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New West Mayor Jonathan Cote creates new task forces

Mayor Jonathan Cote is setting up four committees to address some of the city’s key priorities.
Jonathan Cote
Mayor Jonathan Cote is hoping a new mayor in Burnaby means a new-and-improved relationship for Burnaby and New Westminster.

Mayor Jonathan Cote is setting up four committees to address some of the city’s key priorities.

Cote is establishing three mayor’s task forces to deal with transportation, housing affordability and an economic health care cluster, as well as a public engagement committee. Council unanimously approved the groups at its Dec. 8 meeting.

“During the campaign, I talked about a lot of important issues in the city. I really want to focus our attention on those four areas and really get to work, recognizing that, from transportation to affordable housing to community engagement, these aren’t easy issues to address and are going to take a significant amount of work,” Cote told The Record. “I think the development of these four new task forces will really help focus us.”

Implementation of the recently completed master transportation plan will be a big part of the work of the transportation task force. It will also incorporate work being done on the city’s official community plan.

“There is no doubt transportation is the biggest issue our city faces,” Cote said. “It’s not going to be one easy solution, but I think it will be a series of actions the city can take to slowly over time start to improve the issues that we face.”

The mayors’ transportation task force will consist of the mayor, two councillors and city staff, while the economic health care cluster task force will be comprised of representatives from Fraser Health, Royal Columbian Hospital, the health care community, council members and city staff.

According to Cote, the economic health care cluster task force is related to expansion of Royal Columbian Hospital. He believes there’s an opportunity to take the hospital expansion “to the next level” and bring in more employment than just a hospital project.

“I think the city is going to benefit regardless from the major expansion that’s planned there, but recognizing that over 20 per cent of the employment in our city is generated by health care and health-care related businesses – this is a huge advantage for the city,” he said. “I think there’s a huge opportunity for the city to leverage the hospital expansion into related businesses in that area and really create an economic/health care cluster. There’s a lot of things all coming together. You’ve got the expansion of Royal Columbian Hospital, you’ve got the city moving forward with its Intelligent City project and you’ve also got the District Energy heating system in that area. You’ve got a lot of different factors in play. I think the city can do some work to attract health care businesses that aren’t currently in the city, outside of just the hospital.”

A third task force dealing with housing affordability will involve members of council, city staff and representatives from B.C. Housing, the Urban Development Institute and the Greater Vancouver Homebuilders’ Association.

“It’s an issue I am very passionate about. I think housing affordability is an issue not just for New Westminster but all across Metro Vancouver,” Cote said. “I’d like to see this committee, number one, work with different partners to see if there’s opportunities to bring a new non-market affordable housing project to the city.”

In addition to non-market housing, Cote said many affordable housing solutions can be market based as well.

“I think a good example of that is the rental housing policy that the city has been working on. It has attracted a lot of new rental housing units in the city,” he said. “It’s finding those different ways, both market and non-market solutions to help address a much larger affordable housing issue, both in New Westminster and the region.”

Cote is also establishing a mayor’s committee on public engagement, which will include community members, the mayor, council and staff.

He said the committee will look at what other cities are doing, consult with residents and see how New Westminster can do a better job to make residents feel like they’ve been involved in the work of the city and decision-making processes.

“I am looking forward to seeing the work of this committee, and to try and find new and innovative ways to really have a dialogue and engage residents in the work we are doing,” Cote said.

The mayor’s task forces and the new city committee will have their inaugural meetings in January 2015.