Affiliation: New West Progressives
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I was born and raised in New Westminster, as was my wife Joanne, our five children and seven grandchildren. I grew up in Sapperton and currently live in Glenbrook North.
I am a Chartered Professional Accountant who has worked in the not-for-profit and public sectors. Throughout my managerial career in healthcare, I have had extensive experience working with regional and senior government. I have interacted with Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health and BC Housing. I have served on many not-for-profit boards including board chair of Catholic Health Association of BC and board chair of Saint Mary’s Hospital.
Why are you running for city council?
I believe present council has mismanaged their financial responsibilities and the challenges under their direct control. They seem oblivious to the challenges facing our residents as they struggle to make ends meet. Our core services have suffered. Our civic buildings have not been properly maintained. Our potholed roads and crumbling sidewalks have become a danger. We have a need for additional community and sports facilities and sports fields for our growing population.
What do you consider to be the Top 3 issues facing New Westminster at this time?
Fiscal Accountability: As a professional accountant, I am committed to ensuring council presents timely operating and capital information with full explanations and disclosure to our residents. Our city has limited financial resources and we have aging infrastructures, sports facilities and civic structures. I will ensure every tax dollar wisely is spent wisely. I’m committed to working with management to ensure approval of applications submitted for provincial and federal stimulus funding as it becomes available to help reduce the financial burden on our community.
Infrastructure Deficit: The capital program must provide annual upgrades to our sewer, water and electrical infrastructures. There must be a long-term strategic plan, more than five years, to identify the end of life or repurposing of current facilities. There must be an aggressive and defined plan to deal with aging sidewalks and roads. The projected population growth will demand more public facilities.
Traffic Enforcement and Pedestrian Safety: New Westminster is a corridor for thousands of commuters driving through our city. Work with the NWPD to increase enforcement of traffic violations such as speeding and running red lights. Ensuring pedestrians are truly considered the number one priority when it comes to new transportation infrastructure investments.
What is the biggest success and/or failure of the current city council?
Biggest Failure: This council has consistently failed to understand the impact their decisions has on our financial position. The current capital budget was approved even after concerns raised by management such as, the reserve contributions and debt-servicing costs will impact operating expenses, having a direct impact on utility and property tax rates, placing a strain on the city and overreliance on debt strains the city’s ability to respond to new opportunities. I believe this decision will handcuff future councils’ ability to provide upgrades and infrastructures needed in the city.
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 believe the process taken by this council removed every citizen’s right to be heard. If I am elected and there is a NWP majority, I will vote to rescind the motion approved by this council. A decision to remove the Royal City brand requires proper consultation with all residents, businesses and our local Indigenous Peoples.
What is your housing situation? Homeowner, renter, other? Landlord?
Homeowner, Glenbrook North with a legal two-bedroom suite in the basement for daughter and grandson.
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?
I believe current and prior councils have not put our city in a position to increase our population by 21 per cent in nine years. Today, we have 83,000 residents and do not have sufficient infrastructure, amenities, sports buildings, sport fields and schools. Current council has made a decision to build our new aquatic and community centre at a cost to city taxpayers of $112 million, the majority of this through debt financing. This debt is a direct result of not being successful in getting any stimulus funding from the provincial or federal governments. The new council will have a daunting task to add needed structures, sports fields, create additional green spaces and find land for new schools just for those who are currently living here. Having said that, we will need to control our growth.
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?
I believe we have an obligation and commitment to provide affordable housing to our community, this includes subsidized or low-income housing. What I do not like is a policy that is potentially divisive for our community and labels citizens as NIMBY. I would work toward a process that has all parties involved and not a process that chooses one side over another.
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. New Westminster must ensure that every citizen is protected and feels safe. NWPD works hard to manage the complex issues within our city. Residents and businesses need to feel heard and they need to know NWPD will be there when either a personal assault or property crime has been committed. I would like to see more community presence in the way of foot patrols and bicycle patrols to deter crime. I believe NWPD is extremely receptive to the plight of our unhoused, mentally and drug dependent residents. As a city we need to demand more from senior governments to help those folks.
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?
I believe climate change is real.
I applaud many of the initiatives that council has established. However, New Westminster, ranking 17th for population, ranked fourth for heat dome deaths in 2021. Studies have identified Urban Heat Islands with non-existent tree canopies as being responsible for many of these deaths. Our downtown core is primarily concrete and asphalt. We have to plan better.
You have 24 hours and your calendar is open. What would be your ideal day in New West?
My ideal day would start by waking up to a day full of potential. I would head out for my morning walk with my wife, Joanne, our beautiful dog Zephyr and our granddogs Bailey and Reggie. We would stroll through our Glenbrook neighbourhood chatting with neighbours, four-legged and two-legged. We would have breakfast at the Sixth Street Grill…..relaxing on their dog-friendly patio. After breakfast we would walk home through Tipperary Park and then Queen’s Park stopping at the off-leash dog area.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell voters?
I am passionate about New Westminster. I grew up here, I raised my family here and I live here. My family has resided in New Westminster since 1900, and I’m proud to say four of my five children live here and five of my seven grandchildren attend school here. I want my city to be welcoming and affordable for all. I want New West residents to know I want to hear from you and what you have to say. I want solutions that benefit all citizens while maintaining a solid business case.
How can folks contact you?
Facebook: Rick Folka for City Council