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Meet New Westminster mayoral candidate: Ken Armstrong

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

Affiliation: New West Progressives

Tell us a bit about yourself:

I have lived in New Westminster since 2002, and Queensborough since 2008. My wife Christina and I have two children.

I am a lawyer, a King’s Counsel, and I practise at a small firm in downtown Vancouver.

I have served on the executive of the New Westminster Bar Association, including as president, and I have served on the provincial and national councils of the Canadian Bar Association. I have volunteered in New West Baseball and New West Soccer, as a coach, elite level umpire, and board member; I was named a Life Member of Little League B.C. in 2019.

Why are you running for mayor?

As a resident of Queensborough, I know city hall must do a better job at listening to residents of all New West neighbourhoods. I am running for mayor to ensure that will happen. Further, I want to refocus city hall on a municipality’s core responsibilities of keeping the streets safe, building more affordable housing, and maintaining and building infrastructure (whether maintaining our streets, sidewalks, and parks; or building new community centres, ice rinks and other necessary infrastructure as our city grows), and providing value for each tax dollar. We need to take federal and provincial politics out of city hall.

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

1. Keeping the streets safe: We will work the NWPD to come up with creative policing solutions to policing, including increasing foot and bike patrols, especially in the downtown core which is facing an increase in petty crime and public disorder; and, invigorate the community police office in Queensborough. We will lobby the federal and provincial governments to increase funding for mental health and housing supports for unhoused people living downtown.

2. Building more affordable housing: We will fast track the development of OCP compliant non-profit housing, work with senior government to partner in the construction of at least 1,500 non-market and lower-market family friendly rental units by 2028, and create innovative policies to encourage legal secondary suites. Our goal is to develop 25 per cent more secondary suites and laneway homes by 2026.

3. Maintaining and building infrastructure: New Westminster residents deserve to have well maintained roads, sidewalks and parks. Plugging a pothole should not be a partisan issue! Sidewalks should be free from cracks and lifted edges, which create trip-and-fall hazards. All our parks need to be properly maintained. Further, we need to ensure the number of public amenities like community centers, sports fields and schools matches population growth.

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

This current city council’s biggest failure is on transparency and accountability. In the last 12 months there have been at least three major failures on transparency and accountability. First was the cover-up surrounding the abrupt departure of Fire Chief Tim Armstrong (no relationship), including stone-walling a media member’s Freedom of Information request. Second was with respect to the cover-up of multi-million-dollar cost overruns on the new aquatic centre project. Third was the city’s failure to follow the city’s enabling legislation with respect to waiving the public’s right to participate in public hearings for five developments.

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 the decision to stop using the Royal City brand without any consultation. The decision is a classic example of how the Team Cote council members would act first and engage second.

The decision was allegedly made in the name or reconciliation with Indigenous people. To my knowledge, Indigenous communities were not consulted on this decision. Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples requires engagement and consultation with Indigenous peoples. Further, Senator Murray Sinclair, author of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action, cautions against renaming places as counterproductive to true reconciliation between settlers and Indigenous people.

If elected, we will rescind the resolution and consult first before rebranding.

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

I am co-owner of a mortgaged fee simple single-family home in Queensborough with my spouse. We share the home with our two children (20 years old and 14 years old) and our double-doodle, Nova (three-and-a-half years old).

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?

The city’s population has doubled since the Queensborough Community Centre was first opened in 1978, when the population was just under 40,000; in fact, most of that growth has come since 1996. We were recently reported to be the fast-growing city in Metro Vancouver. During that time, we have seen very little new infrastructure in this city. We have the same number of recreation centres, one fewer indoor swimming pool, and a remarkably similar road system. Part of the challenge of population growth is managing that growth, and that requires creative solutions to ensure infrastructure, including community centres, rec centres, schools, and transportation infrastructure grow at the same pace, all while ensuring the city continues to have sufficient green space – a real challenge in a city which covers 15.6 square kilometres of land (per Statistics Canada).

At the same time, we have a housing affordability crisis in Metro Vancouver, and New Westminster is no exception.

If elected, the NWP and I will support the development of “missing middle” housing including townhouses, laneway houses, fee-simple row houses, and secondary suites, which all increase housing affordability while managing density.

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 Official Community Plan was created after extensive consultation and should not be deviated from without very good reason. Spot-zoning should be the exception not the rule, and should only be done with proper engagement and consultation. This current council’s practice of frequent spot-zoning should not be continued.

I fully support pre-approval, fast tracking permitting, and reduction of red tape for the development of non-profit housing that fully conforms with our Official Community Plan. I will also ensure New Westminster works with the Province of B.C. and the Government of Canada to provide funding to support the establishment of temporary and appropriately placed shelter spaces for our identified unhoused residents.

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, I would not support reducing the police budget in the city’s next budget. This issue came before council in December 2021. Council initially voted 4-3 to request the police to freeze their budget; however, when the police board declined, council eventually voted 5-2 in favour of the initially proposed increase, with. Councillors Nakagawa and Trentadue opposed.

Policing, and public safety are core municipal responsibilities. There is an increase in petty crime, including property crime and violence, in the downtown core. Unfortunately, that crime includes victimizing unhoused people residing downtown. New and creative solutions are required to prevent that crime, as the current strategies certainly aren’t working. Some solutions include substantially increasing foot and bike patrols and/or using community policing officers who are not regular members of the police force. We will expand the community policing program, including activating the community policing desk in Queensborough Community Centre. These initiatives require funding.

Further, a reduced policing budget will require the police to even further deprioritize traffic enforcement, which puts vulnerable road user’s personal safety at a higher risk.

New and creative solutions need to be found to address homelessness and the mental health and substance-abuse issues many unhoused residents of the downtown core suffer with. These are provincial responsibilities, and our mayor and council must vigorously advocate the NDP provincial government for permanent funding to provide more mental health support workers to help those who need those who need help, and to accompany police officers on wellness checks.

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?

Climate change is real, and everyone has a responsibility to take action on climate change. The Seven Bold Steps are admirable goals which at times stray beyond council’s jurisdiction, yet even those items within municipal jurisdiction have been poorly implemented. For instance, although a “robust urban forest” is one of the Seven Bold Steps, our city falls behind on green space per capita, and many trees from our urban tree-canopy have been cut down to stumps.

I support establishing a per-capita minimum of park space in this city, including pocket parks in priority areas with higher density, establishing clear performance targets for the removal and replacement of dead or dying street trees in a timelier fashion, and expanding the city’s public tree watering program to help ensure mid and larger trees are given the water they need to survive periods of extreme heat.

I heartily agree with taking action to increase reliance on pollution-free vehicles. I want New Westminster to be the most electric vehicle friendly municipality in B.C.!

I also support eliminating the need for single-use plastic water bottles and increasing better access to fresh local drinking water by converting fire hydrants into drinking fountains throughout the city.

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

After waking, my family and I would take out dog for a walk along the Port Royal River Walk in Queensborough. We would then take the Q2Q Ferry to the mainland for breakfast at Angelina’s before exploring the River Market and taking a nice walk along the Quayside boardwalk. Lunch would be in Sapperton; then, depending on the season, I would either coach my son’s soccer team’s game at Mercer Oval or umpire a New Westminster Baseball game (whether at Justin Morneau Field in Moody Park or historic Queen’s Park Stadium). After the game, we’d return home, and Christina and I would pack up for a romantic staycation at the Inn at the Quay or maybe the Met (for something quaint and a little spooky); then back over to downtown on the Q2Q for the staycation, which would include dinner downtown before a show at the comedy club.

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

When Mayor Cote announced his intention not to run again, he cited an inability to build consensus with this current council. Through 20 years of volunteering in my professional association, including as president of the Canadian Bar Association (B.C. branch), and attending courses on governance, I have learned how to build consensus. I’ve also learned to listen to understand others’ views, rather than listening to tell them why they’re wrong. I’ve learned to talk last, not first, and I’ve learned to act after consultation, not before. It’s time for a mayor and council who collaborate, and who listen to residents!

How can folks contact you?

Email: ken@nwprogressives.ca

Twitter: @nwprogressives

Instagram: @nwprogressives

Facebook: nwprogressives

Website: https://www.nwprogressives.ca/ken-armstrong-qc/