New Westminster council rams in by-law to strip away property rights

In the end, there was no surprise. There rarely is when every elected official from a governing body comes from the same political party. Sadly, watching New Westminster Council has come down to an exercise in determining if there will be a dissenting view or two.

It was late into the evening, but all seven of the DLC Caucus elected officials, including Mayor Jonathan Cote [full disclosure I voted for him] raised their hands and voted to strip over 500 families of their property rights.

There wasn’t even a real debate on the merits of both sides of the argument, but rather, all of our city politicians took their turns at the microphone to explain why they needed to stay united and vote in this flawed by-law.

I’ll have more to write about this entire process in the coming days, but for now, here it a rough transcript [check against delivery] of my presentation to council.

My name is Daniel Fontaine and I am a long-time resident of Queen’s Park. Let me start by saying…I support heritage…but I urge you to vote no and strike down this flawed by-law that is before you. I should also not that I am not a member of any special interest group.

When I was up here a few weeks ago at an open delegation, I pointed out the fact that I reviewed all of your campaign literature back in 2014. I looked at the websites, the glossy brochures…everything I could get my hands on.

Was I able to find a single municipal politician that campaigned on a pledge to arbitrarily remove property rights from a large swath of the community? No I was not. Can I blame you after all? Who would put in their campaign brochure that part of their platform was to strip away property rights?

I also moderated an all-candidates debate hosted by the Moody Park Residents Association. The pledge to take away property rights was not mentioned by anyone in this chamber.

You would think, at least one of you – all of which I note are from the same political party – would have mentioned this as part of your campaign pledge. You did not. 

What is the rush here? Why have you forced all of us to spend the better part of several evenings to come out here and fight this ill-thought out legislation – when we would much rather be back at home with our families…or dare I say, doing some touch ups on our circa 1910 heritage homes.

Mayor…council…I’m hoping you’ve had a chance to think long and hard about the alternatives to this by-law.

Because if it is passed, it will be a stark reminder of what happens when there is a lack of good process…a lack of consultation…a lack of engagement – and an unwillingness to listen to all sides of a debate.

It’s what happens when there is no opposition at this council…when everyone is of the same mind and political persuasion.

I was proud and honoured to have been appointed to Mayor Cote’s Public Engagement Task Force a few years ago. He deserves credit and applause for this initiative.

While I was on the Task Force, I sat in on countless meetings where citizens like myself said it was important to be part of the process.

We said it was important to not only to go through the motions of being heard…but actually to be heard…then for council to listen and act upon citizens’ concerns.

I would dare say that notwithstanding the Mayor’s interest in good public engagement…this process will not be considered the poster child on how it should be done.

If you are going to fundamentally strip away citizens’ rights…then city hall not only has a moral obligation to put out all the facts…it also has a legal one too.

Brochures were distributed through my mail slot that told only part of the story when it comes to this by-law.

Why were the brochures void of what this will all cost homeowners? Why were the flyers vague on what this will cost city taxpayers outside of Queen’s Park when they will likely have to pay more in property taxes?

I ask the questions…but I’ve been waiting weeks for the answers

Mayor and Council…I don’t envy your position.

You’ve been…as they say…sold a bad set of goods…ironically…from a good set of people. Many whom are my neighbours…and I firmly believe who had the best of intentions when they encouraged you to support this by-law.

You’ve been sold on the fact that this has broad-based support in my Queen’s Park neighbourhood. Yet when I speak to my neighbours, my friends, who have the “support heritage sign” few can explain what that actually means…beyond the fact they love looking at old homes in New Westminster. With that, we both have something in common.

Council needs to put the brakes on this, and re-think where you are going.

Should there be design guidelines instead of an HCA? Perhaps.

Should this be put to a referendum in the community? Maybe.

A lot of good questions remain to be answered months after this process has gotten underway.

My point is why are you choosing to ram this process through, when clearly, there is no consensus and a lack of information as to what impact this will have on the residents of New Westminster?

We elected you to listen.

We elected you to act.

We did not elect you to simply assume you know what’s best for us.

While you may not have campaigned on this issue in 2014, if you pass this flawed legislation…it is hard not to imagine how it won’t be an issue in 2018.

In closing, I want to reiterate that like many people who have already spoken…and will speak after me…I support heritage. I love my Queen’s Park neighbourhood. But I urge you do to the right thing…and vote no to this flawed, rushed and ill-conceived by-law.

More to come…

One Reply to “New Westminster council rams in by-law to strip away property rights”

  1. Hi Daniel

    Thank you for your efforts on stopping the flawed bylaw.

    The City Council know they made a huge mistake by voting-in this bylaw, and they know that there are at least 175 small homes that have no value under BC Assessment that they ultimately control and already have shown their control to deny reasonable applications on restoration or replacement of homes by families.

    Indeed, we are all in limbo for another 2 years of control period while they conduct studies for property impact and look at incentives. The ombudsman may be the route to resolve the debacle.

    Simply put HCA is streetscape not heritage.

    What we need to keep the ball rolling to support families who put forward reasonable home alteration or replacement applications to the City.

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