Richard Stewart wasn’t supposed to be in Coquitlam council chambers on Monday – at least, not as the mayor.
“This last term was going to be my last,” he told the assembled crowd of onlookers and dignitaries during the term’s inaugural council meeting. “I promised my wife. But we made a decision to do one more term to finish the mental health work.”
The issue is “near and dear to me and my family,” Stewart said.
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That work involves pushing for a greater variety of treatment options and for a medical – rather than a police response – to mental health emergencies.
“Cities are at the forefront of the mental health crisis in our communities, yet most of the decisions are out of our hands,” he said Monday.
Writing in the Tri-City News, Stewart recounted a 2015 incident in which his daughter was facing “unimaginable anxiety, uncontrollable panic.”
While the attending police officers were skilled at de-escalation, Stewart has repeatedly pushed for a mental health car program in the Tri-Cities.
Discussing mental health with on Jas Johal’s podcast, Stewart emphasized the risks of having police respond to a mental health crisis.
“I can’t even imagine what guns would do to an anxiety attack,” he said. Those problems could be even more acute for an Indigenous person or someone with reason to distrust an armed official in a uniform.
There is hope, Stewart said Monday, noting that his daughter is currently working as a psychiatric nurse.
“She was able to come through,” he said. “We can do that more often.”
Stewart’s efforts received support from B.C.’s B.C. Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin.
“We all need to work together to make sure that this is an issue that we don’t hide from anymore,” Stewart said.
Chairman of the bored
There’s a certain lack of personality clashes and grandstanding at Coquitlam council, Stewart noted. The mayor recounted a conversation with CBC municipal affairs reporter and ranker extraordinaire Justin McElroy.
“He always tells me the reason he never covers Coquitlam is we’re boring,” Stewart said Monday.
Moving forward, Stewart said he expects more of the same as the city adds rental housing while managing a growing population without enlarging Coquitlam’s footprint.
“Overall, I expect that our work will continue to be guided by the principles we’ve applied to the work we do including balanced growth, livability, resilience and prudent fiscal management,” he said.
That fiscal management includes seeking grants from senior levels of government and topping up the city’s financial reserves, “many of which are funded by development,” he added. Council should also ensure that new development “pays its share of the cost of growth,” he said.
In northeast Coquitlam, the new Burke Mountain Discovery Centre is a “precursor to other village amenities on the horizon,” Stewart said, discussing the pending addition of parks, roads and a community centre.
The city should also continue to work in tandem with the provincial government to support future projects, “including the future Middle and Secondary school announced recently,” he told the crowd. “That’s an applause line.”
Closer to city hall, City Centre should continue its transformation into a walkable economic hub, Stewart said.
“Let’s hope we continue down that path of implementing good policy and having staff align with us and ultimately having us successful and boring.”