After two terms as mayor and three terms as a councillor, Jonathan Cote is ready for a new adventure.
For the past year, Cote said he and his wife Alix have discussing whether or not he should seek another term as mayor.
“After spending the holiday period with close family and close friends, I came to the conclusion that it’s time for me to take on my next adventure,” he told the Record. “I have really loved the opportunity to play my role as mayor and council member over the past 16 years and I am really incredibly proud of the work that we have been able to do but I think it’s time for me to take my next adventure and it’s time for me to make some room for the next round of leadership in the city.”
Cote said the past two years have been “particularly stressful” and he’s been considering his ability to contribute.
“I am proud of the contributions I have made, but it does take its toll playing this type of public role for such a long period of time,” he said. “No doubt the pandemic has been incredibly challenging. I am actually proud of the work we have done as a city of being a resilient city, of being a caring city, and working through the struggles and stress in the community during this period.”
For Cote, one of the positive aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic was the fact that he was at home for dinner every night with his family, rather than being out about four nights a week like he was before the pandemic.
“That really struck home with me and made me realize how important spending time is with family,” he said. “I still have three school-aged children. Obviously, priorities need to focus in that direction.”
Cote’s decision also comes on the heels of conflicts related to the formation of the Together New West political party, which announced in early December that it would be fielding candidates for city council and school board in the 2022 election.
When the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association voiced concerns that the party’s name was the same as a branding campaign it had launched in 2020, Cote issued a statement apologizing to the BIA and expressing disappointment that the party executive had decided not to work with the BIA to fully address the legitimate concerns they’d raised.
“I have been thinking about this for the past year, and struggling with this decision,” he said. “I think the events of the last month, they have given me greater clarity to help this decision but ultimately they are not the driving force behind me deciding to move on and take my next steps.”
Cote was first elected to city council in 2005, serving three terms as a councillor before defeating incumbent mayor Wayne Wright and being elected mayor in 2014. Running as part of a slate of candidates called Team Cote, he was re-elected to a second term as mayor in the 2018 election.
Asked about today’s political environment, Cote said it’s not one where he can do his best work.
“I’ve always found my leadership style to really be consensus based and bringing people together, even people of different mindsets and views. It’s been challenging for me. I have seen politics become a little bit more divided over the years that I’ve been involved in local politics. I don’t think that’s just a New Westminster phenomenon; that’s more generally speaking even worldwide,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think my kind of consensus leadership style is not really in style these days. You are either an ally or an enemy in a lot of politics these days. Unfortunately that’s not the best environment for me to thrive. I think that’s been a challenge for me.”
Cote, however, stressed he’s not being pushed out of the mayor’s race.
“Not at all,” he said. “This is a very personal decision. No doubt this is something Alix and I have really been spending a lot of time with over the past year, kind of debating whether we had the energy and whether it was the right thing to be going for one more term or if now was the right time to be taking our next chapter. I think both for personal and professional reasons, it just seems like it was the right time for us.”
Cote said the city has evolved a lot over the past 16 years, and he feels incredibly honoured to have been a part of those changes.
“In particular, I am really proud of the work we have done in the City of New Westminster on housing policy and affordable housing. We are a small city in our region but I think we punch well above our weight. We have been a leader in the region in housing policy and in trying to attract affordable housing, which is one of biggest challenge our region faces,” he said. “Another area I am really proud of is the work we have taken on climate action.”
Not long after being elected to council in 2005, Cote put forward a Green Action Plan in an effort to put climate action on the city’s agenda. He’s proud to see how that work has evolved and led to the city’s Seven Bold Steps For Climate Action
“No doubt, both housing and climate are going to be huge challenges in the future but I am really proud of the work we have done here locally,” he said. “Although I have really enjoyed being a part of it, to me, I don’t think it is any individual that has accomplished those goals. It’s been the collective effort of a lot of amazing city staff, a really passionate community. I have had the opportunity to work with many great individuals on council over the many years who have all helped to contribute to building a really forward-thinking community.”
Prior to being elected mayor, Cote completed his master’s degree in urban studies/planning at Simon Fraser University.
“I have some time to give some thought as to what the next adventure and the next challenge for me is going to be. Definitely I don’t think politics is in my future,” he said. “I have a huge passion for city building. It was my interest in cities that got me involved in local politics in the first place. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if whatever role I end up in is still generally involved in building better cities.”
Cote said it’s too soon to say what he’ll do next, as he has a lot of work to do over the next 10 months to guide the city through council’s term of office.
“Certainly it’s going to be my goal to make sure I am setting up the next mayor and council for success in the next term,” he said. “There is still a lot of work that I am really passionate and want to be engaged in the next year. The reality is, sometimes when you are caught up in an election campaign, that’s not the best avenue for doing really good work here. I am hopeful with my role as mayor of the City of New Westminster that I can hopefully land a lot of the good work that we are doing at the end of this term, and be able to focus on that.”
Along with serving as mayor, Cote is also chair of the New Westminster police board and chair of the mayors council on regional transportation. He also serves as chair of the regional planning committee.
“Even regionally, my role as chair of mayor’s council and the regional planning committee, I am looking forward to landing the long-range transportation and regional planning document this year,” he said. “I think this will actually give me more time and space to focus and make sure that that work is completed properly this year.”
Many civic politicians seeking re-election express a desire to implement plans they’ve helped develop.
“The process of city-building is a task that is never completed. It is an ever-evolving role,” he said. “For me, I am obviously really happy I’ve had the opportunity to contribute during the period I have had and I hope the community can feel I’ve made a positive impact on the city. But I think you also need to be able to make room and space for new leadership to emerge, new priorities and new ideas to work through.”’
Cote hopes that that a lot of the work he’s been passionate about will continue into the future, and the next mayor and council will build upon the work that’s been started.
“But with all leadership, you need to make room for the next chapter and the next step,” he said. “To me, I think this is a good time for our community.”
Cote said Jan. 1 seemed like the right time to announce he wouldn’t be running in the Oct. 15, 2022 election.
“There was just something that seemed right about starting off the new year fresh and picking this day,” he said.
Cote said he also wanted to provide ample time for people to ponder whether they were interested in running for mayor.
“That’s why I wanted to give lots of time for what I think is a lot of great community members that could go into this role and do an excellent job in this role,” he said.
When the time is right, Cote expects he will endorse a candidate he hopes will win the mayor’s seat.
“I think it’s very likely that I would support and endorse a candidate. But having said that, I wanted to give lots of time for many people in the community to give good thought about whether this was the role for them. We will see how the year plays out,” he said. “Yeah, I very likely will be supporting candidates. Ultimately it’s not a decision for me; it’s a decision for residents of New Westminster to determine who their next mayor is.”
In his words
Cote made his announcement this morning via a Jan. 1, 2022 letter posted to social media. Here’s what it said:
Dear New West,
I hope everyone has had a good holiday season and I want to wish everyone a happy new year. The start of a new year is always a good time to reflect on the challenges of the past and chart a new course for the year ahead. I have had the wonderful opportunity to surround myself with close family and friends over the past few weeks who have helped me find clarity and peace regarding my future. With that in mind, it has become clear to me that it’s time to take on my next adventure and thus I will not be running for re-election in 2022.
It has been an honour to serve this community for the past 16 years and I am incredibly proud of the work we have been able to accomplish. From our work on housing policy to our bold steps on climate action, our small city has been a leader in so many ways. This work would not have been possible without the hard work from City staff, community members and my colleagues on council over the years who have been so dedicated to building a compassionate and forward thinking community.
The past two years have been challenging for our city but we have been resilient and caring in the face of our struggles. It feels like we have lost some momentum but I am confident that our city has a bright future ahead. We are tough, diverse, quirky and most importantly we are a community with a big heart. These are traits that have served us well in the past and will give us strength in the future.
The work of city building is not a task to be completed, it is an endeavour that is ever evolving and needs to be constantly tended to with care and compassion. I hope my contributions to our city have had a positive impact and I hope future leaders will build upon the successes we have built together. That being said, I need to make room for new ideas, priorities to emerge and allow our city to take its next steps. I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to contribute to this city and I will work hard this year to ensure our next Mayor and Council is set up for success.
Jonathan X. Cote
Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus