The battle of 2018 may be over, but the war to win seats on city council and school board will go on for the New West Progressives.
The electors slate formed a year ago in an effort to bring different perspectives to city council and school board, where the entire council and a majority of school board candidates who were elected in the last civic election had been endorsed by the New Westminster and District Labour Council. On Saturday, all of the candidates who were endorsed by the labour council, including the mayor, six councillors and five school trustees, won seats on city council and school board.
“I think if we had another six or maybe 12 months under our belt we would have been able to break through on the council. We probably would have been able to get one or two seats on council,” said Daniel Fontaine, who helped found the group. “We just ran out of time.”
When the ballots were tallied Saturday night, the New West Progressives had won one of seven seats on school board (Danielle Connelly placed fifth), while other NWP candidates came in eighth (Cyrus Sy), ninth (Lisa Falbo) and 13th ( J.P. Leberg.). In the council race, labour-endorsed council candidates took the top six spots to earn seats, with NWP candidates Fontaine, Ellen Vaillancourt, Paul McNamara and Bryn Ward taking the seventh through tenth spots, followed by independents.
Fontaine said the group knew it was in a “David and Goliath” battle going up against Team Cote, which is the group that’s endorsed by the labour council and supported by provincial and federal NDP politicians.
“At the end of the day, if that is what the community wants, if they want to have 100 per cent of the council, I am not going to dispute that if that’s what the community wants,” he said. “But what I can say from the results is that we have been around less than 12 months and we have certainly made one heck of a dent in that District Labor Council machine. If we continue down that road over the next four years, I am actually very confident that we will be able to finally have a different voice on council, to have someone elected that was not part of the same political party. You could feel the energy, you could feel the excitement on the doorstep. People wanted change. They had to come out and vote for that change.”
While some may view the New West Progressives inability to break through at council and to win only one seat on school board as a failure, Fontaine said the fact that the group was able “to make such a dent in the district labour council machine” bodes well for the next four years and will inspire others to get involved.
“The public has to understand that we have only been around 12 months. We have only really gotten around to pulling this whole organization together in less than 12 months. The District Labour Council has been controlling council for the better part of a couple of decades, and they have the full resources of every labour union in town. They have all the machinery that comes with that,” he said. “We are just a bunch of community people who have never run for political office before municipally. To be able to do that, and come out on the ballot as we have and to be as strong we have been on the ballot tonight, provides a lot of inspiration to people, and I think it will attract some additional candidates to run in the next election under the New West Progressives banner. I am pretty confident that will happen.”
Fontaine hopes Team Cote doesn’t view the election results as a reason for not engaging and not listening to residents, noting that he heard over and over again from people who felt decisions were made being formally being considered by city council.
McNamara encouraged New West Progressives supporters to ensure they stay on top of what’s happening at city council.
“Don’t just say in four more years we will be back in 2022. No way,” he said. “They need to be held accountable for everything that they do for the next four years. … You’ve got to keep putting your input in and saying we need this, we need this infrastructure, we need something for our youth. If we stay quiet until 2022, it is not going to help us. We’ve got to be vocal. We’ve got to get ourselves known. Please keep fighting for the next four years.”
Mayor Jonathan Cote believes the New West Progressives started a strong campaign before weakening in September.
“I think they actually started off really strong,” he said. “We were a little bit worried about their campaign. They were putting out a lot of interesting ideas.”
Sometime in September, he said the New West Progressives seemed to focus on opposing Team Cote.
“I think they started off with a very positive campaign, but they got into the more partisan issues,” he said. “There is no doubt there was sniping on both sides in terms of supporters on both sides, but I think they actually lost focus on some of the big issues that they were initially talking about, and I think that was a mistake because at the end of the campaign, they were campaigning on things like mail-in ballots and other issues that are really not germane to the City of New Westminster. I think it ended up not being a good strategy for them.”