New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté currently campaigning against no one
No challengers to incumbent, no big splits over development — but that doesn't mean there aren't issues
New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté is in an odd spot for a Metro Vancouver leader this year.
He's seeking re-election — and so far, facing no competition.
"I would welcome anyone that wanted to enter the mayors race. I'm already out on the doorsteps because I don't want to take any campaign for granted," he says, a few metres away from the car he's decked out in campaign artwork for the season.
But the Royal City may have a coronation this year. The only party that has formed to oppose the government is the New West Progressives, and they're deciding Thursday whether to run someone against Coté or focus solely on council and school board battles.
"There is a likelihood that we won't [run anyone]," says Daniel Fontaine, a founder of the New West Progressives and CEO for B.C. Care Providers.
"I know Jonathan, I actually like Jonathan … If it ends up that we don't run an mayoral campaign, we could work with him for sure."
But the lack of a competitive mayoral race doesn't mean a lack of intrigue. The New West Progressives have been running a professional campaign for months, with multiple candidates for council, focusing their message on one main issue: the lack of division on council.
"The fights that happen in council … they're kind of like pillow fights. They make a bit of a charade, there's a bit of debate, but at the end of the day it's usually 7-0," said Fontaine, who served as Sam Sullivan's chief of staff when he was mayor of Vancouver.
Fontaine points out — as others have — that all six councillors and Coté, while not an official party, rarely criticize each other and were all endorsed last election by the New Westminster and District Labour Council.
"People feel council has made up their mind, they've made their decision before they speak at council," he argues.
Coun. Mary Trentadue sees the lack of division as a positive for the community.
"I was on city council in North Vancouver," she said, "[And] we could not get along. We fought about everything, and we didn't get a lot of stuff done.
"We disagree a lot … but we have very similar values: social justice is important, housing is important, being an inclusive community is important, so that's kind of what's brought us together as a team. We can work together, we can get stuff done, and we don't fight."
Aside from changing the current council dynamic, the Progressives have focused on increasing community-amenity contributions from developers and expanding patio space.
"We're taking in a lot of growth into this community, and people aren't seeing the benefits of that," said Fontaine, who believes the city hasn't kept up pace with other municipalities when it comes to building pools, community centres and hockey rinks.
Trentadue disagrees, saying the city has fought hard with developers to provide funds for public services to accompany the many new residential towers that have sprung up in recent years.
Still, it's a statement of how low key New Westminster's election is that amenity contributions are one of the big issues. Everyone seems broadly committed to more development and more density, nobody is questioning the mayor's character, and questions over megaprojects have already been resolved.
"Some of the major topics of past elections, like the Pattullo Bridge, building the new high school, even the redevelopment of Royal Columbian Hospital; all of those projects are fully funded now … we've made big progress over the last four years," says Coté.
"I don't think there's been major conflict in the community, and I think for the large part, that might be why we don't have the dynamic of a mayors race at this point in time."
A lot can change in two months. But so far in New Westminster, the stakes seem to be smaller than elsewhere — and so far, the race reflects that.
CBC Vancouver is exploring the mayoral campaigns in each of Metro Vancouver's 21 municipalities leading up to civic elections on Oct. 20.