Put third arena on 2018 civic ballot to address amenity deficit

With front page headlines in the local papers blaring out that New Westminster is about to get a new pool & recreation facility – please excuse me if I don’t readily fall into the camp of cheerleaders applauding council for investing in this much needed and long overdue piece of infrastructure.

My lack of enthusiasm has nothing to do with the fact our cherished Canada Games Pool is in desperate need of replacement. There are few willing to publicly argue this isn’t a top priority in terms of replacement – even at the whopping $100M estimated price tag to demolish and rebuild.

My issue is the length of time it’s taken for us to get here. There has been talk of replacing this ageing recreation facility for what feels like the better part of the last decade  and there are still no shovels in the ground.

The opening line in a Record news article sums it up quite nicely. Veteran reporter Theresa McManus states:

“Construction of a new pool and community centre could begin in 2020 if all goes according to plan.”

The Q2Q bridge connecting Queensborough and the Quay never materialized

Given the track record of the current council when it comes to announcements on major infrastructure projects, can you blame our local newspaper for hedging their bets?

This is the same publication that reported back in 2015 the new Q2Q bridge connecting Queensborough and the Quay was only “two to three years away” from opening.

It was recently revealed council had to abandon that high profile 2014 campaign promise. Councillor Patrick Johnstone summed up his feelings about this broken promise on his blog:

“Now that I am on Council, and am (in part) responsible for getting this [Q2Q] project done, the brutal reality of the project has set in. The bridge some of us may dream of may not be possible in this location, and the development of palatable compromises is daunting and frustrating at times. It is becoming a lesson for me about the reality of planning for community infrastructure when a local government’s power is so limited.”

Regardless of where you lean on the political spectrum, few would argue that New Westminster faces a major amenity deficit. Over the decades, we have had very little net new expansion in our sports and recreation services.

This is despite the fact that our children deserve new, safe facilities where they can learn to skate, play hockey and lacrosse with their friends and maintain an active lifestyle.  Our community deserves recreational facilities that allow us to host more frequent and larger tournaments and events that attract people to new Westminster and support local businesses.

As I’ve indicated before, other cities like Kamloops and Vancouver have invested in their sport tourism strategies and it has paid huge dividends.

The last major net new expansion of services was Moody Park arena which was built in the early 70s. Since then, council has merely been playing a wait and see approach to replacing and expanding these types of services – this despite the fact the city has experienced major population growth during this same period.

Our amenity deficit got even worse last winter with the collapse of the Arenex building shortly after we spent a load of tax dollars installing a new roof. All it took was one heavy snowfall and we lost even more sport and recreation capacity.

Queen’s Park Arena is a gem of facility, but it too was built by our ancestors in the 1930’s. Just imagine had they not had the foresight to make this type of investment, we would have only one indoor surface playing area to accommodate minor hockey, lacrosse and other sports.

The recently approved Official Community Plan is predicated on a lot of growth and new families moving into the Royal City. This growth will be taking place under a new modernized regime to charge developers more fees if they want to increase density in our city.

With more people living within our borders there will surely be increased pressure on our limited sports and recreation facilities.  That’s why if we don’t plan to address the amenity deficit now, it will only get worse.

Our beloved Arenex collapsed late in 2016 after some heavy snow

It’s for this reason I was so perplexed by the reaction of a small, but vocal minority of folks on Twitter who seem convinced we should not build a 3rd arena in New West. In my opinion, they are simply not reflective of the majority of residents – many of whom have moved here in the last decade – who feel the time has come for us to make these types of new investments to help facilitate more physical activity in our community.

In a recent Park and Recreation committee meeting, city staff estimated it would cost as little as $8M to build a new arena. As an added bonus, it’s also likely to be cost shared with senior levels of government and amortized over a number of years.

Some of the arguments against investing in a new arena simply don’t hold water.  There are those that say we shouldn’t build another arena due to the fact that lacrosse and hockey can result in concussions. We’d be better off supporting more soccer fields – asserted one tweeter.

I’m not a medical doctor, but the last time I checked using your head to bounce a regulation soccer ball at rapid speed – and repetitively year over year – can’t be that much better than playing hockey or lacrosse.

The alternative to increasing access for organized sport is we further limit opportunities for our kids to get physically active and have them laze on the couch surfing the web on their smart phones. How healthy is that?

If you think support for a third arena can trigger a firestorm on social media, just advocate that this issue be put on a civic ballot – then you will really set the fireworks ablaze.

I happen to believe putting this on the municipal ballot in 2018 is one of the best ways to ensure we get an arena built in the next 5 years – not in 2030. In fact, while the city is officially in support of a new arena, it has yet to even decide which decade it will be built – let alone what year.

Some of council’s closest advisors/supporters took to Twitter to attack me for having the audacity to argue this should be on the 2018 civic ballot – like so many other progressive cities do, not only in our region, but around the world.

While it is hard to assess why they are so opposed, it may simply come down to partisan politics. Putting this on the ballot would no doubt inspire a lot of new voters to come out to the polls – many for the first time. New voters flooding the polls could translate into a lot of “unknowns” when it comes to how they would vote for council or school board.

In other words, the current 7-0 political monopoly at city hall [endorsed by the District Labour Council] is worried that putting this type of initiative to the voters could seriously upset the apple cart.

When I put the question out as to why this capital project shouldn’t go on the ballot,  Jen Arbo, one of the Mayor’s staunchest supporters responded on Twitter by stating:

“Because voter turnout is shit and I elected people to make decisions.”

My response – if voter turnout is low, what better way to get people motivated to come out to the polls than giving them something tangible to vote for or against? In most jurisdictions, they call this a healthy and vibrant democracy.

I’ll have more to report  in the coming weeks about a special delegation being planned for city hall by an emerging coalition of organized sport.  Perhaps if city hall politicians and their closest advisors won’t listen to the parents, they will be more apt to act upon the requests of our kids. Stay tuned for more details to come!

PS The views expressed on this blog are my own – full stop!







3rd arena in New Westminster takes big step forward

It was a cool, dark and rainy Wednesday evening – but that didn’t prevent our delegation from heading out to the Queensborough Community Centre to make a presentation to the city’s Park and Recreation Committee.

We were there to formally present my petition with over 500 signatures asking our city leadership to prioritize the construction of a new arena which is not scheduled to be built for at least another decade.

I make the case to the Parks and Recreation Committee regarding why we need a new rink

The delegation included Bernie Lehmann, VP for NW Minor Hockey Association and Mark Smith, VP for NW Minor Lacrosse Association. We made a 15 minute PowerPoint presentation followed by a 45 minute question and answer session. The committee is chaired by city councillor Jamie McEvoy and includes some senior staff.

Our presentation covered a number of key themes including:

  • Challenges related to recruiting new kids to organized sport when practice times and access to playing surfaces is so limited.
  • Organized sport is a great way to tackle the issue of childhood diabetes and obesity. It’s a great way to get them off their smartphones and more physically active!
  • Planned increased density in our city requires new investments in public infrastructure to accommodate a growing population.
  • Sports tourism is a great way to support our local economy, however, it is extremely limited with only two arenas.
  • Registration has been relatively flat [even declining in some cases] while the overall number of kids in our city continues to grow.
  • The makeup of the modern family – including a growing number of single parent families – means that early morning and difficult practice times limit their ability to register their children in organized sport or volunteer to become a coach.

“The Committee asked a number of good questions of our delegation and it was great to see such a high level of engagement and interest,” says Lehmann. “While we don’t have a commitment for a new arena yet, this was a big step forward in putting it on the radar.”

Click on image to read our presentation

I’ve also been working with Bernie over the last several months to help set up a coalition of sporting groups committed to supporting the construction of a 3rd arena. In addition to hockey and lacrosse, the coalition is also supported by the Metro Minor Ball Hockey Association and the New West Ringette Association.

City staff confirmed that a site has been identified to build a new arena on the parking lot north of the existing Queen’s Park facility. Staff estimate the arena can cost anywhere from $8M to $15M depending on the scale of the project.

“While we don’t have a commitment for a new arena yet, this was a big step forward in putting it on the radar.” – Bernie Lehmann, VP, NWMHA

Smith also noted that connecting the two arenas could save operating costs and allow for an expanded number of tournaments to be hosted in New Westminster. “Putting two arenas together really opens up the opportunity for us to host larger and more frequent tournaments in our city.”

“We’re not going away” – is what I said with a big smile on my face when discussing next steps and where we go from here. We intend to keep up the pressure on city hall in the hopes that they can formulate a ballot question and put this project on the capital plan for the next 5 years.

While no media were in attendance, I’m hopeful they will cover this story in the weeks to come in order to keep this top of mind for our community.  If you haven’t already signed the online petition, please click here and spread the word!





Awareness of my Métis heritage only came later in life

Imagine growing up and never knowing about a significant part of your own heritage. Interestingly, that was my experience until I had a startling revelation in my early 30s – I was not simply French-Canadian, I was Métis.

I learned about my familial connection to our First Nation peoples when my uncle [mom’s brother] living in Manitoba advised me he was applying for his Métis status.  My first question was “how can you apply for this type of status, when you’re not even Métis?”

Plains Ojibwe Chief Sha-có-pay (The Six). In addition to the northern and eastern woodlands, Ojibwe people also lived on the prairies of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, North Dakota, western Minnesota and Montana – Source: Wikipedia

That conversation opened up a whole new chapter in my life. I had grown up believing all my family roots were back in Quebec and France. In fact, a couple of family tree books I had the chance to scan as a teenager showed a direct linkage back to the “old world” but made no reference to any Aboriginal ancestry.

It was my uncle Ralph Parisien who started this journey by beginning to trace back our family lineage, long before there was something known as ancestry.com. He did it the hard way, reviewing one document at a time. In the end, he was able to definitely prove that his great, great, great grandmother was a member of the Ojibwe First Nation whose traditional territory crosses the Manitoba and Ontario borders and into the USA.

Ojibwe language map

To say this came as a revelation to me was an understatement. After countless family gatherings, I couldn’t recall overhearing a single person  acknowledge this part of our family heritage.

After learning of my Aboriginal roots, I started to question why it took so long for us to fully discuss and explore this reality. While there is no single answer, I can only surmise it had to do a lot with self-preservation and being part of an identifiable minority.

I was born in St. Boniface, Manitoba then moved to Edmonton when I was a young child. While there is a significant French Canadian population in the Winnipeg area, even there Francophones are in the minority.

I did hear many stories of how my extended family had trouble learning their native language in a formal school setting back in the 1950s.  The students, regardless if they were predominantly Francophone, were to adhere to a mainly English-only learning environment.

Teachers were allowed a maximum 15 minutes of French instruction per day. However, I’m told many of them broke that rule, despite the fact they faced disciplinary action from the local school district if they were caught.

A one room schoolhouse was very common in southern Manitoba in the 1950s

When my family moved to Alberta in the mid 1970s, it didn’t take long to realize there were even fewer Francophones in our midst. While the shunning of formalized French instruction in public schools was now in the past, let there be no doubt that many problems still existed.

I clearly remember a time when I went to our local shopping mall with my mom only to have her say something to me in French at the checkout counter. I recall the sinking feeling I had in the pit of my stomach when people turned around and glared at her. There was an unspoken understanding, if you move to Alberta, you better speak English when in public – French only at home please.

In fact, my easily identifiable Francophone name was actually changed from Daniel Fontaine to “Danny” in order to make me sound less French. Even to this day, many of my family, friends and former colleagues still refer to me as “Danny”. It wasn’t until later in life that I asked everyone to call me by the Francophone name I was born with…and was actually on my birth certificate.

Thankfully times have changed, and we are much more accepting as a society – but there is still a long way to go when it comes to how minorities are treated and respected in Canada.

Looking back, I now have a slightly better understanding as to why it took my family so long to identify and celebrate our Aboriginal heritage.

David Chartrand is the President of the Manitoba Métis Federation

You see…it was one thing to be a minority Francophone living in a sea of Anglophones. It would have made things all the more complicated if we had also identified as Aboriginal – given the endemic racism that First Nations people have endured for so long.

That’s why I’m forever grateful to my uncle who took the time to explore, speak openly about our heritage and celebrate it in a way our family had never done before.

Yes, my name is Daniel Fontaine. I’m proud to say I’m a Francophone and Métis.

Let’s hope moving forward, we’ve learned as a society that being more accepting and embracing our of differences is something that strengthens our nation – not weakens it.