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Meet New Westminster council candidate: Paul Minhas

Council hopefuls responded to our city council-focused questionnaire. Here's what they had to say.
Paul Minhas city council
Paul Minhas is running for the New West Progressives in New Westminster's 2022 council race.

Affiliation: New West Progressives

Tell us a bit about yourself:

I was born in Punjab, India, grew up in Vernon and graduated from Clarence Fulton Secondary School. I am a member of the Sikh community. I have lived in the Lower Mainland since 1989, and in New Westminster since 1991. I started the Heritage Grill in 2005. I am passionate about my neighbourhood, community and city. This passion has led to many well-known initiatives such as the annual community Christmas turkey finners at the Heritage Grill until 2015; junior and high school jazz band scholarship programs, the annual Pride Week, the popular Show and Shine and the food trucks festival.

Why are you running for city council?

Coming from a small town, New West is the perfect fit for me as it has the small town feel within the big city. I love the small town and community feel that is New West where everyone knows everyone else by name and is ready and willing to pitch in as needed as one big happy family. Much like the show Cheers! The reason I am running for city council is that in recent years New West has lost that community connection and caring for each other that is so integral to doing business and living in New Westminster.

What do you consider to be the Top 3 issues facing New Westminster at this time?

Crime and Safety

Safety underpins the feeling of well-being and without that safety on a day-to-day basis, quality of life suffers. I hear from of my neighbours in Downtown that they live in fear of being attacked when they are out and about town. Staff of many businesses have experienced physical and verbal attacks and there is damage to property on a regular basis. Living in fear of being attacked is a common experience of residents and business owners in Downtown.

Infrastructure Deficit

Infrastructure management appears not to be a priority for this city council. Streets and sidewalks are in disrepair and some key facilities have experienced unexpected permanent closure. The city has grown, however, investment in community infrastructure has not kept pace with population growth in the city. This points to lack of planning.

Transportation

Rapid growth of our city has left us scrambling with traffic bottlenecks, and congestion appears to be a daily nightmare for many that must commute to work or school. These issues point to lack of planning and lack of political will to tackle these tough everyday life issues. All of these affect the quality of life of city residents.

What is the biggest success and/or failure of the current city council?

The biggest failure of the current city council is that it lacks understanding of basic business fundamentals and what it takes to run a successful business in this city. City council does not keep an open mind when engaging with the business community, and there is a tendency for wishful thinking rather than proper planning. The current state of the Downtown core is indicative of a city that is failing its business community and its residents.

Do you support city council’s decision to have the City of New Westminster stop using the Royal City moniker and crown logo as part of its official branding? Why or why not?

No. I do not support this decision. There was no communication or planning for this issue.

If elected with a majority on council, the New West Progressives will rescind this decision by Team Cote. An initiative of this type can only be undertaken after meaningful consultation with residents, Indigenous Peoples, and the business community of New Westminster.

As a business owner, I am only too familiar with what it costs to rebrand. There are many businesses that use the Royal City moniker and crown logo for their brand. These businesspeople were not consulted or given a heads up. Again, the lack of planning and the willingness to impose the burden of rebranding on these businesses as we emerge out of the pandemic is indicative of short-sightedness and failure to comprehend what it means to run a business.

What is your housing situation? Homeowner, renter, other? Landlord?

I live in the heart of Downtown in a condo, and have a monthly mortgage that I pay. I also pay rent and triple net taxes at my business Begbies pub. Until last year I was paying rent plus triple net taxes at the Heritage Grill as well.

New Westminster’s population is currently 82,590 and is projected to grow to about 100,000 by 2031. How – and where – do you want the city to accommodate that growth? 

New Westminster’s official community plan (OCP) contemplates the growth of the city to over 100,000 people and it has been developed through consultation and input. Our city as a community participated in the development of the OCP. Now that we are growing, it is necessary that we rely on the plan that has been developed. Spot rezoning is a disservice to people and the current tendency of city hall to approve one-offs need to be stopped.

According to the OCP, largest housing growth will be in Queensborough and Downtown, and then near transit hubs, followed by pedestrian frequented neighbourhoods such as Sixth, 12th and East Columbia areas. Growth for retail, office, industrial and institutional space is also part of the OCP.

Again, as noted above, as the city grows, infrastructure and amenities need to grow as well to keep pace with needs of our community.

There is a comprehensive plan in the New West Progressives platform to deal with the need for housing growth and includes reducing permitting times, streamlining processes, supporting and fast-tracking construction of at least 1,500 non-market and lower-end of market family friendly rental units, developing of 25 per cent more secondary suites and laneway houses by 2026, increasing choice by encouraging duplexes, townhomes, etc. by 40 per cent by 2030. We also have a plan for helping the homeless.

Some organizations are calling on municipal governments to support the creation of non-profit housing by allowing projects to be built without fulfilling rezoning requirements. (As an example, Women Transforming Cities wants social housing initiatives of up to 12 storeys to be permitted in multi-family area and up to six storeys in other residential areas, without a rezoning requirement). Is this something you would support?

New Westminster’s OCP contemplates growth and development in the city. This should be followed when considering requests for non-profit housing projects. The New West Progressives, if elected with a majority, will be introducing ways to speed up the approval process as long as the project conforms to the OCP.

The New Westminster Police Department’s budget has been a contentious issue in recent years, with some council members supporting cuts (to the requested budget increase) to the NWPD’s budget. (Budgets put forward by the police board were ultimately approved by council.) If elected, would you support cuts to the New Westminster Police Department’s budget in the city’s next budget? 

No. Our city is growing, and our policing budget should be in line with the needs of the police department as it serves our growing city. Our police need appropriate levels of resources to get the job done. People need to feel safe on our city streets and crime needs to be reduced. Residents and businesses in Downtown experience the impacts of a police department that is straining to get the job done in the context of mental health challenges and the substance use crisis.

The city needs more community policing initiatives that get police out on the street closer to the people and activities. In addition, if elected with a majority, the New West Progressives will lobby senior levels of government for the necessary mental health support funding to supplement our police’s effort in tackling the mental health crisis that is unfolding on our streets.

City council has developed and used the Seven Bold Steps for Climate Action (and its strategic plan) as the basis for making all decisions. Has the city done enough to address the climate crisis? Too much?

Seven Bold Steps for Climate Action were announced in 2019. As a businessperson and resident of Downtown I have not heard what the city council has implemented. I am not aware of any communication about what this means to me and my business and how I can be involved in taking action. It is hard to determine if more is needed without information on what has been done and what is being planned.

You have 24 hours and your calendar is open. What would be your ideal day in New West?

As a small businessperson and an employer, 24 hours of open space in my calendar is a quite a gift. My day would be simple: I would spend some of it sitting by the river and relax, taking in the natural beauty New Westminster has to offer. In the afternoon, I would find a nice patio and watch life unfold, knowing my neighbours and visitors to the city are all enjoying our great community. In the evening, I would go out in search for some of the excellent artistic performances happen around town.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell voters?

New Westminster, the Royal City, is at a crossroads. The time is now for a change for progress. We do have lot of challenges, and we as a community and a city, collectively must stand up and face these challenges head on without any fear. With proper, adequate, grassroot planning of the very basic fundamentals of progress, we all can achieve growth and diversity in a vibrant New Westminster.

How can folks contact you?

www.nwprogressives.ca

Minhas_409@hotmail.com