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This Queensborough resident wants to be New Westminster’s next mayor

Ken Armstrong will run under New West Progressives banner

It’s time for New Westminster city hall to get “back to basics” and to listen to all community members, says mayoral candidate Ken Armstrong.

The New Westminster Progressives announced today that the Queensborough resident will be their mayoral candidate in the Oct. 15 municipal election. A lawyer and a father of two teenagers, Armstrong has lived in New Westminster for 20 years.

“We feel like our city is at a crossroads right now,” he said. “We are experiencing rapid growth, and our infrastructure deficit continues to grow by the year. If we are going to be able to accommodate all that projected growth of the next decade and beyond, we do need a council that gets back to basics and listen to residents of New Westminster and wants to connect and build up all the communities within New Westminster. So that’s why I am running.”

Armstrong said the New West Progressives’ platform will be designed by the candidates, as they engage with and listen to residents.

“We do have a core set of values. We are committed to these principles of actively listening, engaging communities, safe streets, usable amenities and closing that infrastructure deficit,” he said. “But we are really excited about building that up by engaging, not only with the candidates, but with the citizens of New Westminster over the coming weeks and months.”

Armstrong supports getting “back to basics” by addressing issues such as potholes, paving, parks and sports field needs. He wants to tackle the city’s “infrastructure deficit” and ensure that new developments include investments in public amenities, such as parks, libraries, swimming pools and recreation facilities.

Addressing concerns about safety in the downtown is another of Armstrong’s priorities.

“On that note, and I will be very clear about this, we are not interested in defunding the police,” he told the Record. “We are interested in making sure the police have adequate funding to ensure that our citizens feel safe in all parts of New Westminster, noting that the downtown is really quite the lighting rod spot for that right now.”

The current council approved a 2019 to 2022 strategic plan that focuses on seven key priorities: affordable housing; culture and economic development; environment and climate action; facilities, infrastructure, and public realm; reconciliation, inclusion, and engagement; sustainable transportation; and organizational effectiveness. Council also approved Seven Bold Steps on climate action, which are intended to guide the city towards its goal of having a zero carbon future by 2050.

Those goals are admirable, said Armstrong, but they may “drift away” from the basics that the citizens of New Westminster need.

“We need to find a better balance to make sure that we are actually focusing on basics rather than some of those goals, which, candidly, are the responsibility of everyone, but mostly of senior levels of government,” he said.

Armstrong said he’s heard from community members who feels that city hall, whether it’s council or administration, are consulting “to tick a box” and are listening to respond, rather than listening to understand.

“I do feel like sometimes our city hall isn’t listening to all the needs of all the communities within New Westminster,” he said.

Armstrong is the first candidate to announce plans to run for mayor in this year’s civic election.

Consensus needed

Mayor Jonathan Cote announced Jan. 1 that he would not be seeking re-election, saying he wants to have more time with his family. In an interview with the Record, he noted that his “consensus leadership style is not really in style these days” and that’s proven to be challenging.

Armstrong said his past roles with the New West Bar Association and the B.C. branch of the Canadian Bar Association required him to deal with people with strong opinions and strong personalities, to build a consensus and to foster a spirit of collaboration.

“I do believe myself to be a consensus builder. I believe in the importance of listening to understand, rather than listening to respond, and engaging with, in this particular case, our community members, our residents in New Westminster,” he said. “I have also always believed that a good leader speaks last, which empowers people to speak freely. When people can speak freely, they can feel like they’ve been heard. And when people feel like they have been heard, you can build a consensus.”

Armstrong said he got involved with the New West Progressives electors group about six months ago, wanting to be part of a party that isn’t affiliated with any federal or provincial parties and is comprised of candidates who are pledging to set aside their political differences to work for the betterment of the city.

“The New West Progressives stand for diversity of opinion, and just those core values of listening to understand, listening to engage. We build our platform by canvassing the residents and the citizens of New Westminster, rather than relying on a party machine to tell us what our platform should be,” he said. “We are not beholden to any particular power machine that tells us how to vote or we lose their support.”

The NWP formed prior to the last election and fielded a slate of candidates, with the hope of electing candidates who had not been endorsed by the New Westminster and District Labour Council.

As someone who is passionate about New Westminster, Armstrong said he had been thinking of running for city council until Cote announced he would not be seeking re-election.

“I am a consensus builder and I am not giving up on the notion that our council should be focused on collaboration as a core principle. And my team will put a major focus on that for sure, to keep what Mayor Cote started alive,” he said. “We do think we need fresh faces and a fresh team who are actively committed to actively listening to New Westminster residents to get that done. Is that a differentiator between myself and Mayor Cote? I think it’s a differentiator between the New Westminster Progressives and the current council, picking up on what Mayor Cote was trying to accomplish.”

Armstrong said the New West Progressives will be making some announcements in the coming weeks about some of their city council and school board candidates.

“We are going to run a diverse group of candidates that represent the communities and neighbourhoods of New Westminster. We are going to run candidates who want to make our city better and we are going to run candidates who want to listen to the residents and engage with the residents of New Westminster to make sure that they are heard,” he said. “In short, I am excited about the group.”

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus