Peace, order and good government

As everyone knows, Canada was founded on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness… No, wait… That’s the United States.

Canada was actually founded on quite different principles: Peace, order and good government.

On a civic level, these broad principles of peace, order and good government are ones that many people can get behind and support. And in many ways, these are the very same principles that Voice New Westminster was founded on.

If nothing else, Voice New Westminster has proven that people from different political perspectives on a federal and provincial level can find much common ground on a civic level.

Civic issues are very immediate and direct and they cut across political lines: Should a road be widened here or there or not at all? Where should new schools go? Should the city spend money on this project or that one? What level of taxation do the city’s residents and businesses feel is appropriate and bearable? How should the school board allocate its resources?

These are questions best answered through informed community consensus and that’s what Voice has sought to achieve.

After all, good decision-making never results when decisions are made by a select few in the absence of open, honest consultation and thorough discussion with the public.

There’s an endless supply of examples we could provide to illustrate this point, but the recent controversy surrounding the United Boulevard Extension, and whether the city agreed or didn’t agree with the City of Coquitlam to move forward with the project, is a prime example.

And contrary to what one commentator has suggested, seeking transparency and accountability in public affairs is not some sort of sinister gimmick being employed in a cynical way to disguise negative shots. Pointing out the foibles and the errors of decision-makers and their decisions is essential to the process of achieving peace, order and good government in a community.

If the emperors-that-be aren’t wearing any clothes, the citizens must say so. Mindlessly applauding the emperors-that-be and agreeing that their non-existent new clothes are truly wondrous serves no purpose other than pure sycophancy. What our city needs is clearheaded thinking, honest, open-eyed discussion and an end to the apathy that holds us back.

Ultimately, no public good comes when the public’s business is conducted in the shadows and special interest agendas are allowed to replace the interests of the community. Peace, order and good government can only be achieved when light is allowed to shine in.

And that is what Voice was formed to bring about; because nothing good grows in the absence of light, transparency, accountability, and a strong voice for the community and its citizens.


Kudos to Trustee Jim Goring: New SD40 Conflict of Interest Policy

The New Westminster school district now has a conflict of interest policy of sorts.



Kudos to Jim Goring and the other Voice school board trustees for pursuing this issue in the face of resistance from other board members.



Although the new policy isn’t as explicit or clear cut as the policy proposed by Trustee Jim Goring at the November 9th board meeting, it does address the fiduciary responsibility of trustees and senior staff and allows the district superintendent, secretary-treasurer and trustees to point out when a trustee is in a potential conflict of interest.



However, it remains to be seen how the policy withstands the acid test of application.

As background to his notice of motion, Jim Goring stated that “a clear [conflict of interest] policy that includes accountability is imperative so that the public can see that the business of the School Board is transacted free of conflict of interest.”



As a point of interest we’ve provided the text of Jim Goring’s original Notice of Motion below.



Niki Hope also had an article on the subject in the Record.



Again, kudos to Jim Goring and the other Voice school board trustees for pursuing this issue and it will be interesting to see how the new policy withstands the acid test of application.



Submitted by: Jim Goring



SUBJECT: Notice of Motion re: Conflict of Interest



For consideration at the November 9, 2010 Open Board meeting



Background:



The British Columbia Trustee Association recommends that school districts develop Conflict of Interest policy and procedures. SD 40 New Westminster has a motion duly passed to develop such a policy, however, this has not yet been done. A clear policy that includes accountability is imperative so that the public can see that the business of the School Board is transacted free of conflict of interest. The School Board is currently involved in the very important process of contract negotiations with one of its employee groups.



Motion:



THAT the motion passed December 15, 2009 to develop a Conflict of Interest policy be acted upon immediately with a policy developed by November 18, 2010 for consideration at the November 23, 2010 Open Board meeting.



AND FURTHERMORE THAT the policy address apparent and perceived conflict of interest.



AND FURTHERMORE THAT the policy include guidance on the direct and indirect pecuniary interest of a Trustee which at a minimum would include a Trustee:


1. who has parents or children (including financially independent adult children) who are employed by SD 40;

2. who has received election campaign funding or an endorsement from an entity with a pecuniary interest in the matter;

3. who is a shareholder in or a director or senior officer or has a controlling interest in or is a director or senior officer of a corporation that offers its securities to the public, and the corporation has a pecuniary interest in the matter or;

4. who is a partner of a person, is a member of a firm or is in the employment of a person or firm or entity that has a pecuniary interest in the matter.



AND FURTHERMORE THAT the policy shall include guidance on the pecuniary interest of a Trustee in a collective agreement.



AND FURTHERMORE THAT until the policy is developed Trustees shall consider, at a minimum, the following guidelines prior to participating in contract negotiations or discussions on contract negotiations.



Trustees may have direct or indirect pecuniary interests in collective agreements (i.e. those that are negotiated or ratified by SD#40 or BCPSEA) in a number of ways, including:


a) Trustees who are employed by a school district under the collective agreement, or whose spouses are so employed;

b) Trustees who have parents or children (including financially independent adult children) who are employed by a school district under a collective agreement;

c) Trustees who are officers of or employed by trade unions that are parties to a collective agreements because they represent school district employees.

d) Trustees who may have received significant campaign contributions or endorsements from any parties to a collective agreement.

The Toxic Blob That Ate Due Diligence

News this past week that the Pier Park is home to a much greater amount of toxic contamination than was previously thought comes as little surprise to many observers. After all, the site has a long history of industrial use from an age when environmental considerations, regulations and awareness were not what they are today.

Sadly, the due diligence that could have identified a costly issue like this one early on was lacking at the outset of the project.

We want to be very clear here in stating that Voice and its members are not at all opposed to opening up New Westminster’s long-derelict waterfront to productive new uses such as parks, walkways, housing and commercial enterprises. Reclaiming the city’s derelict waterfront and making it accessible and useful once again have been a goal of the community for several decades and all of these would be welcome improvements.

In fact, in a September 25, 2008 Voice press release, we stated our full support for “the creation of a properly planned foreshore park on New Westminster’s waterfront” while at the same time expressing our concern that negotiations for the sale of the Westminster pier property were nearing the completion stage without any public consultation or planning.

In our assessment, it looked very much like the purchase deal had been put together quickly to meet the deadline of the 2008 election and that the mayor was “trying to conjure up an election goody to dangle before the voters without any regard for logical planning, just like he did with the Plaza 88 development prior to the [previous] election.”

Due diligence was clearly warranted considering the history of the property but was just as clearly lacking, and we offered several recommendations in our September 2008 press release outlining what we felt the appropriate course of action should be in relation to the Westminster pier property purchase:


1. That the City of New Westminster should acquire an option to buy the Westminster Pier parcel of land with the stated intention that it plans to use the property for a foreshore park and a pocket cruise ship destination.

2. That after an option to buy has been acquired, the city should engage in a transparent and comprehensive public consultation process regarding the proposed use of the property.

3. That all owners and occupants of properties in the vicinity of the proposed foreshore park should be notified in writing of the proposed consultation process.

4. That all necessary amendments to the Official Community Plan (OCP) and all necessary zoning issues be dealt with completely prior to the city exercising its option to buy the Westminster Pier property.

5. That the intentions of TransLink with respect to the construction of a new Pattullo Bridge be determined prior to the completion of a purchase of the property.

There was clearly no good reason why the pier property needed to be purchased in a rush in the Fall of 2008 other than to serve as a pre-election announcement for the Mayor. The property certainly wasn’t going anywhere, especially when you consider the “brownfield” status of the property and the high cost of remediating the impacts of past industrial activity on sites like this.

There was more than enough time for the proper due diligence to have been carried out, but sadly it was not and that omission is now coming home to roost.

Where this will all end up, and what the full financial impact will ultimately be for the already overburdened taxpayers of New Westminster, remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: Due diligence is essential to good governance and there is always time for it in any well-planned, transparent public process. It is truly unfortunate, therefore, that due diligence was not observed in the purchase of the pier property and, even worse, that due diligence was trumped by political opportunism.