. It also takes away the local government’s ability to require off-street parking for these developments when they are near frequent transit. This bill also requires Local Governments to complete standardized Housing Needs Reports, to update their OCP and Zoning Bylaw by the end of 2025 to accommodate the need outlined in that HNR, and prohibits Public Hearings on residential development aligned with the Official Community Plan.

I’ll start by saying all of these are (in my opinion)  good ideas. Much of this reflects good planning principles. We should be structuring our OCPs around a defensible analysis of housing need, and the OCP should be the part of the community planning process where the bulk of community consultation and input should occur, not the Public Hearing. The question put to the community can then be “how do we want to accommodate the need?” not “How do we feel about growth?”, because the latter has more often than not resulted decisions that don’t address the realistic needs of the community or region, and therefore a Plan that falls short in addressing a crisis. It is also clear that the era has ended where single family living on a 5,000+ square foot lot in the middle of a dense urban core is attainable for most people, or sustainable in the cost to service those lots.

Then come the details.

For New Westminster, this is mostly going to mean 4 units will be permitted as right without rezoning on every current “single family” lot. I use that term in quotes because most lots in New West already permit three units – a main house with a basement suite and a laneway/carriage house – although there are a variety of restrictions on overall size of the combined units and each component. We use the Development Permit process to manage the size, shape, and scale of laneway/carriage houses, based on guidelines developed through a lengthy process involving a lot of public consultation. We also permit (through Rezoning, Heritage Restoration Agreement or Development Variance Permits) some variance on these guidelines on a lot-by-lot basis.

Remember, the end of “Single Family Zoning” does not mean the end of Single Family homes. You will not be forced to build a fourplex if you would rather build a house, and you will not be forced to knock your house down to build a fourplex. These changes increase the variety of housing types that can be built, they don’t take options away.

So the switch from 3-units to 4-units might not seem that big, but the work to develop new replacement guidelines on what can be built is actually a significant piece of work. Everything from set-backs (how close to a property line you are allowed to build), maximum heights, FSR (Floor Space Ratio – how many square feet of living space you are allowed to build relative to your lot size), maximum lot coverage (we currently only let you cover half a lot with a building or impermeable surface – change that and you need to change how our storm drainage network operates) will need to be worked out through guidelines. There are engineering and utility considerations to all of this, and more important details than you might think. We may need to set standards around how driveways cross sidewalks (we don’t want driveways every 33 feet on major roads or greenways), how solid waste receptacles will be stored and picked up by the City, and how we will address our Tree Protection Bylaw, etc.

All this to say, there is a lot of work to do to build these guidelines, and it matters a lot to how the City functions if we don’t get them right. This is also work that impacts not just our Planning staff, but folks in Engineering and Parks and Open Spaces. Our overall desire to have public consultation around the shape of guidelines that impact every neighbourhood is another timeline challenge. As currently proposed, we need to do all of this by June, 2024 – 6 months after the regulations that point us here are released in December. That is an incredibly tight timeline, and I fully anticipate we will not able to make it.

New Westminster is still a smallish city, and our planning department is a small team. We don’t want to move people off of new development approvals, affordable building projects, and major projects like the 22nd Street Visioning process to do this work, because those projects could bring hundreds of new units on line every year, while four- and six-plexes may bring on dozens a year in the most optimistic model. The long-term benefits are huge, I worry about the short-term capacity issue.

The deadline for a Housing Needs Report is December, 2024, and I am more confident we can get this done, as it would build on one we recently completed. We have yet to see what the Province’s “Standard” HNR looks like, but there is already a grounding for this work. One potential challenge here is that we, like many medium-sized cities, relied on a consultant to help with some specialized components of this work, and those consultants may be harder to hire (and more costly) when there are 100 municipalities on BC all clamoring for the same work on the same deadline. I’m not sure there are enough people in the province trained to do this work. I would hope the Province would look to the “Naughty List” of cities to be prioritized here, and may relax the deadline for cities like New West who have already been meeting their needs targets if there is a capacity crunch next year. We shall see.

Once we have the HNR in hand, we will need to update the three OCPs in the City (Yes, we have three – the main one, and separate ones for Queensborough and the Downtown) by December 2025 so the OCPs reflect a plan to meet those identified needs. This is a relatively straight-forward process, and should be doable, though again the public consultation part will be the critical path. Last time the City completed an OCP re-write, it took us two years because we really invited the public in for a conversation about the future of the City. I don’t see a reason to do less his time around, especially as how the OCP is going to inform the shape of zoning more now than before, with so much pre-zoning of higher density areas. We will not have two years to do this, so it will be an intense period of public engagement. And intense means staff resources and stressed out community wishing to engage.

The impact this will have on current OCP-related projects like the 22nd Street Visioning, Master planning the Lower 12th Street area, or Sapperton Green is unclear at this time. There is a similar concern here as with the HNR about province-wide resources available to do this work. Significant OCP re-writes often require consultant support for economic modelling, public consultation, utility planning, and such. If 100s of Municipalities in BC are doing this all at once, it might be a very good time to be graduating from planning school.

Coming next – Bills 46 and 47…with maps!