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Motions abound at New Westminster city council table

City council brings back its previous process of requiring council members to serve notice of motion when bringing forward new items
New Westminster City Hall
Councillors Daniel Fontaine and Paul Minhas have put forward a variety of notice of motions for council's consideration.

New Westminster is reverting to a previous process for the consideration of motions by members of city council.

The Nov. 28 meeting was city council’s first regular meeting following the Nov. 7 inaugural meeting. Prior to the Nov. 28 meeting, new councillors Daniel Fontaine and Paul Minhas had jointly submitted several motions for council’s consideration.

In recent years, council would immediately consider and vote on motions that council members had provided to the clerk prior to the finalization of the agenda. However, at the Nov. 28 meeting, city officials noted that council was reverting to the previous process that sees motions placed on the agenda as a “notice of motion” and considered at the subsequent meeting.

“There are motions from members of council on the agenda,” said Mayor Patrick Johnstone. “But the way the procedure bylaw works is notices of motion are brought, put on the agenda for council's knowledge so that council will know that they're coming at the subsequent council meeting… We debate them at the following meeting.”

Fontaine sought clarification, nothing that’s a change from the process that had been followed by the previous council.

“Up until recently, when a member of council brought a motion forward and delivered it to the clerk the week prior to the council meeting, that motion was debated the night that it was on the floor. For example, the Royal City moniker motion was submitted the week prior, and then on the Monday council meeting met,” he said. “So when did the process change?”

City clerk Jacque Killawee said former mayor Jonathan Cote made a decision last term to put motions directly onto the agenda without a notice of motion.

“Once we got our new mayor, Mayor Johnstone, we went back to the (council) procedure bylaw,” she said.

Fontaine said he supports the return to the practice of serving notice of motions, as it gives the public advance warning about new motions from council members.

“That was definitely part of the conversation the mayor and myself had,” Killawee said.

The Nov. 28 meeting included seven notices of motions from Minhas and Fontaine, the two members of the New West Progressives elected to council:

* That the City of New Westminster halt the phasing out of the Royal City moniker in the city’s branding, and that no future change to the branding be undertaken without due notice and proper consultation with residents, businesses and Indigenous people.

* That the city re-established the railway community advisory panel and that staff report back to council on the updated terms of reference. The motion included several items related to train whistle cessation in New West.

* That a new crime reduction and public safety advisory committee be created and that staff report back to council on the terms of reference by Jan. 31, 2023.

* That council recommend to the mayor that he establish a new finance and city services standing committee. The motion noted that several other Metro Vancouver cities have committees to provide better oversight and accountability on city spending and services.

* That the city create a new amateur sport and recreation advisory committee.

* That the city write to Premier David Eby and request that funding be set aside and prioritized in the 2023 provincial budget to begin the planning, development and construction of large-scale, community-based, modern mental health residential care facilities in Metro Vancouver.

* That the city clerk make the agenda and supporting documents available to council members no less than five business days prior to the meeting (the idea being that it supports better governance, decision-making and public engagement at city hall.)

Residents weigh in

The items will be on the Dec. 12 council agenda, so council did not discuss or vote on any of these notice of motions on Nov. 28. Several speakers, however, spoke to council about some of the motions. 

Rick Folka, who ran for council with the New Westminster Progressives in October’s civic election, supported the creation of a finance committee.

“I hope that you as a council look at the positives that will come out of that type of committee,” he said.

Longtime council watcher Christopher Bell asked Fontaine and Minhas to “pause” their wish to implement a finance and city services standing committee until the city’s had time to explore ways of achieving “best practices” in publish oversight of the city’s finances. He suggested the city embark on a public engagement process to explore the best way to achieve the noble goals of more openness, transparency and accountability in city finances.

“Is the cart not being put in front of the horse with your proposed motion for a new finance committee, as the motion is declaring that having a finance and city services standing committee is the best way of increasing the level of openness, transparency, and accountability regarding the city’s finances?” he said.

If council agrees to create a new committee on finance and city services, Bell questioned if all members – or just some council members – would serve on the city, and if it would include citizens. If only a few members of council are on the committee, he suggested that both members of the New West Progressives be included so motions they may put forward could have a seconder, something he said may not otherwise occur because Community First New West members hold five seats on council.

Chris Dumfries, who has lived in New West for more than 50 years, expressed concern that the previous council approved a motion to begin the process of updating the City of New Westminster’s logo and phasing out the use of the “Royal City” moniker in its branding and to engage with the community in the development of new branding.

“Please move slowly and carefully on this,” he said. “Better yet, find something better to do with your time and the taxpayers’ money, like daycare spaces, like crime, like housing and homeless shelters. Or maybe even lower property taxes. Thank you for listening to me.”

More motions coming

Fontaine and Minhas subsequently issued a press release saying they’ll be bringing forward four additional notices of motion to city council that are part of a “New West Christmas wish list” they feel will make 2023 better for local residents. 

The “Christmas wish list” motions include: 

* Reducing the cost and time related to development of new housing by having city hall pre-approve up to 15 standardized housing designs, for implementation by Dec. 31, 2023 

* Delaying the demolition of the Centennial Community Centre until equivalent recreational capacity has been found or built, ensuring New West’s infrastructure deficit doesn’t grow even larger. 

*Identifying and quantifying programs and costs from the provincial and federal governments that have been downloaded onto the City of New Westminster and its residents, and prioritizing calls from the city to Victoria and Ottawa for new replacement funding. 

*Supporting calls for a “snow summit” that reviews the causes and impact of the shutdown of Metro Vancouver on Nov. 29 and makes preventative recommendations. 

Going forward, Minhas said that motions being forward by himself and Fontaine will be based on two principles: does it make life better for residents and businesses, and does it help make New Westminster more affordable?