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A new mayor for New Westminster: Looking at the candidates in the 2022 municipal election

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New Westminster, B.C. -

People in New Westminster will be getting a new mayor in 10 days, with two-term mayor Jonathan Cote not seeking re-election. Advance voting began Wednesday in the city, where voters will be choosing between three mayoral candidates.

Two are running with municipal parties (Patrick Johnstone with Community First and Ken Armstrong with New West Progresssives) and one (Chuck Puchmayr) is running as an independent.

CHUCK PUCHMAYR

Former NDP MLA and current councillor Chuck Puchmayr was first elected to city council in 1996, and has served multiple terms over the years.

“I want to be able to think freely and look at what do the constituents want,” he said Wednesday, outside a local cafe on 12th Street.

“I think I’m in a really good place where I’m not bound by doctrine, I’m not bound by policy, I’m answering to the people of New Westminster.”

Puchmayr said residents have been sharing worries about the cost of living and inflation, particularly seniors, but he said the pressure is being felt across the board.

“The thing I talk to them about is bringing some sensible governance to city hall, really looking at the projects we do and make sure that we keep the tax base comfortable so that we are protecting our renters, our home owners, and our many, many small businesses,” he said. “You have to look at some of the things we budgeted for and you have to find creative ways of how we can move some of the resources around so that we’re not relying on taxes all the time.”

Puchmayr said the city recently sold off carbon credits to an oil company for $26 million.

“We have a lot of green initiatives in the budget that are already funded and they require a tax increase to deliver,” he said. “I want to be able to use that fund to expedite our green infrastructure, which will create more carbon credits, which will create more revenue into the city.”

Puchmayr said the “green fund” could also be used to top up federal and provincial subsidies to upgrade older buildings in the city in order to allow for the installation of air conditioning.

The heat dome of 2021, which led to the deaths of hundreds of people across B.C., also took a devastating toll in New Westminster.

“Almost 10 per cent of the deaths in the province were here in New Westminster. We lost some 30 people. Most of them in three-storey walk-ups,” Puchmayr said. “We used to have an emergency advisory organization where we had dozens and dozens of volunteers in the city that could be activated in the event of an emergency … I want to bring that back again.”

When it comes to housing, Puchmayr said he wants to fast-track a future plan to densify the area around the 22nd Street SkyTrain station, as well as see more subsidized housing.

“We need a type of housing where we partner with developers, we partner with non-profits, and we provide below-market housing,” he said. “When you’re the 10th-highest rent in Canada, 15 per cent below market is still some of the highest rents in Canada. So we need to look at this differently.”

PATRICK JOHNSTONE

Patrick Johnstone, a geoscientist, is also a current councillor who is now serving his second term. He is running with the municipal party Community First New West, which includes three other current councillors and three current school board trustees.

“I think we’ve seen around the region that mayors who don't have a supportive council can’t get work done and vice versa,” Johnstone said Wednesday, while meeting with CTV News at Moody Park.

“So I think it’s important that we have a team that works together, that knows we can work together, and have a common vision of what the city’s going to look like in the future.”

Johnstone said housing is a big issue for the growing city.

“With affordable housing coming as quickly as we can get money from BC Housing, and with rental stock coming on really well, I do think we need to put a little more emphasis into that sort of working-class, first starter home type development,” he said. “Infill density, laneway houses, row homes, that’s a part of the housing stock that I think we could see more emphasis (on) in New West.”

Johnstone added builders have been deterred by rising land costs, and the city needs to look at ways to incentivize that kind of development.

“That kind of missing middle really comes down to us making sure that we have the policy guidance to get it built,” he said. “It’s about creating predictability in the permitting process.”

Johnstone said there’s also been a lot of interest and concern about climate change, especially considering the lethal impact of the heat dome.

“We lost 30 people in New Westminster alone, which is the highest per capita loss of any municipality, and they died in my neighbourhood, in the Brow of the Hill where I live, predominantly,” he said. “It’s because we have a lot of older housing that isn’t very efficient. It’s because it's a neighbourhood that doesn't have a lot of shade. It’s an urban heat island effect.”

Johnstone said work needs to be done to make sure those older buildings can be retrofitted, and that people have access to cool spaces during extreme heat events, as well as improving emergency response.

Johnstone said he wants to make sure future infrastructure plans are funded to keep up with the city’s growth, and also hopes to see an “active transportation network” built over the next term.

“We have a few bike lanes in New Westminster, but it's a little bit hit and miss,” he said. “I want us to see a full network, so we are completely connected. So that everybody is within 400 metres of a mobility lane. That’s mobility not just for cyclists, it’s mobility for people using new mobility devices, for people in scooters, for people who need wheelchairs, and it also makes it safer for pedestrians in the city.”

KEN ARMSTRONG

Lawyer Ken Armstrong is entering the political arena as the mayoral candidate for the New West Progressives party, which also includes one current school board trustee on its nine-candidate team.

“Our group is not aligned with any federal or provincial political party, so we bring true political independence,” Armstrong said, while speaking with CTV News by the River Market along the city’s waterfront quay on Wednesday.

“We also are committed to listening to and engaging with the residents of New Westminster to have them drive our platform and our agenda.”

Armstrong said his party plans to increase the number of low-market or below-market rental housing units by 1,500 in about six to eight years, and raise the number of secondary suites and laneway homes by about 25 per cent by 2026. He also hopes to speed up the process for building certain kinds of properties, and said the city is lacking developments such as duplexes and fourplexes, as well as fee-simple townhomes.

Armstrong said his party also has plans to help combat the effects of climate change.

“We have ideas surrounding increasing per-capita minimum green spaces, revitalizing our tree bylaws and our tree programs, including making sure we’re removing and replacing dead and dying street trees,” he said. “Making sure we’re watering middle-aged and older trees so that they don’t end up dying in heat domes, and really moving towards a more electric-vehicle-friendly municipality.”

Armstrong said he wants to work with first responders to ensure emergency response in the event of futures stretches of extreme heat.

“There is some discussion out there about whether the emergency response committee, if it had still been active, would have been helpful. I’m not sure if that is a be-all and end-all solution,” he said. “We want to make sure the fire department is engaged, with their co-operation, so they can help respond and be proactive in reaching out to people in these kind of heat emergencies.”

Armstrong said the downtown area of the city is also facing some “significant” public safety issues.

“We want to see some increased (police) bike patrols and increased foot patrols, both in the downtown core and here on Quayside. That will really help, I think, people feel safe,” he said, and added they also hope to further revitalize the downtown core.

“Encouraging the owners of some of our empty storefronts to get them rented out, to reimagine Columbia Street, to get some street festivals … to increase the activity downtown while also reorienting policing resources.”

Armstrong said he’s also hearing a lot of complaints about deteriorating conditions on city streets, and wants to see the problems prioritized.  

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