Gregor’s departure triggers discussion of political legacy and best before dates

In my last post of 2017, I predicted a number of things would come true over the course of this year. One of those predictions was that Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson would be announcing his departure from civic politics. Well, check that one off the list!

One could easily argue that bit of political prognostication wasn’t much of a stretch given Robertson’s unpopularity of late with voters and a general sense of fatigue with his activist agenda – which all too often only served to further polarize civic politics and the city itself from the rest of the region.

Robertson also seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time delving into matters which fall under provincial and federal jurisdiction – rather than taking care of basic civic items such as sewers, parks, traffic congestion and litter.

Mayor Gregor Robertson calls in quits after a decade in civic politics

If you recall, it was only a few months ago Robertson was adamant about running a fourth term – which clearly he had second thoughts about after a walk in the sand over the holidays. Therefore his departure is considered by many to be a bit of a surprise.

Earlier this week, I publicly acknowledged and thanked Mayor Gregor for his time in office and for attempting to make his city a better place. I truly do think it’s important to recognize politicians when they step up to the plate and put their name forward to run for public office – regardless if you agree with their brand of politics or not.

Over the coming months Vancouver’s lame-duck Mayor will naturally become fodder for political writers who will either want to shore up his legacy or bring him down a peg or two.

Two good examples of that include columns by Gary Mason from the Globe and Mail and Mike Klassen from the Vancouver Courier.  Each of the writers take a markedly different approach when it comes to assessing how Robertson will be judged when he’s packed up and gone.

In his statement posted on Facebook to announce his retirement from civic politics, Robertson states:

“Ten years is a long time in politics. An important part of leadership is recognizing when to step aside to make space for new leaders” Mayor Gregor Robertson

That statement got me thinking about New Westminster politics and which of our local politicians could/should be having a similar walk in the sand like Robertson.

Without a doubt, topping that list would be School Trustee Michael Ewen. By the time the next civic election rolls around on October 20th, he will have served 38 years as an elected politician. If he runs again and serves out his term, he will have been in office for 42 years.

Surely Ewen must have accomplished what he set out to do by the 30 year mark…why does he need another term in office? Is there still work left to be done? Isn’t it time for him to step aside and make way for fresh new leadership? One would think so…and I am anticipating he will be announcing…like Robertson, that he is calling it quits. The only thing that would keep him on the ballot is his desire to be at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the long-awaited opening of our new secondary school.

I’m still waiting to read an editorial on this subject in our local newspaper…but alas after all these years, I’m not holding out much hope.

I recently tweeted about Ewen’s long term in office and got an interesting reaction from Kelly Slade-Kerr, Vice-Chair of the School Board.

When I jokingly posed the question as to whether the city should pass a new by-law imposing 30 year term limits on civic politicians – Slade-Kerr responded by saying:

“I’d second that motion”

Read of that what you may, but it would appear, at least on the surface, that even folks like Slade-Kerr [who benefit from support of the DLC/NDP] think it’s time for renewal in our civic politics.

Michael Ewen (l) has been on the School Board for 38 years.

City councillor Lorrie Williams is also a member of the DLC/NDP caucus and has been in elected office for 16 years. If she runs again and serves out a full term, she will have been in public office for 20 years.

Bill Harper, who also is part of the DLC/NDP caucus, has been in office for 13 years. If he runs again, he will have served 17 years in public office.

Every single member of the current city council form part of the DLC/NDP endorsed slate. All independent candidates were defeated in the 2014 election.

Another DLC/NDP caucus member is Chuck Puchmayr who has been in public office both at provincial and municipal since 1996 [NOTE: he did take a brief break when he transitioned back from provincial to municipal politics]. If he runs and wins again this October, he will have been in public office for almost a quarter of a century!

While having experienced politicians at the helm can have its benefits, there is such a thing as a “best before date”.  As Robertson so aptly noted this week, 10 years is a long time in public life. But when it comes to New Westminster civic politics, it appears few are willing to take a page out of his book.

PS The opinions posted on my blog are my own – full stop!

Time to bid adieu to 2017 and look ahead to next year

Well, it’s hard to believe that we are rapidly approaching the end of 2017. As they say, time flies when you are having fun!

This will be my last blog post until the new year, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to look back and touch upon what I consider to be my top 10 local, national and international stories – in no particular order.

10. Trudeau Gains Seats Through By-Elections: While there are many folks who say our PM’s honeymoon is long over, you’d never know it with the results of the most recent set of by-elections. Normally sitting governments do very poorly, but the federal Liberals took 3 out of of 4 seats including the once

Vancouver Sun reports that Gordie Hogg takes the once Conservative stronghold of Surrey-White Rock.

Conservative stronghold in South Surrey-White Rock.

9. Changing of the Guard at Local City Halls: We’re starting to see a growing trend of high profile city politicians calling it quits.

Late in the year Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer announced she wasn’t going to run in the 2018 civic election. That revelation was followed by two separate announcements by NPA councillor George Affleck and Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore who both declared they were calling it a day.

NPA Councillor George Affleck says he’s stepping away from politics in 2018

8. Vision Vancouver Loses Critical By-Election: After a decade in power, the once mighty Vision Vancouver “machine” seems to be misfiring. Case in point was their disastrous showing during the by-election to replace former councillor Geoff Meggs who resigned to take up a senior post with the NDP government in Victoria. Vision not only badly lost the by-election, it was clear the centre-left in Vancouver have lost faith in them – what else could explain why so many candidates chose to run with other parties.

7. Stock Market & Bitcoin rise: Can you say bubble? That’s one way to describe the meteoric rise of the New York Stock Exchange and Bitcoin this year. Day after day we see new record highs. Not surprisingly, President Donald Trump is taking credit for creating all of this new wealth, but what will he do when the market eventually corrects itself?

6. EcoDensity Now in Favour: It may have taken about a decade, but after first being introduced by the NPA and Mayor Sam Sullivan in 2006, the much maligned EcoDensity initiative is finally in vogue. NIMBY’s are being replaced by a new generation of millennials who are signing up to support YIMBY [Yes In My Back Yard]. It’s finally a matter of public discussion that in cities like Vancouver, implementing policies that severely restrict growth are impacting housing affordability in a big way.

5. Opioid Crisis: The number of deaths both in B.C. and across Canada is simply staggering. Politicians of all stripes seem at a loss as to what can be done to prevent even more deaths each day.  This is a crisis that has cut across socio-economic circles and is bound to continue well into next year.

4. President Donald Trump: There are so many things that could be written here, suffice to say I’ll just leave it at that.

3. Vegas Mass Shooting: With the amount of mass shootings in the US, it’s hard to think one could capture the public’s attention the manner in which it did in Las Vegas. A lone gunman, armed to the hilt managed to impact the lives of countless people doing nothing more than enjoying being at an outdoor concert. This was pure evil that one hopes won’t be repeated anytime soon.

2. Christy Clark Resigns: Who saw that one coming? After 16 years in power and riding on a wave of economic prosperity, the BC Liberals finally saw their government toppled in the spring – albeit by the slimmest of margins. It led to the eventual resignation of Premier Christy Clark and the end of her lengthy political career.

1. Green Party Supports NDP and Forms Minority Government: Who saw that one coming? After campaigning against each other during the spring election, the resignation of Premier Christy Clark allowed the BC NDP and the BC Greens to form a coalition minority government. Premier John Horgan surprises the pundits,

Andrew Weaver and Premier John Horgan catch a rugby match together – Source CBC

signs a political agreement with Green Leader Andrew Weaver.

On a personal note, I look back with fond memories on a few highlights for me which included our family holiday to Europe, attending the U2 reunion concert in Vancouver with old friends, starting up my new blog, launching the New West Progressive Electors Coalition and drumming up interest in getting a new rink built!

On the work side, I was thrilled to be on stage with former Health Minister Terry Lake when he announced the BC Government would be investing $500M to expand and strengthen seniors care in the province. It was a file I’d been working on for years and it was great to see the Hon. Adrian Dix maintain his support for this funding when he took over the health portfolio last summer.

Looking Ahead to 2018

What would a year-in-review be without a bit of political prognostication. I’m looking at my crystal ball…and here is what I see.

  • There will be increased speculation regarding a possible spring provincial election after a balanced budget sets a clear path toward an NDP majority government.
  • Dianne Watts comes out on top on the first ballot of BC Liberal Leadership –  only to eventually lose to Todd Stone on the 3rd ballot.

    Will Todd Stone become the new Leader of the Opposition?
  • Sam Sullivan will drop out of the BC Liberal race and throw his support behind…oh, my crystal ball isn’t that clear!
  • Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson announces he’s not running again and will head out on the speaking circuit. Raymond Louie is acclaimed as leader, but not after a bitter internal battle within Vision Vancouver which leaves him as a “wounded leader.”
  • Vancouver Councillor Hector Bremner announces he will run to become the NPA’s mayoral candidate. A grassroots movement emerges asking MLA Michael Lee to give serious consideration to running for mayor as the NPA’s candidate. This will all get a bit messier when former mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe and Wai Young jump into the race as well!
  • Burnaby Mayor Derick Corrigan will get more done to strengthen Translink as the new Chair of the Mayor’s Council…than his predecessor did during his entire term in office. But his “bull in china-shop” approach will ruffle many feathers both in Metro Vancouver and Victoria.
  • Long-time Vancouver city councillor and former NDP MLA & Cabinet Minister Tim Stevenson will announce he’s had a good run at it and will retire from politics after 20+ years in public life.
  • The winds of change will take hold at the municipal level in October with incumbents having a tough time getting re-elected with a number of high profile candidates losing their seats. The passage of Bill 15 [municipal campaign finance reform] and the recent change in government in Victoria will be credited with upsetting the apple cart.

On that note, let me advise you that my track record with political prognostications is about 43% accurate over the years!!

I want to wish you all the best of the season…have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year! Talk to you again in 2018.


Third arena question on civic ballot gets thumbs down from council

The Record newspaper landed with a thud on my porch this week and there above the fold was a big story on the issue of a third arena in New Westminster. Now before you get too excited, it would appear, based on comments from Mayor Jonathan Cote, that our kids won’t be skating in a new arena at any time in the foreseeable future.

Cote tells the Record:

“The concept of having a third rink has been identified in the city’s long-range parks and recreation plans. Even in the Queen’s Park master plan, it was anticipated that a third rink would be located adjacent to the arena property…There already has been some preliminary thinking regarding that, but a lot more work has to be done in terms of the timing, the need.”

What the Mayor meant to say was “we want to thank the sports coalition for reminding us that our city needs a new arena…but it’s not even close to being on our political radar.”

As I’ve said previously, not only do we not know what year the new arena will be built – we don’t even know which decade. This is despite the fact the Official Community Plan just approved by council is calling for a denser population with a lot more families moving into New Westminster over the coming years.

Port Moody asked its citizens by way of a referendum if they wanted to invest in a new fire hall

According to city officials, the rink could cost as little as $8M to construct today – a time when we are experiencing record low interest rates.

Then you need to factor in that this project has a good chance of getting provincial and federal grants. This is especially true when you consider we have a full fledged cabinet minister representing us in Victoria now.

If the grants were approved, this would likely bring the city’s share of the cost to more like $2-3M…in other words, the price of a nice single family home in Queen’s Park. Let’s not forget that we can then amortize that expense over a number of years making the project all that more affordable.

It’s also interesting to hear the rationale provided by the Mayor and his District Labour Council slate regarding their opposition to putting this project on the ballot in 2018.

Cote tells the Record:

“Traditionally, the City of New Westminster does not do referendum for any infrastructure or recreation facilities. It’s not our common practice to use that. I think the major challenge with us going down that road is it doesn’t allow a community to evaluate all the different priorities in the community that really need to be looked at once…I know referendums are very popular south of the border, but they are a lot more rare up here. Traditionally, New Westminster has kind of developed its long-range capital programs and done so by doing appropriate studies, needs assessments and engaging the community to test the priorities.”

Interesting how council seems eager to dump other traditions like support for May Day…but claim the reason they can’t support putting this on the ballot is the fact we have traditionally not done this.

City of Vancouver regularly asks its citizens if they want to invest in new rinks & parks

With due respect to the Mayor and his colleagues, just because we have traditionally done something…doesn’t mean we can’t explore other ways to get our citizens engaged and supportive of major infrastructure projects.

It’s this type of “traditional” thinking which resulted in New Westminster having such a major amenity deficit. In fact, we’ve had almost no net new expansion of our recreation facilities since Moody Park Arena was opened in 1975 – that’s over 42 years!

The Mayor’s assertion that putting this on a civic ballot is something more commonly found south of the border in the US is simply inaccurate. A cursory search on Google will have you discover that neighbouring cities like Vancouver regularly put capital projects on the ballot – and they regularly get approved.

In Burnaby, they ask local citizens whether they want to expand their park system through the purchase and conversion of land. In Port Moody, they recently held a referendum asking for community support for a new fire hall. It too received over 50% support and the project was approved.

If New Westminster is going to accommodate all of the planned growth, we need to get moving now on building a third arena in addition to a new Canada Games Pool and Community Centre.

Sadly, what has become all too “traditional” in New Westminster is our civic politicians promising us new public amenties, only to find they take decades to research, plan, fund and operationalize. Our citizens deserve better. It’s time to “make it happen”.

If you’re interesting in participating at our upcoming organized sport delegation to city hall encouraging them to build a new rink, just drop me a line!

PS The opinions posted on my blog are my own – full stop!