This Happened (v.5)

Yikes, too much going on since last time I reported out on my Council-adjacent activities, so I’ll keep this short. One paragraph each (scroll down to see if I keep that promise, kinda curious if I do myself…)

I am on the Lower Mainland LGA executive, and we had an executive meeting to move some business along, which was mostly about making some fundamental program decisions about the 2020 conference we are planning for the beginning of May. It looks like a great program, so if you are a Local Government elected type reading this (and who else would?) make sure you register!

I gave opening greetings as “Acting Mayor” at the 2020 Innovation Expo at Anvil Centre. This annual event is part of the Intelligent New West program, where we bring people working in tech and innovation in the private sector together with people from the public sector to talk about how the two can work together to build capacity and promote investment in science and engineering. One of New West’s innovative businesses – Landcor – was a major sponsor of the event this year, and the event was really well attended.

Last weekend, the City of New West also hosted the semi-annual Council of Councils meeting, where local elected types from accross Metro Vancouver get together to get an update on what Metro Vancouver is up to. I guess I should write a blog post about separately!

On the same day, a few of us from Council attended the annual Royal New Westminster Regiment Mess Dinner, which is an event I have never actually had the honour of attending before. I was lucky to be seated with some members involved in the Cadet programs, and it was great to hear about the work they do, and the role they play in the community.

I am now serving as Chair of two new Council advisory committees: Facilities, Infrastructure, and Public Realm Advisory Committee (“FIPRAC”) and the Sustainable Transportation Advisory Committee (“STAC”), and both had their opening meeting in the last two weeks. It occurs to me now that I need to write another blog post about this, and how we are envisioning our new advisory committees being more effective and efficient.

For reasons too complicated to get into here, I was able to tour the OceanWise laboratory at the Pacific Science Enterprise Centre, which is what we are now calling the old DFO laboratories in West Vancouver. I was there to learn about some of the work OceanWise is doing to better understand microplastic pollution in our marine environment. This is an emerging area of science, as the impacts of residual clothing fibres, tire dust, paint chips, and other microscopic plastic particles are not well understood, even as we are now recognizing they have become ubiquitous in our oceans, air and sediments, and are becoming more common in marine micro- and mega-fauna. We may be some distance from knowing if we have any policy levers to do anything about this, but the foundational science is being done to at least allow us a better understanding of the problem.

I am also the Chair of the Community Energy Association, a not-for-profit agency that helps communities across BC (and increasingly adjacent parts of Yukon and Alberta) set and achieve energy and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. We had a meeting last week where we approved a 2020 budget and set some priorities for special initiatives for the year ahead (including a new website, so enjoy this one while it lasts!).

I had a brief telephone interview with CKNW’s Jill Bennett on the morning of February 29th to talk about Council’s plans to undertake a master planning exercise for the 22nd Street Station area. It is interesting that a mention of reducing auto-dependency, even as a long-term plan in light of a Climate Emergency, triggers a strong reaction for people. Even as we continue to have a regional vision of less car dependency, the idea that we can create an area attractive to people who choose to not be car-reliant, even in a small underdeveloped area around a 30-year-old SkyTrain station, is treated with the level of incredulity expected if we were planning a moon base.

I was able to attend the small vigil/gathering at Hyack Square last weekend to show support for the Wet’suwet’en people and express hopes for respectful dialogue and a peaceful resolution for the current dispute. It was nice to see some local engaged residents come out, and I had some great conversations with people. Although there has been some positive news coming out of Victoria and Smithers as the two sides work towards resolution, the discussion on that day was mostly around how unhealthy and divisive the conversation was in the social and traditional media on this topic. Having a gathering of people support a more respectful model of discourse left me feeling more positive about our community. Thanks to the organizers for this!

There was also a successful fundraiser event thrown last weekend by the Rotary Club of New Westminster that brought a couple of hundred people to the Royal City Centre atrium to have a some snacks and taste craft beer from around the region as an excuse to raise money for two great organizations in the City, I’s on the Street and KidSport.

Finally, the Royal City Curling Club is winding its season down over March, and Team DeGobbi went into the playoffs in 12th seed, and won our first game against the #5 seed but then lost our second game to the 14th seed, so we have the long row to hoe if we plan to go deep in the playoffs. If you are wondering where I am Tuesdays and Thursday evenings…

Community – Jan 12, 2020

I hope to get back in to the practice of posting weekly (or so) on the things I have done that are Council-job-related and happenings-around-town aside from the Exciting! Monday! Night! Meetings! you all watch at home. This is because people have often asked questions along the theme of “how much time does it take?”, or “What does the job involve?”. I had always hoped to use my little pulpit here to open that part of the job up a bit, and then I got busy and it fell by the wayside, but I’ll try again.

Of course, “Council work” includes a bunch of reading of reports, independent research, and countless e-mails and conversations on the street with residents, business owners, and others. Lots of times, you wake up in the morning thinking about it, and go to sleep at night thinking about it. You sit in the pub and chat about recycling, friends corner you at the curling rink and ask you about dog parks, the barber fills you in with the latest happenings during your trim. I’m a social guy, and I love to talk, so I don’t want that to come across as a complaint, but his makes it hard to “count the hours” of the job. Is it full time or part time? The only answer is that it is a job that expands to the time available to it.

Still , here are some of the things I have been up to:

The funnest event in my week was going to the New Media Gallery to see the Cartooney show currently going on. I am embarrassingly late getting to this show (I usually try to get to the openings of new NMG shows), and I need another visit. You really should book out a full hour for this show so you can enjoy the full cycle of Andy Holden’s “Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape” because it is hilarious and insightful. The other 5 pieces are also worth taking the time to chew on, so get there before February 9th when the show closes!

This week we held a Capital Budget workshop where a few dozen residents and stakeholders in the community came to look at the work done so far by staff and council on the 2020-2024 budget. This evening workshop outlines council’s strategic plans and the goals of the Climate Action strategy, and then gave details about the capital expenditures the City is looking at making over the next 5 years, hoping that residents can provide feedback about priorities. There were spreadsheets of numbers, and some pretty intense discussions:

This was, by far, the most public engagement in our budgeting process has ever had, and I don’t know of any other City in the lower mainland doing anywhere near this much outreach. some even seen to disdain this type of public participation. If you were not able to attend, there is still an on-line survey you can do, and of course you can come to Council for open delegation and tell us what you think.

This is a bit of an experiment, putting all of the data out there early in hopes that people will read what is pretty detailed data bout the City’s finances, and provide informed and meaningful feedback. If you are reading this blog, you probably care about this stuff, so please take some time to read the info, and provide us some feedback. It not only makes it easier for us to make better decisions, it shows that this kind of engagement is valued by the community.

I had two informal meetings this week, one with a member of the Intelligent City Advisory Committee to talk about the future of that file as the ICAC’s work gets rolled into the Economic Development Advisory Committee’s workplan (as part of the overall consolidation of advisory committee work). I also met with representatives of the Queensborough Residents’ Association executive, as I have been assigned to act as Council liaison to the QRA, and I wanted to get their idea about how they think this will work best. This liaison-to-RAs is a new thing, and I am really cognizant that RAs belong to the residents, not to Council, so I am putting a bit of a burden on them to define the bounds of my participation, and to make sure that communication works in a way that serves their needs.

Gross

There was a weird event in Council last week, following something that got a little media news on the TriCities, if not much mileage here in New West. This week, New West Council moved to take a piece of  correspondence out of closed, which means I am now able to talk about it. I should probably add that to this post one of my semi-regular caveats that this blog is my writing and contains some of my opinions and should not be construed to reflect the official position of the City or the opinion of anyone other than me.

The first point here is to clarify why City Councils have in camera, or “closed” meetings at all. There is certainly a broader collection of topics talked about in Closed than suggested in the news report linked above. Pretty much every Monday, Council has a closed meeting, usually just before the regular or “open” meeting. At those meetings we talk about things that fall under Section 90 of the Community Charter, which you can read here in its full breadth. This is the Provincial Law that governs how local government councils operate, and Section 90(1) list the reasons a council may discuss items in closed, where Section 90(2) talks about where council must keep the topic in camera – a not-unimportant distinction.

The topics typically discussed in closed are ones you might expect – real estate negotiations, human resources issues, advice from our lawyers, or involving information about a member of the public that is subject to the privacy protection provisions of FOIPPA but also many things beyond that involving security of the organization, procurement, negotiations with senior governments, financial planning, and more.

Of course, there is very little the City can do that remains secret – we eventually have to make an open decision before we spend money or adopt a bylaw, so most things discussed in closed eventually end up in open reports. When we buy or sell a piece of land for example, we operate those negotiations in closed (to assure we have a competitive relationship with the purchaser/seller), but the final purchase/sale agreement comes to an open meeting and is publicly voted upon. The line item of the price we pay also ends up in a financial report. Review of appointments to City Commissions and Advisory Committees or hiring of senior managers necessarily contain a significant amount of personal information about applicants, so that information is kept in closed, though the final decision of whom to appoint is brought to an open meeting.

The decision whether a subject can or must be discussed in closed usually happens long before Council even sees the Agenda, and the City Clerk (whose skills include an encyclopedic knowledge of the application of Section 90, and who gets advice from the City Solicitor if there are any doubts) usually makes the call, though there may be discussion with Council. It is important to note in this case that Section 90 also applies to Metro Vancouver Board and the committees within, and if necessary, communications from the City to Metro Vancouver about those boards.

It is not unusual for municipalities to communicate with each other about how regional boards operate. The City of New Westminster sends representatives to Metro Vancouver boards and committees, agencies like E-Comm, the Fraser Health Authority Advisory Council, Municipal Finance Authority, and others. It should be no surprise to anyone who follows New Westminster Council that we have been pretty proactive at seeking diversity in the representation on those boards, just as we have for our own advisory committees, and that has included some communications with other Cities to coordinate equity-seeking actions.

But this is something different, something much less positive, but concomitant with creating a respectful and safe workplace for all persons.

At the time that New Westminster wrote this letter, the Mayor of Port Moody was indicating that he was ready to come back to work at Port Moody Council, though it was unclear if the legal case against him had been resolved, or what that resolution entailed. This return to work was, to use the technical term, a shit show. Debate about whether he should have returned to work made clear that the only person with the power to prevent him from doing so was himself. His Council and the residents of his community were powerless to remove a person facing a serious criminal charge.

During this time, it was not reported that Mayor Vagramov also returned to work on Metro Vancouver committees. This resulted in the situation where other regional leaders, often including a member of the New Westminster Council, had to sit in committee meetings beside a person charged with sexual assault while the case was still before the courts. That is not an acceptable situation to me, and it is clear from the letter we wrote that this was not acceptable to the majority of New Westminster Council. Unlike his decision to return to his regular Council duties, he serves at Metro committee at the pleasure of his Council, and it is within that Council’s prerogative to remove him from that position until his legal situation was resolved. New Westminster appealed to Port Moody Council to exercise that prerogative, to assure that all members of our Council and Councils across the Lower Mainland are able to exercise their duties in a respectful and safe workplace.

Yet another gross part about this is that someone in Port Moody leaked this letter to the media before it was released from in camera, which is likely a violation of the Community Charter, but I’m not a lawyer. Why they did it is unclear, but it smells of shitty politics. Ultimately, it was fated to come out to the public sooner than later, but by jumping the gun the person who leaked the letter put many people, including me, in the difficult spot of having to say “no comment” to the media when asked about it, because for us to comment on it would itself be a violation of Section 90.

So New West Council lifted the resolution and letter from closed this week, allowing us to speak about it. But in many ways it speaks for itself.

This is a gross situation, and it is far from resolved. Vagramov has not been “exonerated” as he claimed, and the way he and his lawyer shrugged off the original accusations with the “awkward date” language further the ongoing patterns of victimizing and the accuser by robbing her of a voice. This is not an act of apology, and shows a profound lack of self-awareness,  of judgement, and of understanding of  a power imbalance being asserted.

That there is no way to remove him from his position of power is problematic, but that is not something we can do anything about, and need to ask the provincial government to make changes to the legislation. That my colleagues in New Westminster and across the region, some of whom may have been victims of sexual assault and have felt this case more personally than I have, will now have to choose between serving beside Vagramov on a Committee, or removing themselves from committees. He should not have the power to force others to make this choice, and they should not be the ones stepping aside.

The letter from New West Council was written at a time before this matter was “resolved” in Vargamov’s mind, but I do not think it is resolved in the minds of many people. I think it is still appropriate to call on his Council to remove him from Metro Committees, and I hope that the provincial government can finally bring in some legislation to address these issues when they arise.

Lower Mainland LGA 2019

Last week I attended the Lower Mainland LGA’s annual conference. You paid for me to go there*, so as per my tradition, I like to report out on some of the highlights of what I saw and what I did.

The Lower Mainland Local Government Association is an organization that brings local government elected people together from across the “Lower Mainland”. Our Membership includes every Municipality and Regional District between Hope and West Vancouver, between White Rock and Pemberton. Every year we hold a two day conference over three days, and this year it was in Harrison.

The opening session included a notable speech by the Speaker of the House. Unexpectedly, this led to some media attention. In hindsight, it was bold for the Speaker to provide a speech to a room of elected officials and frame the speech around how elected officials are hated and not trusted, mostly because they are not good leaders. As a call to arms to be better leaders, or to take the role of leadership seriously (as most of the members assembled were new) it was a puzzling approach.

In this context, where your audience’s back is up, it is easy for some questionable examples and ham-fisted allegory to be received in the worst possible light. It was unfortunate, and ultimately failed to deliver the message that the speaker was hoping to deliver. The resultant media buzz was perhaps out of scale with the event, but the knives coming out so quick might have said more about why fewer people choose to put their names forward for leadership… but I digress.


Day two began with a moderated session about the Past and Future of the regional plan, or even of Regional planning. Gordon Price began with a description of the emergency that led our region to begin regional planning (the flood of 1948), and drew a parallel and contrast to our current slow-burning apocalypse, challenging us to ask whether we are planning to deal with it. “never waste a good apocalypse”. Patricia Heintzman and Patricia Ross brought perspectives from the Sea-to-Sky and the Fraser Valley – both addressing themes of responsible planning and the future of the environment and outlines some successes and challenges at the metaphorical edges of the metropolis, while Rhiannon Bennett reminded us that the growth of the region, planned or otherwise, did not occur in a vacuum, but on lands that provided prosperity to her people for several thousand years.

This was followed by a Munk-style moderated debate featuring four elected officials on the topic of Climate Action. Nadine Nakagawa and Christine Boyle debated in favour of the motion “We need a Canadian version of the Green New Deal” against Laura Dupont and… uh, me. At the end of the hour, we essentially tied (we didn’t move anyone in the crowd one way or the other) but we did manage to have a robust discussion around the strengths of different approaches to addressing climate change, and the role local governments can play.

Day two is the day we do the AGM, and Elections for the Lower Mainland LGA, followed by our Resolutions Session, where members debate various resolutions calling in senior governments to make changes in legislation or policy to make local governments work better. There were 34 resolutions, most of them approved, some with amendments, and you will have to wait until the full report comes out on line to see what went through and how.

New Westminster sent 4 resolutions forward:

Fresh Voices #LostVotes Campaign: Therefore be it resolved that UBCM request the Province of British Columbia make the necessary changes to allow Permanent Residents to vote in municipal elections in municipalities in British Columbia.

This and a similar resolution by Port Moody were supported.

#AllOnBoard Campaign: Therefore be it resolved that the #AllonBoard Campaign be endorsed and the TransLink Mayors’ Council, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction be asked to work with the provincial government and local governments to develop a plan that will provide free public transit for minors (ages 0‐18), free transit for people living below the poverty line (as identified by market basket measure, in line with the BC poverty measures), and reduced price transit based on a sliding scale for all low‐income people regardless of their demographic profile.

This and similar resolutions by Vancouver and Port Moody were supported.

Office of a Renters Advocate: Therefore be it resolved that the LMLGA and UBCM seek support of the Provincial Government to create an Office of The Renters Advocate, to monitor and analyzes renters’ services and issues in BC, and make recommendations to government and service providers to address systemic issues caused by rental shortages, renovictions, demovictions and housing affordability.

This resolution was supported by the membership.

Support of the Indigenous Court System: Therefore be it resolved that UBCM, FCM and LMLGA lobby the Canadian Federal and Provincial Governments to fund and expand the Indigenous Court System.

This resolution was also supported by the membership. So New West was 4 for 4 on the resolution front this year!


Friday began with addresses from representatives of the three Parties in the provincial legislature. Leader Andrew Wilkinson spoke for the BC Liberal Party, Deputy Leader Jonina Campbell for the BC Greens, and Selina Robinson the (apropos) Minister of Municipal Affairs for the BC NDP.

The highlights for me on Friday were the two sessions moderated by Justin McElroy of the CBC and stuff-ranking fame.  The first had Minister Robinson, Metro Vancouver Chair Sav Dhaliwal and UBCM President Arjun Singh talking about the work of local governments (remember, most of the elected folks in the room have only been in office for 6 months), and how to work together with senior governments to get things done. The second was a panel discussion on the future of regional transportation with the Chair of the TransLink Mayors Council, the Chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District, the MLA for the Sea-To-Sky region, and ELMTOT-friendly MLA Bowinn Ma.

Overall, the Lower Mainland LGA is an opportunity for local elected people to get together and talk about the challenges we see on our communities, and the innovative ideas we are using to overcome these challenges. I got to spend time chatting with the new Mayor of Squamish about her concise new Strategic Plan (one page, straight forward, and full of easy-to-measure goals!), to ca Councillor in Abbotsford about the challenges rolling out the Abbotsforward plan, to Vancouver Councilors about their (crazy?) new Council dynamic. I got to complain and brag about New West in equal measure. It is this networking with peers and connections we make that I value most from this meeting every year.

  • *I’m on the Executive of the Lower Mainland LGA, so part of my cost of attending was covered by the organization. Also, my attendance required me to take three unpaid days off of my regular work, so MsNWimby argues that she paid a substantial part of my costs as well…

LMLGA 2018 – Part 1

I’m out in Halifax at the annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which is a nation-wide conference for local government types. However, I don’t want to report on this yet, because I still haven’t reported on my trip to Whistler last month for the LMLGA. Sorry, things have been busy!

The Lower Mainland Local Government Association is a networking and advocacy group that serves the local governments of the southwest corner of the mainland of BC, which I talk about a little more in my report on the 2017 meeting here.

The 2018 conference was at Whistler in the first week of May, and it was a full couple of days. Here is a quick run-down of what kept me busy over that time.

Pre-conference Sessions
There were two plenary workshops on Wednesday afternoon (I am on the LMLGA Executive, so I had to go up early for Wednesday morning executive meetings). One was on challenges that cities have in attracting and retaining family doctors, the second on the latest updates on cannabis legalization. I did not have a lot to say about the first session, as there was a lot of details about the problem (from how we teach Doctors to how we pay them and how we attract them from other jurisdictions – all firmly in the Provincial realm) and the solutions local governments could apply were a strange mix of making your city more livable and selling the benefits of your community to young professionals and their families.

The second session was more compelling, as there was a lot of new information about how other local governments are approaching legalization. There is a strict division between what the federal government and provincial government will be regulation, and there is a fairly well defined role for local government. As always, our role is land use (where will these businesses be able to set up?), business licensing (how will a local business operate –hours, signage, staffing, etc.), and nuisance management (where will we enforce smoking, growing, etc.). In New West, we expect to have a report back from Staff early in the summer to set up our local rules, though it seems obvious that the roll-out of federal regulations will be delayed from the July deadline set up by thr federal government.

The opening day ended with a Keynote by Chris Syeta’xtn Lewis from the Squamish Nation, who gave a informative and poignant summary of the history of his people, and the context of where the amalgamated Squamish nations exist today, and what they see for the future of their region. A follow-up discussion with Mayor Patricia Heintztman of Squamish talked about the opportunities all Cities have for not just starting reconciliation, but finding a respectful space to have conversations about our shared future. It was an inspiring evening.

Day 1
Our Morning Plenary was a talk by author James Hoggan, whose discussed his book “I’m Right and You’re and Idiot”. It was a long dissertation on the current problem of public discourse (including there are too many people intentionally disrupting it for personal or political gain), and some techniques to address this (“speak the truth, but never to punish”). Any summary I give here will give short shift to his great multi-faceted talk that covered what Hoggan calls the “social pathology” of our natural predisposition to form teams, the opportunity to be found in embracing cognitive dissonance, and how all of us on every side of every issue think we are David and the other is Goliath.

I then ran a Transportation Connectivity session, which was in two parts. First, Don Lidstone gave a talk on the autonomous vehicle and vehicle-sharing future from the perspective of local government legal issues. Don is, among many I have heard on this topic, at the techno-optimist side of things, anticipating that our entire vehicle landscape will shift dramatically in the next decade to something we do not recognize. He switches quickly to pessimist, however, when he talks about how completely unprepared the province and local governments are. Nothing in our Motor Vehicle Act addresses driverless vehicles. The liability that falls on a Local Government if our infrastructure is not read correctly by an autonomous vehicle (say, if someone vandalizes a stop sign or road lines are buffed off) is uncertain and untested. There is also the not-minor problem that every local government has its own Street / Traffic / Parking Bylaws, and there is no system to an autonomous car to know this, or even any understanding of who is responsible for teaching a car that drives into New Westminster from, say, California, what a flashing yellow light means here or what the local parking restrictions are.

The second part was a panel discussion moderated by Mayor Cote, where a Planner from the City of Abbotsford, the Mayor of Squamish and a staffer from BC Transit discussed the opportunities and challenges of connecting the entire Lower Mainland (Hope to Delta to Pemberton) with Public Transit. Abbotsford and Squamish are both growing quickly, and both are becoming denser, more –transit oriented communities well served by Transit, but barriers exist between the area served by TransLink and those served by BC Transit. This is a bigger issue for Squamish, where up to 4,000 people a day commute to Vancouver, but Abbotsford is all about connecting local communities as opposed ot getting people to the “core”, as job growth is being pushed out to Abbotsford in a major way. So clearly, needs differ around the region, but the need for coordination does not.

We then had a unique program element: An actual honest-to-goodness debate. Seth Klein and Josh Gordon each had teams debating the question: “Does the Speculation Tax go far enough?”, which was fun to watch and quite informing about the strength of the tax as public policy (which resulted in the audience shifting somewhat from slightly in favour of the tax to slightly more in favour of the tax).

The rest of the Day 1 was spent doing AGM-type activities, including Bylaw updates, passing a budget, and electing officers for the upcoming year. You may now congratulate your new Lower Mainland LGA Second Vice President. Jason Lum of Chilliwack has been an excellent President for the last year, and Jack Crompton from Whistler will no doubt fill his shoes well, as he has already been a real driving force behind some of the new initiatives LMLGA has brought into assure it serves its members. We also had resolutions, which I will talk about in Part 2 of this report, which will be arriving soon…

UBCM 2017 – Day 3+1/2

This is part 4 on my reporting out on what I did at the 2017 UBCM conference. Part 3 is here

On the Thursday of UBCM 2017, I again caught the early train downtown for a morning clinic, this one on Socially Responsible Investing. The CAO of the Municipal Finance Authority and a gentleman from an Investment Management company came to speak to a pretty small audience about repeated calls from several local governments (including New West) towards divestment from fossil fuel industries.

Long story slightly shortened: most local governments in BC place most of their reserves in pooled funds held by the Municipal Finance Authority. Through pooling our savings, we can get pretty good returns, the investments are quite secure, and we can re-invest back into our communities – it’s a pretty good model. However, about 8% of these funds are invested in fossil fuel extraction companies, and another 4% or so in fossil fuel transmission companies – like the same Kinder Morgan that communities across BC are trying to prevent from fouling our landscape. We are paying to prevent Kinder Morgan from threatening the lower Brunette River, and at the same time, financing their fight against us. Many of our communities would like a better option – a fund where we can invest that doesn’t include that 12% of carbon-intensive industries.

The presentations were (alas) essentially a long justification for why this is not possible. Every tired argument against divestment was brought out, but the most bothersome was the industry-sustaining argument that the “fiduciary responsibility” of the fund manager will not allow them to make ethical decisions – they are required by law to return the maximum investment possible, and it isn’t up to them to make ethical judgement around climate change. This argument follows that it is up to legislators and regulators to remove impacts of unethical industrial activity, not the investor (which is strange, as *we are the regulators*, so our own investment is being used to battle our own efforts to regulate the industry). They also argue that it is difficult because we would need to divest from every industry that may produce greenhouse gasses like plastics companies and convenience store companies that share land with gas pumps… a familiar and bullshitty slippery slope argument. These arguments were, understandably) met with some pretty strong opposition from some members of the audience, but the circular reasoning used to prop up the oil industry is well lubed.

The MFA is attempting to put together a “Socially Responsible Investing” option for local governments, but are (perhaps not surprisingly) getting a lukewarm response, partly because the poorly defined and wishy-washy way the idea was presented to local governments. Altogether, a frustrating morning session.


A much more positive experience was attending an afternoon workshop on Transgender Inclusion: Preparing for the New Reality. This was an interactive workshop about evaluating whether our local governments are integrating inclusion to our operations and our infrastructure. The “new reality” part is not that transgendered people are living in our communities (they have for as long as communities have existed), but that both the BC Human Rights Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act have been updated (in 2016 and 2017, respectfully) to include the protection from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. So what used to be the right thing to do is now the law.

The session included a lot of training for those less familiar with the modern reality of cultural inclusion, as simple as defining the difference between birth-assigned sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality. There were also representatives from Vancouver and Vernon, two BC cities leading the way in inclusivity. But mostly, the session left us with a bunch of questions to ask ourselves when we get back to our communities – how are we designing our spaces to be inclusive? Do our photos and written materials demonstrate an inclusive city? How are we addressing single-gender sport and arts programs? Do our Housing Agreements protect access for transgendered peoples? What are the feedback mechanisms we have put in place to make changes where needed?

We were also pointed to resources to guide our Local Governments (staff and elected types) to do more, and to do better. This was easily the best session I attended at UBCM this year.


Aside from these sessions, forums and workshops, the UBCM conference includes an Annual General Meeting, with things like Bylaws and Financial Reports and election of new Officers. These events occur throughout the week. There is also a Resolutions session which occurs on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning.

This year there were something north of 150 Resolutions on the Agenda for 2017. These resolutions are put forward by member communities, and are voted upon by the membership in an open meeting, some on a consent process, some debated on the floor. You can read all of the resolutions for 2017 here, although note not all were passed by the Membership. You can search the database of previous resolutions here.

This year there was a rigorous debates on topics as wide-reaching as the fate of the Martin Mars water bombers to repealing Daylight Savings Time. The only resolution New Westminster put forward this year came to the floor for debate on Friday morning. It was a call for action to prevent a renoviction crisis in our City. The text was:

Whereas the practice of renovictions, by which some landlords evict their tenants under the guise of performing major renovations and then significantly increase the rent of those units, is on the rise in our province; And whereas this practice is very disruptive to those impacted, including the elderly, low-income families, and new immigrants, and contributes to housing unaffordability and homelessness; And whereas municipalities are limited in their ability to address this issue and many tenants are unaware of their rights or are reluctant to exercise them: Therefore be it resolved that UBCM urge the provincial government to undertake a broad review of the Residential Tenancy Act including, but not limited to, amending the Residential Tenancy Act to:
• allow renters the right of first refusal to return to their units at a rent that is no more than what the landlord could lawfully have charged, including allowable annual increases, if there had been no interruption in the tenancy;
• eliminate or amend fixed-term tenancy agreements to prevent significant rent increases upon renewal; and
• permit one tenant or applicant to represent and take collective action on behalf of all tenants in a building.

…and I am happy to announce it was passed by the Membership, after being well motivated by Councillor McEvoy.


There is one final aspect of the UBCM that isn’t really on the schedule, but is really valuable. It is an annual chance to network with local government types from across the province. I had great informal chats over coffee and/or beers with councillors from several other cities; told them my stories and they told me theirs, from dealing with internet trolls to frustrations of slow policy development to excitedly explaining how our City attacked a problem their City is having right now. Being a City Councillor is like any other job in that your cohort are often your best mentors and the best source of inspiration. They share your view and can see your challenges better than most. I always find inspiring people doing great work, and am re-charged by our conversations.

UBCM 2017- Day 1

This is part 2 on my reporting out on what I did at the 2017 UBCM conference. Part 1 is here.

Tuesday, September 26, was the first day of the UBCM 2017 conference, and it started early for me with the British Columbia Municipal Climate Leadership Council breakfast. This is an annual opportunity to sit down with the Council members and provincial leaders (those laser-eyed folks pictured above) to share good news about what local governments are doing, and to find opportunities for partnerships across communities and with senior governments to meet the Province’s climate goals.

For my part, I was able to talk briefly about how our new OCP integrates climate change mitigation and adaptation, about developing plans for our District Energy Utility, about the Urban Solar Garden Project and the small research project we are working on with BCIT to expand curb-side EV charging opportunities. I also heard about similar things in other communities, and from the province about their plans to renew the Climate Leadership Team and a commitment to a renewed Climate Action Charter that was the source of much criticism at this same meeting a year ago. Again, much to feel optimistic about, but still early days of policy development for the new Government.


This was followed by the Community Forums part of the Convention. These are semi-plenary sessions where we are divided up into small, medium, and large communities. At 70,000+ residents, New Westminster is part of the Large Urban Communities forum.

The session began with a panel on Transportation, Moving Commuters in Today’s Urban Environment. Councillor Kerry Jang from Vancouver chaired a panel consisting of Dr. Anthony Perl from SFU’s Urban Studies Program, and the CEOs of both TransLink and BC Transit. (yes, another all-male panel).

Dr. Perl started by showing a series of automobile ads with the same theme: “Buy Now, Pay later!”, and contrasted that with how we market transportation investment – we always ask for a new tax or other funding sources, on the promise that some new service will come later. No wonder we lose referendums. Aside from this, his main message seemed to be that we need to stop thinking more transportation spending means better transportation, when we need better transportation spending.

MORE ≠ BETTER.    BETTER = BETTER.

This was followed by TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond essentially saying that TransLink is doing better, at least in passenger counts. Ridership on the system was up 4.5% in 2016, and is up 6.1% so far in 2017, which is *way* faster than growth being observed in other urban areas around North America. This after a period starting in 2010 when service hours per capita and rides per capita was actually dropping. Some of this turn-around is due to the sometimes painful route optimization process that saw service hours cut but more emphasis on higher-ridership routes. However, more of it may be related to the Compass Card, and changing the way people pay for Transit use.

For anyone who took SkyTrain to and from the conference like I did every day, this measureable surge in ridership is not a surprise, nor is it making the system more comfortable, and Desmond was quick point out that managing overcrowding is now a priority, both in improving SkyTrain service and in the larger projects like Broadway SkyTrain. As is typical of any Desmond conversation about TransLink, he finished by reminding us that we need to start planning past the current Mayor’s Council 10-year plan, and have a serious discussion about mobility pricing as a stable capital funding source.

Manuel Achadinha , the CEO of BC Transit, is less familiar to those of us living in the TransLink service area, but BC Transit provides service to Vancouver Island, the Fraser Valley, and the vast interior of the province, where most communities with more than 10,000 residents have some level of public transit service. His talk was mostly on the topic of using technology to collect transit data, and to make service better. Ultimately, what Transit users really want is Frequency and Reliability – technology cannot replace these, but can make them more achievable.

During the Q&A session, there were questions about integrating service and technology between BC Transit and TransLink, and from the answers, it sounded like this was not on anyone’s workplan. Local Government representatives from Fraser Valley communities and the Sea-to-Sky corridor are anxious to see some better integration happen. Connecting Squamish and Whistler to TransLink’s core service area, and inter-community connections between Greater Vancouver and growing Fraser Valley town centres like Abbotsford and Chilliwack seems to be on neither agencies’ radar, but will be a major topic for the Lower Mainland Local Government Association this year.

The Panel wrapped with a short presentation from Selena Robinson, the new Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (and Minister responsible for Translink). Again, she had little new policy to announce, and it was clear she was the most-in-demand Minister at UBCM. However, she did reiterate her and her Government’s support for the Mayor’s Council 10-Year Plan, and to providing the promised 40% funding for every phase of the plan.


The second half of the Forum was a Panel called BC Kids – Changing Demographics and Needs of Urban Families with Dr. Bonnie Henry, Deputy Provincial Health Officer, Sharon Gregson of the Coalition of Child Care Advocates, Chris Bone from the City of Prince George, and the Minister of State for Child Care Katrina Chen. (Hey! An all-female Panel!)

Dr. Henry tweaked us to some demographics and trends in BC in relation to children. They are 20% of BCs population, up to 25% in some communities. But it was her deeper dive into how health indicators vary across the province that show some of the geographic gaps in health services for youth. A comprehensive ongoing survey of children’s health is compiled at ChildHealthIndicatorsBC.ca.

Gregson provided the background behind the 10aDay.ca campaign to bring affordable accessible childcare to British Columbia. This research provided the basis for the new Government’s Child Care Plan – a solution that is much more complex than the speaking points commonly heard during the Election. The current situation is dire – there are 364,000 mothers in the workforce in the Province, with 570,000 children between the ages of 0-12, but there are currently fewer than 106,000 licensed day care spaces. It costs too much to put a child in daycare or many working parents, yet most daycare workers are not paid enough to put their own children in daycare. The system, if that’s what you call the current situation, isn’t working.

Fixing this situation will require more spaces to be built, and it will mean training a new generation of daycare workers. It also means setting up a structure to administer both a fair payment system ($10 a day is a catchy slogan, but in reality the cost would be adapted according to a family’s income and the type of care needed) and a fair wage system to build the professionalism of child care.

The promise is there, the delivery will take time. This is starting to sound like a theme.


Finally, I attended an afternoon policy session on the Water Sustainability Act that unfortunately missed the mark somewhat. The presenters were from the two Ministries responsible for the WSA (Environment and FLNRO), and were clearly highly knowledgeable about the topic, but I felt they didn’t really understand who their audience was, or what information about the WSA as actually valuable to Local Government elected types.

The WSA came into force more than a year ago, but there has been a notable paucity of policy and regulation development to support the goals of the WSA, especially as it relates to the empowerment of (or downloading to?) Local Governments with the ability to develop Water Management Plans and better manage the protection of community water assets. This is not news. People working in environmental protection have been patiently waiting for the WSA to be put to practice, and aside from new regulation around well drilling, the wait goes on.

UBCM17 – Day 0

The annual UBCM Conference was in Vancouver last week, and I attended for only the second time in my term as a City Councillor. I reported here, here, and here on my impressions from last year, but I was among those going into this year with different expectations, what with a fresh new provincial government, and one that has emphasized the importance of working with Local Governments. Indeed, I expect many local government types had expectations going in they were unrealistically high, but let’s see where this went.

I will drag this out across a few blog posts, as it was a jammed week. I’ll try to keep it concise, though this may get pretty wonkish for some regular readers. There was a lot to learn this year, and since the citizens of New Westminster pay my registration, I think it is important to report out so you know what you got for that money.


Monday is a bit of a pre-conference day, as the conference in earnest begins on Tuesday, but I attended two education sessions on Monday, and am glad I did.

The morning session was on Cannabis Regulations from a Local Government Perspective. There were presentations from the new Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall, and Sukhbir Manhas, a Lawyer specializing in Municipal Law who put the legal framework in perspective. This was followed by a Panel Discussion with four Mayors from around the Province and a bit of a Q & A session.

It is clear that marijuana for recreational consumption will be legal federally in July of 2018. We also know that the federal government will be responsible for the regulation of production of marijuana, and the provinces will be responsible for regulating wholesale and retail distribution of product, regulating consumption, and for enforcement. It is not clear what role Local Governments will play, except in that we are “Creatures of the Province”, and will be given our roles either through direct regulation or by a local desire to fill a regulatory gap left by provincial action.

It was an interesting session, with a lot of topics discussed, but short version is that the Minister made the commitment to open public consultation and to engaging Local Governments in a constructive way to address our concerns. There will clearly be economic impacts of any regulation. But the Minister was warned by other jurisdictions with which he has been consulting (including Washington State and Colorado) that revenue generation cannot be the driver of regulation, or the important public policy implications can fall by the wayside while short-term costs of setting up the regulatory regime are often underestimated. There will be revenue, but perhaps the message is that we shouldn’t be in a rush to spend it until we understand its character.

Dr. Kendall gave us some interesting perspectives about the public health implications of different policy directions – what age is the right age to permit cannabis use? What to do about public smoking rules, and what to do with multi-unit buildings? How to manage edibles? How do we provide the right price-quality-convenience balance that we effectively cut organized crime out of the supply chain? Legislation must balance these out if we wish to have the best public health outcomes. He presented this compelling graph:

link to source.

In short, if your interest is in managing public health impacts, a well-regulated market is better than a completely unregulated market (like cigarettes used to be) or blanket prohibition (like Cannabis is now) – but finding that middle is the delicate balance we need to strive for. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health have provided some pretty good guidelines, and research in existing and potential policy tools, but we have yet to see what advice the federal government will be taking.

Mr. Minhas and the Mayors’ Panel both discussed some of the challenges and opportunities for local governments coming out of this, and the importance of us coordinating with the province prior to next July. We need to be ready for the inevitable change that is coming, if only so we are ready to address the inevitable community concerns in areas that Local Governments have jurisdiction – land use, business regulation, and nuisance management. Our tools are limited, but are most effective if we get ahead of the curve.

Unfortunately, there is lots of evidence, especially from the Q&A session, that this is an area where many local government attitudes lag far behind the progressive public policy work of other jurisdictions and even public perception. From the lame Cheech & Chong joke that opened the session to one long-serving Mayor of an certain agriculture-intensive Lower Mainland Municipality expressing fear that her City will become the “Pot Capital of BC” (causing me to question if she would feel that worried if it became the Craft Brewing Capital of BC, or the Winery Capital of BC?), it is clear that attitudes about cannabis will not change as quickly as the regulation of it will – which suggests some difficult conversations ahead.


My second session on Monday was on Green Innovation and new Environmental Policies. We had a presentations from Jonathan Wilkinson, the Parliamentary Secretary to the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and from George Heyman, the new provincial Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. They talked mostly of senior governments’ commitment to meeting the Paris Agreement goals to reduce emissions, and both acknowledged the role local governments will need to play to meet those goals.

A statistic oft repeated during UBCM was that local governments in Canada are responsible for about 66% of infrastructure, create about 50% of all emissions, but only receive about 6% of all tax revenue. This results in some pretty obvious math: if we want to reduce emissions, we need to update that infrastructure, which is going to cost money.

Which brought us to the topic of grants. There were some details on the Federal Build Canada Infrastructure Fund, and the process being developed through the Provincial Government to make these funds available to local governments. These funds may be applicable to help us fund a few projects in New Westminster where we are planning to reduce the emissions by updating our infrastructure (Canada Games Pool is our single largest emission source) or wish to shift the community to lower-carbon energy sources (The proposed District Energy Utility for Sapperton would replace gas-fired boilers for and expanded RCH and could provide ample carbon-free baseload heat for dozens of high-density residential and commercial developments).

This was followed by Panels on actions that some Local Governments are taking to reduce emissions or modernize their energy supply – from embedding energy sustainability in their OCP (done!) to helping strata complexes bring electric vehicle charging on-line, to implementing the Step Code to promote more energy efficient buildings.

Actually, there was a lot of talk about electricity and the transportation sector, from private cars to transit to heavy trucks. Some question whether the advances in vehicles are too fast compared to our ability to provide the infrastructure to support the shift. According to BC Hydro, if all of the 2.4 Million light-duty vehicles in British Columbia could be replaced with EVs today, and it would only result in a 19% increase in base load. As EV charging predominantly happens when other loads on the system are not high, (i.e. at night), this is less of a problem at the generation end than some may have you believe. On a per-year basis, the average Tesla uses about half the electricity as the average hot tub. Let that sink in for a bit.

The reality is we cannot build the plugs for all these vehicles fast enough for it to become a problem in the short term.

I also learned this:
EV or PEV or ZEV or CEV = PHEV + BEV.
In the electric car world, that’s a funny joke.

Finally, I want to note that today’s two sessions were informative, but I couldn’t help but notice I saw 23 presenters and panelists over the two sessions. Five of them were female, while two others were visible minorities.

Two down, two to go.

It’s been just a little more than two years since I became a City Councillor in New Westminster. In the spirit of consistency, I probably need to follow up on last year’s Year-in-the-Life post. So here are some thoughts about being a City Councillor at the half-way mark of my first term.

That New Councillor Smell has definitely worn off. Although this role involves constant learning, I feel I am up over the steep part of the curve and am more confident in my ideas about what does and does not work in the City. This is manifest in a (hopefully subtle) change from me asking myself “why are things this way?” to a more pointed asking others “Do things really need to be this way?”

I am also becoming more aware of the politics that affect my ability to do my job. Every decision you make in Council is a compromise between competing forces. Even the best possible decision is going to be perceived negatively by someone, for good reasons or bad, and no matter how open, pragmatic, or evidence-based your decision making is, criticism can come from any random, unanticipated direction.

I feel fortunate that our Council, despite our ability to disagree on many issues, is remarkably functional. I hear disaster stories from other Councils that refuse to work together or allow their grievances (petty or serious) to prevent them from doing their work. Some are played out in the media, some others I only hear about through the various grapevines. I have heard first-hand accounts of Councillors in other cities suffering from bullying and harassment within their Councils, and of serious enough threats from the public that police involvement was required. I feel fortunate that our City, as passionate and engaged as it is in civic matters, is largely free from these types of conflicts.

I still lose sleep on Sunday nights before Council meetings. I still struggle with some of the hard decisions and increasingly wear the less-than-ideal things that happen in the City. However, I still believe that government can be open, accountable, and effective, and that we can make (are making?) progress towards the City working better in ways people can see.

I am worried about the impact our aggressive capital replacement plan is having on our budget – but also worried about what happens if we let our capital program slide for too long. I fret a bit over our seemingly chronic inability to complete projects on time. I am trying to be vigilant in avoiding creating my own communication bubble where I am only hearing reinforcement of my own ideas (this is most prevalent in the OCP discussion – I think we are on a the right track, but need to keep an open mind for when the draft plan gets to Council in the New Year). I am trying to be mindful on the job and open to better ways to do it.

I was asked recently at a Christmassy social event: “What is your big goal for this Council thing?” I started talking about this blog, the outreach I have been working on, the City’s Community Engagement efforts, and my overall desire to open up the process of democratic decision making. My inquisitor kept trying to get over to tangibles: new buildings, bridges, parks, things you can attach a brass plaque to. It’s funny I couldn’t get there. We are making progress on several projects, the CGP replacement, library upgrades, a better functioning City Hall, the reformation of the waterfront, but I don’t see those as “my” successes or projects. These are things that large teams of people are working towards, and 70,000 taxpayers are paying for. Although I suppose my feeling of ownership will change if I see my name on a brass plaque…

Finally, I’m half way through the term and finally accepting that adjustments need to be made in my lifestyle. I have been burning a lot of candles, and have frankly lost track of which ends of which I have lit. I am going on vacation for a few weeks to recharge my batteries and pay some much-needed attention to my partner. For my return, I have some pretty drastic lifestyle adjustments planned in order to maintain my household, my relationships, and my sanity. I want to keep blogging (and even do more), I want to be more timely at returning communication I receive, and I have a few tangible projects around town and regionally I want to take a bit of ownership over. I have a long list of “we need to get together over coffee/beer and talk about that” dates I need to keep (you know who you are). This will take a change in programming. Stay tuned.

Until then, we’ll call this a Christmas break. I hope you enjoy your Holidays in whatever form that enjoyment takes, and your 2017 is filled with he things that make you happy. Blogging will resume in January, inshallah.

What do you do?

I’ve been at the City Councillor thing for a year and a half now, long enough that I have to stop referring to myself as “the new guy”. At some point, I have to stop blaming / giving credit to the previous Council for everything going wrong / right in the City. I suspect (hope?) the steep part of the learning curve is now behind me, and I start directing more of my learning towards the problems I want to see solved, the opportunities ahead. It is also long enough that I should be able to answer the simple question “What do you do?”

I have tried, over the last 18 months, to report out on this blog some of the mechanics of City Council, as it was my goal when running to open up the process a bit, and try to do a better job explaining the sometimes-incomprehensible decisions Council (and the City) make. Recognizing many in the City will disagree with any given decision made by Council, I wanted to at least provide enough information so that they know what they are disagreeing with, and not rely on the few very vocal boo-birds in town who assume a decision is bad only because this Council makes it.

However, this post isn’t about that, it is more about the actual day-to-day duties of a person you pay $40,000 a year (plus Vehicle Allowance!) to represent you, whether you voted for them or not. So here is my summary of the job.

*This is a good time for one of my disclaimers about how everything I write here is my opinion and my viewpoint, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the ideas or opinions of any other members of Council, who are, believe it or not, individual people with their own ideas and biases. Like the rest of this Blog, this is not the “official position” of the City or any entity other than myself.*

Council Meetings:
Council meeting days happen about every two weeks on average. In the spring and fall we meet more often, and we more time off in the summer and around Christmas. The schedule is flexible around work load and stat holiday schedules, but we have about 26-30 meetings a year.

Council meeting days are comprised of a Closed Meeting and an Open Meeting, only the latter of which you see on TV. About 10 times a year (the last meeting of most months), the Open Meeting is coupled with a Public Hearing. We also, at times, have Committee/Taskforce meetings (more on that below) and Council Workshops on these Mondays.

A long Council Monday can be 12 or more hours, with breaks for lunch and dinner. The portion you see on TV is only the Open Meeting and Public Hearing part. On any given meeting day I am at City hall at 9:00am, and typically wander home sometime between 9:00 and midnight.

Council Prep:
We cannot show up at Council Meetings unprepared to discuss the business of the day. Our schedule on Monday is typically pretty stuffed, and we cannot hope to learn enough about the issues on which we will be discussing during that time. On the Friday before the meeting we are delivered (electronically in my case) our “Council Package”. This contains the staff-prepared reports and background info we need to put discussions in context. The Package varies in length, but is typically about 1,000 pages when Closed and Open agenda items are combined.

My practice is to get take a glance at the Package for maybe an hour after I get home from work on Friday or first thing Saturday morning. This allows me to get an idea of what is on the agenda, to determine if it is a 700-page or a 2,000-page week, and to do a first pass over the topics being discussed. From that I can plan out my weekend to assure I have enough time put aside to review at the detail needed, and do any other research I might want to do in order to understand the issue. That is usually when I decide if I have time to do a bike ride on Sunday or attend a Saturday function.

Typically (and this varies quite a bit), I spend about 8 hours on Sunday reviewing the package and taking my notes. My notes form the backbone of the Blog I will eventually write about the week’s Council meeting, but more importantly they create a framework around which I organize my thoughts on the agenda items. This is an old trick from studying during my University years, but I find that if I write a summary of a topic I am trying to learn, it forces me to learn enough to summarize the important points, and to understand what questions I need to have answered yet. Often, you don’t know what you don’t know until you try to write it down.

I print those notes out, so you can see me at Council using my computer screen (where the agenda and reports that make up the Package are) and written notes, along with the extra papers that we receive on Council Day, typically supporting reports that weren’t available Friday, presentation materials, or other relevant documents. My desk is a mess.

Committees and Taskforces:
Like the rest of my colleagues, I serve on several Committees and Taskforces for Council. These each meet anywhere from once a month to once every second month. Most meetings are in the later afternoon, mid-week, after I get off my regular job, and meetings typically last about two hours. With my being on three taskforces and four committees, this adds up to an average of about one meeting a week during the busy months, but not many in the summer (except occasional exceptional meetings, like the Transportation Taskforce last week, and the ACTBiPed next week).

In these meetings, Council members, staff, and stakeholders work through issues, ideas, programs, or proposals, and (hopefully) provide guidance to Council to make better decisions. Prep for these meetings varies greatly, but rarely takes more than an hour. Follow-up on some of the issues that arise at these meetings, and some of the extraordinary meetings, tours or other activities involved with the work these committees are doing takes quite a bit more time.

Community Events: There are various types of community events, some you have to attend, like the Civic Dinner where we thank committee volunteers, some you attend to show support to organizations or people doing good work in the City, some you attend just because they are fun.

This is a challenge for any Councillor’s schedule. We get a lot of invitations, and cannot hope to attend everything. I try to be careful about stretching myself too thin, and end up missing a lot of events I really want to get to. I try to respond to every invitation and send a decline if I cannot make it, but scheduling is an ongoing challenge, as is managing my work and Council calendars while still finding some time to remind @MsNWimby that I exist. The job does not come with a social coordinator, and every calendar app I can find for my phone is worse than every other one. I’m still working on this part…

Constituent Services:
This is a big, but pretty loosely defined group of activities, and each Councillor can make their own decision about how they manage this, and how much time it takes. This is another part of the job that “expands to fill the space available to it”.

Sometimes, a person complains to you about potholes on their street, or the noise from their neighbor’s wind chimes. Sometimes they call you to ask for help with a business license issue, or to complain about a development in their neighbourhood. Sometimes people complain about unfair enforcement of a Bylaw, while others complain about lack of Bylaw enforcement. Some people just want to be heard and the problem acknowledged, some want you to fix things for them.

I try to take an approach to this based on a few principles. I am not there to help people get out of Bylaw requirements, to get their stuff pushed to the front of a line, or to help them get around a process that exists. I am really conscious that procedures and policy exist in government, and that we have professional staff working on directives from Council as translated through their management – they should not have to deal with an individual Councillor coming and telling them how to do their jobs. That said, if a resident or business owner feels that the process is unfair, or that they have received treatment form the City that is not in keeping with City policy or good customer service, I am happy to talk with management at the City and (this is important) get both sides of the story and figure out what went wrong.

It is a delicate balance. Sometimes my job is to help explain to a resident or business owner why things are so bureaucratic and irritating, and why the Bylaw is written or enforced the way it is. Sometimes staff do mess up, or processes are developed that don’t really work when put into practice, and someone needs to facilitate a better outcome for everyone. I don’t see my job as advocating for either party in a conflict like this, but as a mediator trying to figure out an outcome that works best for the City and the Residents. And occasionally the approach required is to work with the Mayor and Council at the executive level to fix a process or a system that is not working for the residents and businesses in the City. Deciding which of the three is the right course when hearing from a complainant is a tough job, and something I am still learning about and developing my skills at.

Communications:
I receive dozens of e-mails a day and a few phone calls a week from residents or businesses in town. I try to respond to all of them. I fail.

When I first got elected, I dreamed I would answer them all promptly and personally, but reality has set in. Some (like the every-couple-of-day missives from the hateful racists at Immigration Watch) go directly to delete. Some I am just cc’d to, and am not the best person to answer, so I usually wait to see if a more appropriate person responds before chiming in. Some raise interesting and complex questions that I need to put a bit of thinking too before I respond. Some scroll off the first page, and I get back to them a week or two later and feel bad about not having responded right away. Some, I just don’t seem to have the time to keep track of.

So if you wrote me an e-mail, and I was slow to respond, please don’t take it personally, and don’t feel bad sending me a reminder e-mail. I will get back to you eventually. Unless your comments are full of hateful racism or other abusive language, in which case I’m likely to just ignore you and hope you go away. In that case, I guess, you can take it personally.

This other stuff:
Writing this Blog is, to me, a really important part of how I do this job. It takes a lot of time, and is almost always done after 10:00 on weekday nights. Summarizing a Council Report can take a couple of hours, depending on how many items on the week’s agenda require extended explanation. I find free time to write pieces like this wherever I can (in this case, I am sitting at one of the little desks on the Queen of Alberni crossing the Strait of Georgia while @MsNWimby enjoys the blue sky on the sun deck).

Tracking the local and regional media (including the social media) is also an important part of the job whose hours simply cannot be counted. Keeping track of the goings in the City, of the trends in the region, of Provincial and Federal politics as it relates to our City, is vital if we hope to make good decisions for the City. This includes a fair amount of general interest research, following great local sources like Price Tags, or global sources like StrongTowns along with reading great urban and economics leaders from Janette Sadik-Khan to Umair Haque.

Nothing in New West is new, we don’t have completely unique challenges, but the same challenges as other Cities and regions have had. Learning what from their successes and failures is the best way to train myself to make better decisions.

I have been at this for 18 months, and parts of it are getting easier. I am now better able to judge the amount of my Saturday and Sunday I need to spend reading my Package, more of the “background” in my Package is familiar to me, requiring less review. I have a better idea who in City Hall to call and get a question answered. The trade-off is the expanded time I spend doing that last part – the constant learning to empower myself to make better decisions and dream bigger about the future of the City.

Now if I can only get ahead of my e-mails and get my scheduling figured out…