Ask Pat: Now What?

SMac asked—

Congratulations! Will you still write a regular blog with your new duties?

Following up on the Election, this has been a common question. I talked a bit about this last post, and mentioned some of the considerations. Maybe I can expand a bit on that here.

As much as I’d like to say nothing has changed, the reality is that the Mayor is a de facto spokesperson for Council, for the City, and for the Police Board. This means that people will often conflate any statement made by the Mayor with the official position of those entities. As a Councillor, I am free to say “Council voted for X, and I was a dissenting vote because of these reasons”. As Mayor, one of my duties is to carry out and support the decisions of the Council (or the Police Board), so it is much more difficult for me to talk about how and why I disagree with them.

The City has communications staff, and as a Corporation it is challenging to have parallel communications streams. Messages get muddled, and confidence is eroded, both of the public and the staff. I have always tried to make clear I am writing this blog from my personal point of view without an editor (hence, the sometimes-questionable grammar), so running it through City Comms staff before I publish would be a major shift. First off, like all staff in the City they don’t work for the Mayor, they work for the CAO. Secondly, they already have enough work to do without having to worry about managing the Mayor’s Sunday morning blog ramblings.

I have been running this blog on the cheap, with some support from friends for hosting and technical services. The design is now 8 years old, and though it still functions great from my end, 8 years is forever in the Internets. Indeed, blogging itself as a medium has gone a bit by the wayside, as have 1,000+ word essays, so I have to question whether this is even an effective way to communicate in 2022 and beyond.

That said, the process of sitting down to write these blogs has been a major part of how I do the work. When reading Council Reports, I do so with the intent of understanding them enough to relate them here. And though I am slow at it, I like the accessibility of eventually answering Ask Pats. When other local issues like New West’s relative taxation level or police service levels are raised, this blog drives me to dig for data so I can better understand and better communicate. At the highest level, if I cannot explain a decision I made at Council through this medium, then maybe I don’t understand the decision enough to be confident about it. To get really meta about this: my writing this very blog post is itself part of my process for deciding whether and how I will continue to write this blog.

So, yes. I hope to keep writing here, and am setting a goal of putting up a post a week as a minimum. But it will be a bit different, and the scale of that difference is something that I will have to iterate as we go along. So stay tuned, we’ll see where it goes. Meanwhile, I’m looking into this TikTok thing…


I have also been asked about what I have planned for the next few weeks. I hasten to note we still have a Mayor, and he serves until November 7th. But there is some work going on to prepare for the months ahead. Here is a bit of a summary of the last week of my life and two weeks ahead.

I have met with Jonathan and with the CAO of the City, and more meetings are planned. I have sat down with the Police Chief to get updated on Police Board matters and with the Acting Fire Chief. I have also been connecting with Mayors from around the region, and am setting up meetings to discuss regional issues we will need to collaborate on both at Metro Vancouver and TransLink.

One immediate task is to get organized around inauguration and get Council ready for it. That means some on-boarding for the four new candidates, and getting them up to speed on the various files in the city. They also need to learn about the legal obligations of the job, our Code of Conduct, about Section 90 of the Community Charter and FOIPPA.

Though that is the work of our Clerk and CAO, I have also reached out to all of the new Council to start talking about strategic planning and larger goals each of them have for the term, about committee appointments, and those kinds of details. As I have repeated ad nauseam for the last 6 months, a Mayor can’t do any of this alone.

We are fortunate in New Westminster, because we are building on a legacy of strong leadership on the previous Council and School Board. We have led the region in protecting our most affordable housing, and in getting new affordable and rental housing built. We weathered the challenges of the Pandemic and were named among the most economically resilient communities in BC, and we are taking strong action on the climate. But we have lots of work to do. We are still a region facing a housing crisis, we are still losing people to a poisoned drug supply, and we are still facing climate disruption. We are part way through an aggressive capital plan to build new recreation facilities, new schools, new mobility routes. I ran a campaign talking about being proactive, not shrinking away from innovative approaches to these challenges, and I’m looking forward to sitting down with the new Council and getting to work.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I also took a mini-vacation this weekend. 3 days on a Gulf Island where I effectively slept 12 hours a day. My batteries needed a serious recharge, from the business of the campaign and the emotional stress of the campaign. Each day I woke up amazed at my ability to sleep, and each day a little more energized for the work ahead.

The Campaign

What a wild ride that was.

In early January, I started to ask people if they thought I should run for Mayor, and started noodling about what a run would look like. It took a few months for me to convince myself that there was a viable path, that it would take a strong team, I would need a lot of help putting that team together, but the team was there to be brought together. That work took another 3 months, with conversations and facilitated sessions and the help of many people with experience in organizational development and politics. Bylaws, an AGM, candidate search and nomination process, it was a whirlwind. Then we started knocking on doors and connecting with the broader community, developing platforms, and setting ourselves up for Labour Day, when the real rush begins…

All though the campaign, I found I kept saying the same thing to the candidates: Keep it positive, and do your work. In the good times and the bad times, when we were excited and when we were lagging, when facing conflict or negativity, we just told each other to stay on the positive, and then found some work to do.

There are so many people to thank, and those will be more personal notes than this. I thought for my first post-election blog, I wanted to write a bit about the experience. I’ll follow up with more of a “what’s next” post later. For now, here are my 8 things I learned this campaign:

People are good: I admit to being a bit nervous about door knocking back in June. For a lot of people the last two years have been shitty: locked down and stuck at homes for long periods, shifts in their work and social lives, a lot of anxiety driven by economic uncertainty, concerns about health and family, loss of loved ones, doom scrolling bad news locally and around the world, and clear signs of climate disruption warning us things are not going to get better. I was afraid people were not in a mental space to talk to a hopeful election candidate who shows up at their house.

For the most part, I was wrong. Door knocking was an encouraging experience. People were happy to talk, were looking for reasons to be positive and optimistic. Yes, they had concerns and gripes, but they also had ideas about what we can do better and wanted to hear from candidates that we had ideas for a brighter future. So many people in New West responded to crises and anxiety with hope and optimism about things getting better. Door knocking was uplifting, and I hope the candidates don’t lose that feeling over the next 4 years.

Algorithms are Bad: I shouldn’t have to tell anyone that Facebook is not the real world, but I have never seen a contrast as strong as this election. If the election result was determined by Facebook comments, I had no chance this election, nor did any incumbent in the election. After all, I was called everything from an idiot to a sociopath to a “vampire slug” by people I know in the community. Some of my (alas, inevitably) non-male colleagues faced much worse. And the algorithms assure any time I spend in social media world emphasize and amplified those few voices. The contrast between the vitriol on Facebook and the conversations I had every day with real people in this community was remarkable. I’ll write more about this in the “looking forward” post, but I cannot imagine what value Facebook provides to people interested in engaging with the community. It is a broken interface.

Politics are Parochial: In our doorknocking this time, it was a good reminder of how local many concerns are. Sure climate and COVID and big issues impacting the world right now are getting all the news space, and people want to see us taking serious action on Big Issues. However, when you ask folks about issues on the spot, they can usually physically point at the thing on top of their mind as they stand on their doorstep. A sidewalk in need of repair, the loss of trees, a too-stringent tree bylaw, parking (always parking), a fire hydrant in need of painting, the schedule for glass recycling. The little details of daily life are things that people think about when they think City Hall.

Housing Matters: One big difference this election over previous ones (in my imperfect memory) is that the housing crisis was top of mind for everyone this year, even those comfortably housed in single family neighbourhoods. Previously, you heard a lot about housing security and housing affordability in multi-family and rental buildings, but now the impacts of the ongoing crisis are being felt by everyone – because their kids cannot afford to live in the neighbourhood where they grew up, because rental availability is so low, because it is harder to find employees, because homelessness is more visible than ever. There were other issues this election, but the marked difference in the housing discussion really stood out to me.

Teams: I’m really proud of the team I ran with, and so grateful of the work we did. No-one has ever knocked on as many doors as Community First did during this campaign. Some members faced unique challenges and the other members stood up to support them. The incumbents pulled for the new candidates, and the volunteers and campaign staff were always there to enable the candidates to concentrate on connecting with voters. And when something went sideways – as will inevitably happen when you have 13 stressed candidates and dozens of passionate volunteers interacting with thousands of engaged residents on a tight deadline – we were able to pull together and regroup and get back to the positive, and back to doing the work.

Who knows what works? I am a physical scientist, and a member of Generation X. Both of those characteristics lend me towards wanting to understand how things work. How does [this one thing] get me closer to [the goal]. In a campaign surrounded by political activists, experienced campaigners, and enthusiastic volunteers, you hear a lot of differing opinions about what actually works in pulling the vote: the air game vs the ground game; the lawn sign war; Full Page Ads; viral TikToks (whatever the hell those are). Few people will agree on what is most important and what isn’t, and most of the traditional knowledge is wrapped in confirmation bias, survivorship bias, and anecdata. A local government election with limited media and 13 candidates on a team is also a very different animal that a traditional two- or three-party campaign we are used to with senior government.

I guess there is a thing called “Political Science”, but I have not studied it beyond reading Hunter Thompson books from the 1970s, as I tend to be reading about policy ideas and policy failures, assuming good ideas with predictable outcomes are all people want. But good policy is really hard to meme, and often the electorate is busy, otherwise engaged, or indifferent. So, to our incredible campaign staff, I apologize for every time I took part in the “Lawn signs don’t matter” vs “We are losing the Lawn Sign War!” debate in the office. Thanks for indulging us, letting us vent, then getting us back on track.

Elections are hard: Running for office is an emotional rollercoaster. If you care about the work, about the community, and about the ideals you bring into this, then there is some point in a campaign where it is going to hurt. Maybe low blood sugar and a couple of bad interactions at a door line up and your imposter syndrome hits you and you question why the hell you are doing this. Maybe you get stuck in the spiral of reading your opponent’s messaging (“did they just say that!?”) and Facebook comments (“do people actually believe that!?”) and you have to swallow the irritation because your team keeps telling you to keep it positive. Maybe you know you need to go hit doors or attend an event, when all you want to do this evening is sit down for dinner with your daughter and talk about her first day at school. Having a great team of supporters to pull you through those low points makes it easier, and sometimes we lament the burden taken on by our families and friends in supporting us as candidates. In the end, the positives of working together to build something positive wins out, even if we sometimes need to be reminded of this. A year from now we are going to remember the funny stories from doorknocking, not those low points, but at the moment, they are hard. A campaign office with sugary snacks help.

Losing sucks: I’m heartbroken that my colleagues Chinu and Bereket were not able to get over the top. Maybe I can speculate about the “why” part when I dig into the poll-by-poll results, but for now I am just disappointed and feel badly that our team didn’t do more to help them. Chinu has been an incredible source of calm wisdom and incisive fire at Council, and I have felt honoured to sit with her and learn from her. I was feeling really confident about Bereket from the day I met him about a year ago, he is smart, principled, and was so charming at the doors, while also pulling in an amazing team of volunteers. He was persistently positive, lifting the team every chance he had, and reminding us about Queensborough if we ever let it slip. I know they will both continue to be passionate advocates for their community, it is in their hearts to do this work.


The last week has been a different kind of whirlwind. I am working with my elected colleagues and City Staff to get organized around inauguration (November 7th in Council Chambers, mark your calendar), and getting all of council prepped to do the work. I have chatted with and am planning more meetings with Jonathan, and have also set up some meetings with Mayors from around the region to connect again with those I already know and introduce myself to those I have I haven’t worked with yet. And the invites for events of all types are starting to stream in.

I will hope to find time this weekend to write a bit of a “what’s next” follow up to this, but first things first, to answer the big question here:

Yes, I intend to keep blogging, but it is going to be different. I don’t even know how it will be different yet, because I need to find a new context for this writing. For good or for bad, anything written by the “person wearing the chain” becomes conflated with the “Official position of the City”, and I am aware of my need to separate those two. My council colleagues and staff of the city need to know I am not going to make their work harder through this part of my new-found bully pulpit. There is also the time commitment required to do this that I will need to understand and manage.

But writing this blog has become part of my “process” for understanding and keeping track of what is happening in council business. Somewhere in my University days I learned if I can’t write clearly about it, I clearly don’t understand it. So writing the notes that become this blog are part of how I read and absorb my council package and the reports attached. for now I suggest the presentation may change, the tone may change, but I do intend to keep connecting directly like this as long as it is viable to do so.

So thank you to my regular readers (Hi Mom!), and let’s see where this goes!

Reaching out

Hey Folks.

Not much updating going on here. Council is on the summer break but I am busier than I have ever been, because I am running for Mayor. Every day is filled with meetings, scheduled or impromptu, in person and on-line, with campaign team folks, with other candidates, with community stakeholders. I have been helping with platform discussions and writing and design, planning out comms for September, helping coordinate events and fundraising, helping line up volunteers for the work ahead. We have a great team and a lot of tasks, and the Mayor candidate tends to get pulled into a lot more of them. Yesterday I got through 4 of the 7 things on my morning To Do list, today my list is longer. And this note wasn’t even on it…

It can be exasperating at times, barely keeping up, but most evenings (when there isn’t another event) I drop it all at 5:30 or so, and meet a volunteer for a couple of hours of door-knocking. By 8:00 I am recharged and excited again, because meeting people and talking about the city – what we do well, what we need to do better – is just about my favourite thing in the world. People in this community are so positive and forward-looking. It’s joyful work and those conversations are like a breath of fresh air.

I don’t generally use his Blog for campaign stuff. You can find campaign info at my campaign site, at my Facebook site, and of course I’m always Twittering, I only rarely put campaign stuff on here and that won’t change. But I’m talking Campaign on my blog today because I want you to go here right now: communityfirstnw.ca/donate_patrick

There are a lot of people who read this blog who I don’t have other direct contact with. I meet people on the doorstep who tell me they read this and appreciate the work I have done to try to make the work of Council easier to understand and more transparent. It takes a lot of time and I don’t get paid extra to do it, but it is part of the commitment I made when I got elected to Council 8 years ago.

If you are reading this, and have been reading this, you know who I am and what I stand for. At a time when politics is increasingly cynical and polarized, I still believe we can talk through the challenges in our community in an open and transparent way, we can hear different voices and stand behind decision making. We can also change our mind when given new information or better data. We can make this a better City and a better world by doing these things.

If you think this too, and appreciate the work I have done to bring the community into City Hall, then I ask that you donate to my Campaign for Mayor so I can keep doing this work.

Why You? Because new campaign finance rules mean I cannot receive any business or union donations. Nothing from CUPE, nothing from BIA members, nothing from the development companies. Every donation must come from an individual, and no individual can donate more than $1250. I am not even allowed to donate more than $1250 to my own campaign. This means I am not allowed to pay for my own lawn signs, or for a campaign office. I can pay for newspaper ads or pamphlets, but not both. I need those who support me to donate to my campaign, and our team needs to pool funds to get those things done. We need you.

As always, if you have a question or concern, drop me a note. I might not have time for an ASK PAT response right now, but I try to reply to every email I get. Please consider helping me out if you are able, then get back to enjoying the summer. And now I’m off to the New West Farmers Market to judge a Pie Contest. But that’s another blog…

Premieral Popularity, Part 2

Remember when I wrote this piece three years ago? I made what I think was a pretty convincing case on a dubious data set that political popularity in Canada correlated inversely with time in office. The Angus Reid poll looked like this:

And I graphed popularity vs. days in office, and found a pretty strong correlation (R = 0.92!) suggesting a direct inverse relationship. The way to be popular as a Premier is to be new on the job:

What a difference time makes. Three years and a raft of elections later, the Angus Reid folks did the poll again, and here are the results:

Aside from the obvious (Horgan still on top; doesn’t matter if you are a Boomer or GenX as long as you are a white guy; PEI still doesn’t matter), I am stumped by trying to find easy single-cause narratives here. The one from three years ago certainly doesn’t work:

The correlation looks bad. If we take the anomalous Premier Rankin (who was very recently selected to lead a party that has been in power for a few decades, but has yet to introduce himself to the electorate) and the graph is as close to a random distribution as I can draw:

So my certainty from three years ago was misplaced. I was wrong.

But, hey, it’s Pandemic time, and surely that throws everything else aside. So we can safely assume that the most important public health and economic emergency of our generation must have thrown the numbers for a loop. Surely Premier popularity must correlate with their ability to manage the Pandemic and keep the voters safe, right?

Nope. Looks like the only thing I have reinforced here is that I really know nothing about politics. As you were.

Ask Pat: Blogs

JL asked—

Are you aware of a blog similar to the one you run but focused on the city of Richmond?
I have grown to love New West in my 5 years here and am sad to leave. I really want to let you know how much I appreciate the time you take to write these entries on the council meetings and topics related to the City of New Westminster. They are very informative and make me feel more connected the city. Frankly, I think a monthly (bi-weekly?) email newsletter similar to your blog would be an asset to the city’s residents.

In short, no. I don’t know anyone in Richmond doing this. Actually, I don’t know very many City Councillors doing stuff like this, which makes me wonder why I am doing it, to be honest.

I love that there are a few Councillors more actively engaging the public in interesting ways. Nathan Pachal in Langley City has a more concise blog than mine covering what happens on his Council, Mathew Bond in North Vancouver District (@mrmathewbond) has been live-tweeting Public Hearings to enlightening effect. There are some real Local Government stars like Christine Boyle in Vancouver who blogs and uses other media to tell the stories of Council work and of her vision for bigger change, but I see nothing of the sort in Richmond. A few blogs that were very active in the months before election, and silent since, seems the trend. There are likely a few more active Facebook pages, but not much else.

In my experience (disclosure: I used to work in Richmond City Hall) Richmond is a strange place politically. Where else can a candidate can run for the Conservatives in opposition to oil & gas development in one race, be endorsed by an NDP candidate in another, then after a half dozen tries, be elected when running on a slate with a Green Candidate? With the public generally disengaged in local politics (aside from the Steveston neighbourhood preservation activists and a few very tight ethnic- and religious<-based cliques), and a pretty popular and non-controversial Mayor, it was really hard to know where the public was on issues. So, maybe once you get there, you can figure it out and report out to us?

That is kinda how this all started for me here. It was back in the heady days of the 2000s when everybody had a blog. I was blogging on other stuff around my environmental activism and loving my adopted community of New West. A brief period of time between when Letters to the Editor and Calling into Your Local AM Radio Station were replaced by Facebook comment threads and Podcasts, the blog was a medium where anyone with an opinion could start a conversation with people they had never met. I do cringe a bit in reading some of my early stuff, because I really didn’t know how the City worked (I sort of still don’t, but I’m getting better). The upside is I actually earned a great network of friends in New West though this thing.

I told the story here before, but my inspiration was actually Jordan Bateman. Before he became and anti-tax Reaganite crusader for Economic Freedom™, he was a tax-and-spend City Councillor like the rest of us. Even during his spendthrift Councillor days, he was still much further over to the right side of the political spectrum than I, but I did admire his blogging prowess. While serving on Langley Township Council he did something akin to what I am doing now, reporting out on the activities of Council. You didn’t have to agree with him politically to appreciate that he at least provided justification for his positions, which to me is the most honest way to approach this work.

Eventually, Jordan flew too close to the sun. One day he used his blog to publicly criticize his own BC Liberal Party (he worked for Rich Coleman) over their inconsistency on the HST issue, and within a few days was forced (chose?) to print a retraction and apology, one that was weirdly unclear about what he was apologizing for, other than making Finance Minister Colin Hansen look bad for pointing out that the Finance Minister looked bad. Shortly after that, Jordan’s blogging days (and apparent political ascendency in Langley) were over.

I have completely failed to take the obvious lesson from that. After a few years of blogging and becoming increasingly political in New West, I threw my hat into the ring for Council. At the time, a few people suggested the blog thing was going to be a political liability, but I swore I was going to keep doing it. I am perhaps naïve enough to think that in the local politics realm, people value honesty and transparency, and the risk of pissing people off who don’t agree with you on political points is by far offset by the trust-building of being open and honest.

I don’t know about all of the discourse that happened out there in the community during the last municipal election, but there was at least one candidate for Council who tried to leverage a few cherry-picked quotes out of my blog to campaign against me. Not having deleted any of my old posts, it was easy enough for me when challenged on what I said to point at the cherry picked posts and “here is where I am transparent, and here is where my opponent is being disingenuous”. It didn’t help that the opponent was himself a municipal affairs blogger who deleted all of his old blog posts before running – which somewhat undermined his claims about transparency and openness. Anyway, the upshot of that funny situation was that I got a lot of positive feedback from people I didn’t even know read my blog, and I’d bet a few voters were made aware of my blog via my opponent’s campaign and turned out to vote for me thanks to it.

However, we can still learn from Jordan’s Icarian moment to remember politics don’t happen within a bubble. Before being elected, I was pretty critical of the Harper Conservatives because I am an environmental scientist and saw the damage he and his policies were doing to environmental science and the environment (Damage Mr. Trudeau is, alas, reluctant and slow to undo). I also became critical of the Christy Clark BC Liberal party as she steered the ship in strangely Harperian directions. I admired the work that Jack Layton did, and have a tonne of respect for Peter Julian and Judy Darcy, and have written about this in my blog. I have even made clear my voting intent in previous provincial and federal elections. That has not, however, stopped me from being critical of the NDP at times (I still think they are 100% wrong and cynical on the topic of road pricing, for example). I have even provided firmly-worded suggestions to how they could do better when I feel like they deserve to hear it. The only evidence I ever got that they were listening is once when I was writing about the flaws in the Public Hearing process when applied to critically needed supportive housing, I get a note from (then Minister for Local Government) Selena Robinson letting me know she read it, she heard me, and was aware of the issue. I think some of the temporary changes made during COVID reflect these concerns, and I hope post-COVID we can keep some of these changes.

Anyway, I am aware that the comments my electoral opponent pulled out a few years ago that were not complimentary to the NDP or the swear words that Stephen Harper sometimes drew out of me are probably career limiting if I aspired towards senior government, so I’m not sure why anyone else elected to public service would do this, and in a way understand why so many City Councillor blogs go silent shortly after they are elected.

Problem is, I’m stuck now. After 6 years in office and 500+ blog posts (on top of the 450+ posts I wrote before getting elected) I can’t quit now. I got elected saying I was going to keep blogging about things in the City, and here I am, until the internet goes away or I get booted from office. To be honest it is getting to be a bit of a timesuck of questionable value, as unfortunately people simply don’t engage in blogs like they used to (see how few comments I get compared to the old days), and long Council Agendas, even when reduced down to 4,000-word blog posts, don’t fit the culture of Facebook (or, shudder, Reddit). So, it is good to hear someone reads them, and I’m not just shouting into the void.

This speaks to another problem that I don’t pretend my Blog can solve, and that is the trend towards lost accountability in local government. With the hollowing out of local newspaper newsrooms and the consolidation of news media, we have very little coverage of the day-to-day workings of City Hall. A single reporter in New West with a much wider beat than City Council cannot keep up with the wide range of issues we are dealing with. New West is actually lucky to still have that reporter – many Cities are going without. It is hard to keep track of what is happening locally, and blogs (or, it being 2020, Podcasts) are not the answer, especially when they are written by people like me who necessarily have a bias and do not have the training or professional responsibility to manage that bias like we expect (perhaps idealistically) from capital-J Journalism.

So good luck in Richmond. Support your local newspaper. Start a blog, or a podcast, or your own newsletter.  Let us know what’s happening over there. I worked there for 8 years, and was never able to figure it out.

Break

Hey folks,

It is a strange time, and the energy in the air is strange. There seems to be a cumulative pile of stressors hitting people. Many are directly related to COVID, like concern for the health of loved ones, economic uncertainty, anxiety around public spaces, around work places and planning the return to school. Some are more abstractly connected, like the shift in work-life balance, a lack of festivals and events to pull us out of routine, the re-adjusting of social norms. People have been home to much, isolated too much, concerned too much. Fretting as our neighbor to the south appears to be burning itself down in strange and frightening ways, the reality of climate change hitting hard as the turning point in Arctic climate can no longer be ignored, we seem frustratingly unable, or unwilling, to address a growing pile of local crises: housing, poisoned drug supply, systemic racism…

In many ways, it feels like we are in a time when the status quo is shifting, and no-one is immune from the fear around that. Some like the status quo, or at least prefer it to the uncertainty that change brings. Others are doing the hard emotional and intellectual labour to try to assure that change goes in a good direction, to serve others, to serve themselves, to build a stronger community. Others just spend their time shit posting. We all adapt in the way we know how.

I have felt it. I recognize I am extremely fortunate through this. My family (knock on wood) is safe and healthy, I’m still (knock on wood) able to work, have healthy relationships that provide me support, can enjoy the long bike rides that keep my emotional chemistry in check. But with all that, I am more acutely aware these days of my mental health, of behaviours and thought patterns that are probably not productive, not making me happy or adding to my quality of life. I miss my friends, even if I am still kinda connected to them through social media and occasional walk-bys. I miss community events, group bike rides, chatting with folks at a pub, random social stuff that makes my community buzz for me. But aside from missing things, there is something else. Decisions are hard to get to. Concentration on a task is hard. Sleeping is weird. It is low-level anxiety creeping in on the edges. Not debilitating, but bothersome, so I guess even there I am luckier than some.

All this to say, I’m going to take a bit of a breather in August, and try to do some things a bit different. Mostly, that means I’m going to turn off my Social Media for the month. I haven’t done this since long before I was elected, so it will be a little strange. FOMO is a real part of my mental matrix, and I need to work on that.

We have a couple of Council meetings in August, and I will endeavor to blog those out soon after they happen, as I have for more than 5 years. But other than that, I won’t be responding to Twitter or Facebook, because I won’t be looking at Twitter or Facebook. You can always e-mail me at pjohnstoneATnewwestcityDOTca for City stuff, or at infoATpatrickdjohnstoneDOTca for regular-life stuff. I read them all, respond when I can. Have a good summer.

Be Safe, Be Calm, Be Kind. See you in September.

Uber alles

I have tried to avoid the social media storm that is the long-awaited arrival of large, legal ride-hailing operations in Greater Vancouver. Though I think this tweet sums up my feelings at the end of the day yesterday:

And eventually, during a transit ride home that I drafted my subtweety response:

So, it is clear that I am not excited about the arrival of Uber and Lyft, despite the almost constant media saturation and lobbying pressure from Uber Spokesfolks (in contrast, I have not received a single letter, e-mail, or phone call, or invite for a meeting from the Taxi industry on this topic). My tweet lead to a few questions from people who have never connected with me on social media before. It was also referenced in a local Reddit comment thread, so I drafted up a Reddit response. Apparently multi-platforming is the hot thing in media today, so I figured I would re-draft the Reddit response for a blog here, without even taking time to edit out all the damn brackets, because who has time? Here we go!

In response to concerns that Uber or Lyft are not available today in New West (or Maple Ridge or Delta), I need to clarify that ride-hailing companies will decide what areas they want to serve. It should hardly be surprising to anyone that they are concentrating on areas already served well with transit – those are the areas where there is a density of users and destinations to support the business case of ride hailing. Because it is the same business case that supports Public Transit in the neo-liberal model of service delivery.

The regulations created by the provincial government are really clear: local governments cannot prevent operation of ride-hailing within their borders. They can regulate the service by requiring things like business licences and set conditions for pick-up/drop-off in their road and parking bylaws, but they can’t just say “no”. In this sense, the Mayor of Surrey (in my humble opinion)is blowing smoke. He could, I guess, create a regulatory and licencing regime that is so difficult to navigate that no-one bothers, but I seriously doubt he has the enforcement personnel to make that effective. I guess time will tell how that works out.

New West is working with regional partners to set up a regional business licence system for ride hailing, we talked about it back in November, and the best update I have is that staff in the many municipalities are still hammering out the details. Unfortunately, the sausage-making of making harmonized regulations work between all these jurisdictions is difficult, and they really couldn’t get started until the provincial regulatory regime was made clear. Such is government.

My understanding (and I stand to be corrected here) is that ride hailing companies licensed by the Passenger Transportation Board to operate in the Lower Mainland can operate in New Westminster (and Surrey and Coquitlam, etc.) right now. There will be a period of shake-down as they get their drivers organized, their service areas worked out, and local governments get the licencing requirements (and enforcement processes) organized. It’s a new world, and there is nothing unique about this as these kind of choppy launches occurred in every single jurisdiction where ride-hailing launched.

My personal opinions about Uber and Lyft have very little impact on this. As I mentioned, back in November, New West Council set out the framework for staff about how we feel ride-hailing should operate in New West. Some parts of it I agree with, some I don’t. My concerns about labour rights, environmental impacts, road safety, traffic impacts, transit system impacts, and neighbourhood livability are based on a *lot* of research about impacts of ride hailing in other jurisdictions. It has also proven in other jurisdictions that most of the promises of ride-hailing (cheaper! more convenient! fun!) are false, and the entire business model is propped up by massive financial losses. The system itself is not sustainable, which makes me wonder why we are rushing into embracing it (see “media saturation and lobbying effort” above). I trust urban transportation experts like Jerrett Walker on this more than I trust the well-oiled Uber/Lyft marketing machine. The Taxi system is not perfect, but I have gone on at length (note this piece from several years ago) about how it is actually the arcane regulation of the industry that makes it not work the way we might like. But that’s another rant, and times have changed since I wrote that piece. Not for the better.

But that said, my (Council) job is partly to advocate for things that make the community stronger and more sustainable, but it is equally to assure the City is run as effectively and responsibly as possible. Ride-hailing is here, (some) people want it, the local government job is to work to reduce the inevitable externalities and make it work as best as possible in our community. Of course, one of those externalities is that this “cheap” transportation option is going to cause your property taxes to go up a little bit. Uber and Lyft don’t pay taxes to the City, and regulation and enforcement are not free.

You may not like Uber or Lyft, but due to powerful lobbying and a brilliant international viral marketing program, you will be paying for it.

Year of the Beard

I’ve been taking a serious year-end break. I took a couple of weeks off work, got out of town just after the last Council meeting. I’m taking a social media break as well, though I do hazard a short lurk once in a while to assure myself #NewWest still exists. I brought a few City documents on the road with me, and I am spending a bit of down time reading capital budget stuff (January is coming on soon!)but it’s been nice to turn most things off for a bit, ride my bike, sit on a beach, and chill with @MsNWimby.

That said, the week between Christmas and the New Year is ripe for these “year in review” things, so here goes mine. 2019 was a strange and interesting year, and I have a hard time summing my 2019 up.

One big change for me personally in 2019 is a change in my work/life balance. I went back to more regular “work” outside of Council. When elected in 2014, I was working full time. After almost two years of increasingly strained attempts at making it work, I had to be honest that I was not giving the attention or energy my 40-a-week professional job deserved, and decided to quit. For the balance of my first Council term I was doing a bit of consulting work, but nowhere near full time. Being honest about the effort and time I could put in with this council work (and my volunteer work with the CEA, CSAP, and LMLGA), I had found a couple of clients that offered the right level or workload, though I think @MsNWimby would have liked a more equitable contribution to household expenses.

In early 2019, I had an opportunity to take a real job working in my field that was half time – a solid 20 hours a week at a proper professional wage. It is work I am very familiar with so the learning curve was easy to get past, and I was able to provide value right up front. The employer is super flexible, and we have a great relationship around planning a work load for the weeks ahead, so I can assure scheduling conflicts are avoided. It all seems very “millennial” in work conditions, but it is working for everyone, and I am staying connected in my field. It has been a fun team to get to know as well, and the work is really interesting. so all’s good!

I also spent a bit of time in 2019 volunteering on the local federal election campaign. This was mostly a good news story – Peter Julian is an easy Member of Parliament to support, he had a great team working for him, and it is fun to knock on doors and make phone calls when you are stumping for such a popular guy!

The disappointment side of the 2019 Federal Election, personally, is a regret that I didn’t spend more time over in Coquitlam/Port Moody helping Bonita Zarrillo’s campaign. I have known Bonita from local government stuff for a few years, and was really excited to hear she was going to represent the NDP in Fin Donnelly’s riding. She is passionate, smart, caring, and hardworking, and she loves her home in the Tri Cities. In the end, she lost a squeaker to a parachuted-in ultra-conservative who failed to meaningfully campaign when she arrived. To see such a brilliant local leader lose to a party-issue hack form central casting is sad. To me a Member of Parliament is representative of your community in Ottawa, not a representative of the Party in your community. I feel disappointment that I didn’t have the foresight to invest more of my volunteer time to help Bonita, when she just needed a few hundred votes to get over the top. Sorry Bonita, but I am glad we are still working together in Local Government in the Lower Mainland.

In the local political realm, New West Council had probably the most quietly challenging year I have ever experienced. From my seat, it seemed there were very few big splashes, yet we pushed some really bold stuff forward. I have felt a tremendous amount of personal growth in how I approach the work, and the organization’s growth in some of the functional changes we are making at City Hall and in Council Chambers. We are making the organization more efficient and effective, though some of this is a bit out of sight for all but the vigilant council-watcher. This is alongside the real progress and growth reflected across the organization on files like climate and reconciliation. I think our Strategic Plan is (perhaps) too aggressive in wanting to achieve much more in a short time period than will be easy for a City our size. That said, I can’t disagree with the bold vision created, and hope we can continue to build the political will to be the most progressive and forward-looking local government in the province, if not in Canada. The shift represented by our Council and Staff’s embrace of aggressive climate actions is an encouraging example of progress that can be made when we are all on the same page, and I’m glad this community is still pushing us forward on that front.

In looking back at the direction we are forging, I find myself using words like “aggressive” and “bold”. Still, it feels like we are being given the clear political push from the public to get this work done. The community is telling us they can be just as bold as this Council, and perhaps through us providing transparency and a clear set of underlying values and vision, I am more confident in our ability to make this progress.

It is a bit funny, but you sometimes need to go outside to see how good things are inside. Our Council has ways of disagreeing – even new ways different than the last Council –and can drive each other nuts with our 7 different ways of approaching solutions, but if our paddles sometimes cross, we are all at least rowing the same direction. It is mostly at regional or provincial conferences where our cohort reminds us that New West is functional and punching way above its weight in the local government actions, and we do it while avoiding so much of the hijinks afflicting other less-functional Councils around the region. They get headlines, we get work done. That is a good feeling.

2019 had challenges, but I think the year ahead will be more challenging. We are deep into Capital Budget discussions right now, and are asking for the public’s help in setting those priorities. Translating an aggressive capital plan into a sustainable operational budget is the hard work part. We will be having some conversations not just about the things we want to do, but our vision for the 5 years ahead is going to have to include some conversations about what we are not going to do, or are going to stop doing. And New Westminster is not as good at letting things go as we are at starting new things (and by that I mean Council, City Staff, and the Public!). These conversations will be at times hard, but worth while. I’m looking forward to the work!

With all of this going on, I hardly had time to ride my bike for recreation, my blog here has been suffering from lack of attention (but blogs as a media are deader than dead, so who knows the future of this?), and my garden was a pretty dismal failure, except for all the tomatoes. I also found myself intentionally stepping back a bit from some things in 2019, mostly because of my new work & commuting schedule: fewer of those “I should make an appearance” events, and less patience for social media. I’m not sure what to make of my nascent impression that our local political challenges have become pettier, despite the good work we are doing (see above). I am not sure if that is a product of the changing social media landscape, or just the natural result of me settling in after five (5!) years of elected life. Or maybe I’m getting older.

Which brings the big personal news – I turned 50 in 2019. I’m not sure how that happened, but it just kinda snuck up on me and now I am looking down the second half of middle age. @MsNWimby threw a hell of a party, and I really haven’t taken the time to thank everyone who came out to celebrate. 50 makes you ornery, I guess. Or gives you a ready excuse to be so. Thank you for the great party, and for being a great support network for me and @MsNWimby.

Let me wrap my 2019 in review by thanking the wider network of great people in New West working to build this unique, progressive, compassionate community. There are so many people in this town who are doing so much to make it a great place to live. My Council colleagues are constantly challenging and surprising me, and the Mayor has really grown into a strong leader who earns more respect every day. There are true leaders in the School District, in the Arts community, in our BIAs and local businesses, in the many service agencies that make New West tick. Please keep up your good work, though it may feel you are fighting against the tide, your contributions are noticed and appreciated. If I have one resolution for 2020, it will be consciously spending less time worrying about the boo-birds on Facebook, and more time expressing gratitude to the many people around New West actually working every day to make this community so great. Happy New Year!

Poe?

I get a lot of correspondence as an elected official. I try to read it all, and try to respond to most of it – almost all with the opening line “I’m sorry I am so late replying to this e-mail, I get a lot of correspondence as an elected official.”

There are those few letters that come in every once in a while to which I have no idea how to reply. Bravo? Thank you? Please let your care professional know you have access to the internet? I try hard to take every one seriously, but at times I feel like I’m being played. There is a name for the specific phenomenon I am talking about: the Poe.

Poe’s Law is an internet adage that says “Without a clear indication of the author’s intent, it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between an expression of sincere extremism and a parody of extremism.”

This has been extended beyond its original intent as a characterization of religious extremism and has been applied to the wide variety of on-line crankiness. And once you recognize it (something that likely only happens to elected officials and local newspaper editors, I suspect), it changes how you view a letter like this, that we at New West Council received last week (personal info redacted out of common decency):

 We often get letters addressed to a wide reach of local and provincial elected types. The content here was, however, a curious mix: The Roman numeral date, the pejorative salutation, the way he spells “Apparatchik” correctly, but immediately uses “they’re” in place of “their”. We commonly hear…uh… unusual opinions that leave me questioning how they are even asking me to act on an issue, but in this case the ask is kind of benign if a little confused: Speak out against China doing something but let other countries do it (those other countries are allowed, as far as I know, but I digress…) So is this a slightly cranky guy venting his deeply felt convictions, or someone mocking Mayor West, and the rest of the recipients? I would have happily assumed the former, but see those two attachments to the e-mail? (ps: never open attachments to an e-mail unless your IT department has vetted them!). They are these two graphics:

OK, now I’m thinking he is having us on, so I Google the person who sent it. His name has many, many hits, mostly in the form of letters he has written to editors of local newspapers from Montreal to Spokane, often with the honorific “Rev.” added, to opine on everything from racism (he is against it), homophobia (also against), potential names of future NHL teams (interesting), pipelines (he is for them), Alberta Premiers (he is against them – past and present), and the viability of DC-Marvel crossovers. He even got a pro-Derrek Corrigan letter published a few years ago in the Burnaby Now.

So, seriously, I don’t know if the Reverend takes himself seriously, but he definitely has lots of time and opinions, and I’m not sure I have time to address them all, so I don’t think I’ll reply. But don’t let that dissuade you from writing me a letter, or asking me a question with that red ASK PAT button up there, I will try to get to it as soon as possible. If I think you are serious.

UBCM 2018

Apologies to regular readers (Hi Mom!) that I have not been putting a lot of content on this blog recently. The campaign is in full swing, we are still doing our regular City Council stuff, and I have another job that keeps me occupied. Hopefully back to regular programming in later October. In the meantime, I am talking more about campaign stuff on my campaign Facebook page, and on the my campaign website and trying to keep this page about City stuff that isn’t campaigning.

However, I thought it apropos to provide a quick update on the annual Union of BC Municipalities meeting. I was not able to attend this year, mostly due to work and Council commitments. I did go up there on September 10th (disclosure: on the City’s dime) to attend the BC Municipal Climate Leadership Council quarterly meeting, and the Minister’s breakfast that is hosted by that Council (of which I am a member). It was a productive meeting, and we were able to discuss the BCMCLC’s response to the Province’s Clean Growth Intentions Paper, which was both supportive of the work the province wants to do, and suggestive of some further steps the province could take to support local governments in reaching the aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals that are required to meet Canada’s Paris targets.

I then returned to Whistler on Wednesday (not on the City’s dime this time) to attend the Lower Mainland LGA meeting (I am a vice president) and to present the annual Community Energy Association awards to communities taking exceptional efforts to reduce their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. In my role as Chair of the CEA, it was my honour to share the awarding duties with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. I also had the opportunity to give one of the awards to the Mayor of Nelson for their Solar Garden project –and let her know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, demonstrated by New Westminster copying their model for our own Solar Garden project.

The good news coming out the UBCM is that some resolutions we sent to be debated were passed by the membership of UBCM. These were:

B-8: Alert Ready Emergency Alert System

… be it resolved that UBCM works with the Province of British Columbia to provide access to the Alert Ready (emergency alert) system to local governments in order to allow them to broadcast critical and potentially life threatening alerts to residents of their respective communities using the framework of the Alert Ready System.

B-54: Cannabis and Harmonizing Smoking Regulations

… be it resolved that UBCM urge the Provincial Government of British Columbia to extend the prescribed distance from a doorway, window, or air intake in which a person must not smoke tobacco, hold lighted tobacco, use an e-cigarette or hold an activated e-cigarette from 6 meters to 7.5 meters and prohibit smoking in all public parks by amending the Tobacco and Vapour Control Regulations and by ensuring the corresponding distances prescribed in the Cannabis Control and Licensing Regulations are the same.

And:
B-102: Updating the BC Motor Vehicle Act to Improve Safety for All Road Users

… be it resolved that the provincial government be requested to support modernization of the Motor Vehicle Act, addressing the recommendations in the Road Safety Law Reform Group of BC Position Paper entitled “Modernizing the BC Motor Vehicle Act” to enhance safety for all road users.

I have to admit, I’m pretty chuffed about that last one.