British Columbia·Metro Matters

Local leader, national issues: Why Port Coquitlam's Brad West has quickly made a name for himself

Brad West's advocacy shows how a new mayor can make a name for themselves in a short period of time. But there are reasons why most municipal leaders don't make a name for themselves on provincial issues.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West says "a lot of municipal politicians want to play nice with senior levels of government," but says his approach is to speak his mind. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

In just a few months in office, Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West has become well-known for something that has relatively little to do with Port Coquitlam. 

"I get that it's not a municipal issue per se," said West of his calls for governments to take stronger action investigating money laundering, including holding a public inquiry. 

He's one of the few elected politicians in B.C. to do so regularly — and it's led to praise on social media and multiple appearances on national television. 


"There's been largely a chorus of silence from most politicians. They've kind of been dragged kicking and screaming into talking about it," he said. 

"... I think it is important that when you have the opportunity as a mayor to speak out about issues that impact your community, you take that opportunity."

West's advocacy shows how a new mayor can make a name for themselves in a short period of time. 

But there are reasons why most municipal leaders don't often wade into provincial issues. 






No local controversies


For one, West is in a unique place politically: He leads a predominantly suburban municipality of 60,000 people near Vancouver, with no political parties and few political issues that have attracted regional interest in recent years. 

West is also a supporter generally of NDP policies. He received 86 per cent of the vote in October's election, more than any other new mayor in B.C.

All of this gives him plenty of local capital without having to be in the news over thorny local controversies.  

"I think that I am lucky because we have a really good council, and the community ... I think, likes the direction that we're going," he said. 

At the same time, West has been attentive to municipal issues like infrastructure concerns, moving forward on a few of his election promises, and is advocating for more rapid transit to his community.

His tweets about those things may not go viral — but it reduces the chance of criticism for not prioritizing local issues. 

'Honeymoon' period 



Frank Leonard, formerly Saanich mayor and president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, said West is in a "honeymoon" period, but added there were risks to speaking out over the long term.

"You can be popular with the media and you can be popular with the voters. Some people are really good and they're popular with both. Sometimes it doesn't work out that way," he said.

Leonard, who served municipally for 28 years, said successful local politicians generally don't wade into hot-button provincial and federal issues too often because it reduces the pool of voters inclined to support them for re-election.

"He's making a good name for himself and I think handling it very, very well. But over time, you might be concerned if he starts to become aligned with the capital "P" political views, as opposed to ... rezoning and stop signs and policing and fire departments, all that bread-and-butter stuff."

West said he'll continue to focus on Port Coquitlam issues and is adamant he doesn't have ambitions to higher levels of politics, as some of his online detractors have alleged.  

But he also says his approach won't change. 

"I think a lot of municipal politicians want to play nice with senior levels of government. They think that they're so dependent on them for sources of funding, [so] they don't want to say anything that could be taken as negative," he said.

"The approach that I have taken is when the senior level of government, provincial or federal, does something good for Port Coquitlam, I'm going to say that's great, [but] when you're doing something that I think isn't good for my community, I'm also going to speak out about that."


Metro Matters: On The Road is exploring how new city governments throughout B.C. are approaching age-old issues (some political, some not) in their communities.



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