Affiliation: Community First New West
Tell us a bit about yourself
Elected to council in 2014, I have spent eight years demonstrating transparency and accountability, leading conversations in the community (and through my website) about what the city can do, and could do better. My goal has been to make local government easier to access and understand. I am a longtime New Westminster resident, environmental scientist and volunteer who was named Citizen of the Year in 2013. I live in the Brow of the Hill with my partner Antigone, am a cyclist and a member of the Royal City Curling Club, a hit-or-miss gardener, and a champion for cities.
Why are you running for mayor?
To continue the city’s leadership on housing policy and climate action, while re-investing in community with refreshed amenities, renewed public spaces and an active transportation network befitting a 21st-century urban city. This work needs collaboration – with the community and a team at the table committed to a common vision and values. As part of the Community First team, I want every neighbourhood to be connected, activated and nurtured. I will strive to strengthen partnerships with local business, arts, sport, and service organizations, and collaborate with forward-looking leaders across the region to build a community where everyone can thrive.
What do you consider to be the Top 3 issues facing New Westminster at this time?
We need a full-spectrum approach to housing – to continue to support affordable housing investments, continue to protect and enhance our rental stock, and now to do more to accelerate permitting for the “missing middle” type of housing, in the form of town-and row-homes for working and growing families choosing to live – or wanting to stay – in New Westminster.
We need to bring back the energy the city had before COVID by activating our public spaces again. When we creatively program our parks, streets, and business districts, New West shows up. It builds community connections and enhances livability. We can empower our many community partners (BIAs, arts and sport organizations, community groups) to do this work with the city supporting them, not putting barriers in their way.
We need to re-invest in the community. We have experienced rapid growth, then COVID. We are now in a position to leverage that growth and senior government partnerships, and invest in improved amenities, public spaces, facilities and infrastructure to assure that New West remains the livable, safe, full-service community people expect.
What is the biggest success and/or failure of the current city council?
There were a lot of successes, but I’m most proud of our rental policies. We took bold action to end predatory renovictions in the city, assuring the most vulnerable renters in our community were secure in their homes during a regional housing crisis. Our leadership on this was defended in the courts and other communities are replicating our approach, leading the province to change the Residential Tenancy Act to extend some of these protections provincewide. At the same time, New West led the region in getting new purpose-built rental approved and built, and approved hundreds of affordable housing units.
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?
I think it is timely to look at the city’s corporate branding that has not been refreshed in more than 15 years, and I support us having a fulsome community conversation about that branding. Ultimately, a city’s moniker belongs to the members of the community, not the city council, but the corporate brand has a different application that must project the values of the organization to potential partners. I think this conversation in the community can be a healthy one, and one we should not shrink away from.
What is your housing situation? Homeowner, renter, other? Landlord?
I live in a house I own with my partner in the Brow of the Hill neighbourhood where I have lived for almost 15 years.
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?
Metro Vancouver has recently completed an updated Regional Growth Strategy, and the city is obligated to adopt a context statement that addresses that growth. We are one of the few municipalities in the Lower Mainland who has met its obligation for new housing and growth over the last decade. We have been very successful at a transit-oriented growth model, where most new growth is a short walk to rapid and frequent transit service, and have been successful at protecting the existing lower-cost rental stock in the city, preventing the type of demoviction impacts other communities have seen.
The city has two transit stations that have not yet seen significant growth, 22nd Street and Braid. The future of transit-oriented growth should concentrate on these two areas, and they both provide opportunities to develop car-light or car-free high-service communities with mixed use, ample public amenities to serve the entire community, and affordable housing components included.
We also have immense opportunities to accelerate “missing middle” growth. There are many areas of the city where infill density (laneway and carriage homes, plexes) and row- or town-home type development would provide market housing for working families at various income levels, especially as single-family homes are increasingly out of reach for most. An update of the OCP, which was developed before the recent acceleration of land values, would allow us to find the opportunities to streamline this type of housing 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?
The city has been supporting the creation of non-profit housing by providing available city lands for such housing, by approving every shelter and housing unit BC Housing is able to fund in the city, and by accelerating our approval processes to assure that proposed projects are not delayed by city processes. We have also established an affordable housing reserve fund that has been used to offset permitting and development costs for non-profit affordable housing projects to further reduce local barriers. This has brought hundreds of truly affordable homes to people across the community.
Even with these efforts, and despite being more proactive than any other municipality in the Lower Mainland, our 2021 Housing Needs Report showed we are still hundreds of units short of the demand for below-market and supportive housing in the community, and this need is anticipated to double by 2031. We need to continue to advocate to senior governments to fund shelter and affordable housing, and we need to continue to signal the non-profit providers that their projects will get approved and built in New West. We have opportunities through inclusive housing policies to include more affordable units in market housing developments, but we also want to explore a Community Land Trust model in in New West so we can optimize the use of vacant lands and help counter the inflated land prices that are currently a significant barrier to new affordable housing development.
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?
The NWPD budget has not been cut, but has increased 18% since 2019, which is larger than the 12% overall increase in city spending over that same period. At the same time, council’s ability to be held accountable for the police budget is hampered by the current Police Act structure that asks council to approve a budget, but removes any direct oversight of how it is spent. New West has joined other communities across the province in asking for a review of the Police Act to improve accountability in police budgeting.
I have an excellent working relationship with the NWPD and our chief of police. This relationship is vital in finding creative solutions to address the modern challenges facing our community and our region. A good example is their strong support for the Peer Assisted Crisis Team (PACT) model that is currently being piloted in New West, and supported by the Canadian Mental Health Association. We have to be willing to take on innovative opportunities such as this; evidence-based and proven programs to make everyone in our community safer. I look forward to working with the police board, the chief, and the community on this.
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’m proud to recognize New Westminster’s approach to climate action as one of the most progressive in the province. The Seven Bold Steps won the PIBC award as a model of climate leadership, as it integrates reducing emissions with adaptation, improving public spaces, and addressing the impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable people in our community.
There is more work to do, however. After the heat dome and other recent events, we can no longer deny the impacts of climate change right here in our community. New Westminster has a responsibility to do its part to meet emission reduction targets, and to reduce the impact of climate change on its residents. By integrating this work with strategic planning, we can do this more efficiently, and assure the capital investments we make today (like building Canada’s first zero-carbon aquatic and recreation centre) will save money in the long run through reduced operational costs. New Westminster has unique opportunities though our electrical utility to incentivize EV charging, accelerate building retrofits to make the most affordable housing more comfortable, safe, and efficient, and de-carbonization of our overall energy use.
You have 24 hours and your calendar is open. What would be your ideal day in New West?
It being a sunny day, I’d grab an early coffee downtown, do a bike ride with the Fraser River Fuggitivi, then debate between a post-ride brewery stop or getting a little garden work done. Afternoon would be at a park with friends, while enjoying music or a performance organized by one of the city’s many community partners who activate our spaces. Then catch the late seating at one of our great restaurants, just me and Tig. A relaxed, car-free day with friends and community.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell voters?
I am excited to be running for mayor, but am just as excited to be running with a great team of candidates at Community First. Experienced incumbents and newcomers with impressive resumes of community service, representing the diversity of New Westminster. A city council is a team, a school board is a team. To achieve the goals of activating, connecting and nurturing this great community we need a team of dedicated leaders working together. When filling in your ballot on Oct. 15th, please support the experienced team that will put Community First.
How can folks contact you?
My blog, where I have reported out on every council meeting for the last eight years is at patrickjohnstone.ca and my campaign website is at pjnewwest.ca. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, I am on Facebook at PatrickJohnstone; Twitter at @PJNewWest; and Instagram at Patrick.Johnstone.