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Meet New Westminster council candidate: Daniel Fontaine

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

Tell us a bit about yourself

My family and I live in the beautiful Quayside neighbourhood; we’ve lived in New West for over two decades. In 2012 I was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal for Public Service. In 2016, the New Westminster Minor Hockey Association recognized me as the Volunteer of the Year. I’m an avid gardener and love to curl. Royal City residents may have heard me on CKNW with former host Bill Good when I served as a weekly panelist on the popular municipal affairs political panel. I’ve worked as CEO and held senior posts for several high profile non-profit and private sector organizations.

Why are you running for city council?

I ran with the New West Progressives in 2018 and came shy of securing the sixth spot on council. I strongly believe city hall should be transformed into a place where everyone is welcome, regardless of what their political views are at the provincial and federal level. We need a ‘back-to-basics’ council that understands issues like potholes, unkempt parks, uneven sidewalks and clean streets must be a core priority for our civic politicians. I believe our current city council has lost its way and it’s time for renewal, change and a fresh perspective.

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

Housing Affordability and Choice: Despite the best of intentions at city hall, New Westminster is facing an unprecedented housing affordability crisis. Even before inflationary concerns, rental costs were skyrocketing while monthly mortgage payments were on the rise. Notwithstanding all the new towers under construction, many of our youth are being forced out of the city to find their first home.

Crime and Safety: Whether you live in the West End or downtown, the issue of crime and safety has become front-and-center. Car windows are being smashed in. Homeowners are forced to install surveillance cameras. Calls to the non-emergency police line are not responded to. Random acts of violence are taking place on our streets. Meanwhile, some city councillors and candidates openly muse about defunding the police and limiting our ability to respond.

Infrastructure Deficit: We have the lowest level of green space of any city in the Lower Mainland. Due to rapid population growth and a lack of new investments, getting accepted into some community programs is akin to winning a lottery. The fact so many moms and dads are struggling with something as basic as getting their child registered into a swimming program is very problematic.

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

Biggest Failure: The biggest failure of this council is they have failed to understand that they were elected to make sure that they represented the views of the voters that put them into those positions. So many New West residents and businesses believe that decisions are made well in advance of any public hearing or council meeting.

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. If the New West Progressives are elected with a majority on council, we will immediately reverse Patrick Johnstone’s and Community First’s decision to eliminate the Royal City moniker.

Before any change is contemplated regarding the Royal City brand, we would ensure that residents, businesses, city staff and our local Indigenous Peoples are all properly consulted.

That said, there are so many other more critical issues that our New West Progressives council will focus on in the next term, rather than undertaking a costly and unnecessary rebranding exercise.

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

My wife, son and I pay our monthly mortgage payments and strata fees and live in a condominium unit.

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?

Firstly, if we are going to grow our population, we also need to grow the services that all these new residents require to maintain a high quality of life. This is something which is lost on the current council who continue to approve more developments, but fail to understand these new units will be filled with people who need new parks, public services and community centers.

In terms of accommodating growth, considering we are essentially ‘built out’ in New West, we will have to become more creative and flexible in our approach to new development. That is why the New West Progressives have released our 5-Point Action Plan on Housing and Homelessness. Our plan is comprehensive, fiscally responsible and will reflect the needs and priorities of local neighbourhoods.

We will begin implementing our action plan which will reduce red tape, streamline the permitting process and finally begin to develop the much-needed ‘missing middle’ housing in our city.

Our Action Plan calls for the pre-approval of up to 15 home designs that will allow you to more rapidly build your new home, without the worry of it getting caught up in bureaucracy. This will have the added benefit of cutting the cost of development and helping to make new homes are more affordable.

We will also limit the need for unnecessary spot zonings and make every possible effort to fully conform with our Official Community Plan. We’ll also support the development of laneway homes and fee-simple townhouses.

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?

The current council has a penchant to approve a number of housing projects that do not conform with our Official Community Plan. The New West Progressives 5-Point Housing Action Plan aims to reduce the need for spot zonings, while speeding up approvals for housing projects that fully conform with our Official Community Plan (OCP).

We’ve made a commitment to introduce, after thorough consultation with the community, a bylaw that would reduce red tape, lower costs and speed up the approval of much-needed social and affordable housing projects that fully conform with our OCP. The NDP provincial government is said to be preparing enabling legislation that will ‘fast-track’ municipal approvals for social and affordable housing projects starting as early as 2023.

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 police are stretched to deal with the current level of public disorder and crime facing our city. Some current city politicians and Community First candidates think the answer to increased crime and disorder is to cut funding for our men and women in blue.

If you live in New West and have ever tried to call the ‘non-emergency’ line at the NWPD, you will understand there are clearly service issues that need to be attended to.

The New West Progressives believe the Province of BC should prioritize new funds to add mental health workers as ride-along supports for our local police. Far too often our police are dealing with mental health issues, rather than criminal issues.

We also need to work with our chief of police to reform our police force getting even more of our police ‘on the beat’.

It’s also critical that we make the necessary investments to make sure the NWPD have a higher visibility in Queensborough. That’s why the New West Progressives have committed to a permanent and expanded community policing office in that fast-growing neighbourhood.

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?

The current council has said all the right things when it comes to tackling climate change and I believe they have the best of intentions. However, the reality is their Seven Bold Steps for Climate Action have failed miserably to reduce global climate change.

They have failed to recognize that the single most important tool any city has to tackle climate change is proper zoning. That’s because when people can afford to live adjacent to public transit, by simple virtue of their address, they are automatically reducing their carbon footprint.

According to a recent report, New Westminster also has the lowest ratio of greenspace in the Lower Mainland. A lack of a green canopy is resulting in a warmer urban environment and the inability for people without access to air conditioning to keep themselves cool in extreme climactic events.

A city truly committed to tackling climate action would make every effort to keep alive its stock of street trees. Way too many of our main arterial street trees have been cut down after abuse and neglect. What’s left behind – often for years -- are nothing but stumps which do nothing to reduce the level of carbon in the atmosphere.

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

My ideal day in New West would consist of visiting several key points of interest as well as enjoying some downtime. I think the Quayside and Queensborough boardwalk, River Market and Columbia Street would be a must. Some other favourite spots include Queen’s Park, Sapperton Landing Park and a stroll along Sixth Street in Uptown.

When I want to soak in some heritage and history, I pop over to Irving House, Queen’s Park, Glenbrooke North or some of the beautiful tree-lined streets located in our West End. A nice cycle ride under the SkyTrain through Connaught Heights is a must!

Depending on the time of year, an ideal day would also include a visit to Moody or Queen’s Park arena to catch my son’s hockey game.

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

I was born in St. Boniface, Manitoba at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine River. At a young age I only spoke French before I moved to Alberta and became fluently bilingual. I grew up in a household that played the spoons, listened to fiddle music and regularly baked some scrumptious bannock. Yet, it was only later in life that I discovered that I was Indigenous, of Metis heritage. I’m a proud citizen of the Metis Nation and am honoured to be the only Indigenous person running for city council.

How can folks contact you?

Facebook: @fontaineforcitycouncil