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Federal politics inspired François Nantel

It's not what's going on in New Westminster that has compelled Françis Nantel to run for mayor, but rather, what's going on in Ottawa.

It's not what's going on in New Westminster that has compelled Françis Nantel to run for mayor, but rather, what's going on in Ottawa.

Admittedly, Nantel said his is not a conventional mayoral campaign, but he holds hope that New Westminster voters will listen to his ideas and elect him on his unique platform.

For Nantel, the mayoralty of New Westminster and every other municipality should be less about the daily business of a city and more about increasing the influence mayors have with senior levels of government.

"About a month ago, I thought that the mayor's chair would be the appropriate position to see if it's possible to reconfederate the country by talking with other mayors and reassessing where this country is going. Because I think this country is not going in the right direction," he said.

Nantel said too much is made of a mayor's leadership at the local level when much of a city's business is dealt with by staff, council and committees.

"They way I look at it, the mayor's chair is CEO of the corporation. There is staff there already. They already have projects going. There are already decisions that have been made. There's going to be six councillors that are going to help me out," he said.

Born in Montreal and raised in Laval, Que., Nantel has been established in the Royal City where he has run his window covering business, General Window Fashions, since 1997. He ran federally as an independent in a 1998 byelection in Port Moody-Coquitlam and ran again in 2000 in New Westminster as a Green Party candidate.

Nantel is quick to bring up issues like housing prices, federal interest payments, the cost of federal infrastructure, how the government accounts for its debt, privatization versus nationalization of resources, the Bank of Canada's role in funding infrastructure projects, the downloading of federal responsibilities onto the provinces and the provinces downloading their responsibilities onto municipalities - most of which are issues not directly faced by municipal governments.

But Nantel said federal politicians need to start looking at these issues through the eyes of municipalities.

"Even if my objective is federal politics, at this point, when you're the mayor, you need to know, what are the tensions? What are the pressures of the communities? Because when you're on top, you simply don't know," he said.

When it comes to running the city, Nantel said he differs from typical candidates in that he doesn't claim to have all the answers or ideas.

He said his openmindedness and total lack of agenda would make him New West's most fair and unbiased decision maker.

"What they want in a mayor is a person who will look at the issues objectively and be able to ask the proper questions in order to go along with a project or not, and to make sure that the citizen understands the reasons," he said.

"I'm coming into this an objective observer and objective decision maker. I'm going to ask the right questions. I don't want to come into the game or the mayor's chair saying, 'I know everything.' No, I don't, but when you don't know, the key is to ask the right questions."

Asked how he feels about the way New Westminster has been run since he moved here in 1997, Nantel doesn't like to point fingers.

"I think the job is being done with the tools they have," he said. "My politics and my philosophy is not to dump on the competition. I have a cooperative approach."

Nantel said he would like to see a more measured approach from city hall when it comes to development and amenities to go with it.

"I'm not anti-development or anti-business, not at all. But I want to make sure we put the horse before the cart, not the cart before the horse, and I think to a certain extent, that's what's going on - building without the proper infrastructure in place, and you have gridlock as far as traffic goes," he said.

Despite a mayoral platform that looks more like a federal one, Nantel said he still has ideas that could help New Westminster, particularly when it comes to traffic. The northbound intersection of Royal Avenue and Sixth Street is a particular trouble spot for him.

"The far right lane is a parking lane. What has to be done is knock off about six or seven parking meters and reintroduce a dedicated lane to turn up the hill. Blocking that lane doesn't make any sense," he said.

"These are the kinds of things I would look at, practically speaking."