Richmond Sentinel file photo
Ken Johnston reflects on his 18 years as Richmond city councillor while he taking his new beagle, Kate—rescued from a puppy mill—on a walk in the autumn sunshine. Election results say he will not be rejoining his colleagues in the council chamber this year.
“My plans are now to stay active, volunteer, hopefully on the RAPS boards, and I hope to be involved in small business,” he says.
For decades, Johnston owned Novex courier service. His company cars could be seen zipping around Richmond in their environmentally-friendly vehicles. Johnston sold Novex last year. Asked, two days after the election, if he’s retired, Johnston replied: “I guess I am officially.”
Asked what accomplishments as a city councillor bring him the most pride, he is quick to say he was part of a team.
As part of a group, with city activist Jim Wright and Coun. Harold Steves, Johnston says they, “Had a heck of a lot to do in 2008 with changing the momentum and direction of the city’s view of the Garden City Lands.”
Johnston said: “When I ran in 2008, I took the view that I didn’t want the land developed at all. At that time, there was an agreement with the federal government to develop half and save half. We let the agreement run out.”
Johnston said he took a position that was contrary to the public perception of him and that, “helped shift momentum to purchase the land, a legacy for all of Richmond.”
It was a land-use issue that loomed large in this election too.
“The pressure on farmland is the problem and the issue that sunk me,” Johnston says.
“My decisions were based on supporting the actual long-term farmers of Richmond. The conviction to stand by your principals as a councillor is more important that worrying about getting re-elected. I knew at the time it was going to be a difficult decision. I didn’t think it was a massive thing.” Johnston says.
Knowing what he does now, would he have done anything differently?
“No, I was aware of the concern over the issue of home size on farmland, and I knew at the time it probably wouldn’t be popular. I thought I was making a decision to support the legacy farmers of Richmond who farm thousands of acres and I just wanted to make sure farming stayed viable in that regard.”
Had he been re-elected, what would he have done about home sizes on farmland?
“If the issue started to go sideways, we could come back and amended or adjusted it.”
Johnston reflects on his constituency work.
“I’m proudest of representing the residents of Richmond. I’m proudest of all the things like getting a crosswalk at London Farm, helping a business to get a business license to get off the ground. I’m proud that way back we did the boardwalk in Steveston. I’m proud of the city facilities city council has built over the last years.”
“I didn’t do it all myself. Council did it,” he said, “A fantastic staff and city of fantastic volunteers over the years.”
Johnston said it’s clearly a team that does the work at city hall.
“People need to know that the staff, the outside workers, inside workers, management staff at Richmond are superb, all great people and they take a lot of flack. They are the ones who deliver the services in Richmond and they deserve the credit for the great community we have.”
The best part of being a councillor, he said was, “greeting and meeting lots of Richmond residents. I will miss that the most, the interaction with people. I was truly honoured and privileged. People were great to me. I want to thank the people of Richmond for that.”
What does Johnston have to say to the people he has served?
“I just want to say thank you for putting your trust in me. I have learned so much on this job. I have learned from the public and I want to say thank you to all of the committees, all the volunteers and the people who continue to do so much to Richmond.”
Interview over, the walk with Kate resumes. Then, Johnston says, “You know, upon reflection, the thing I am absolutely the proudest of is that I initiated Canada’s, and probably North America’s, first bylaw banning the sale of puppies in retail stores.”
“Most dogs in pet stores later ended up turned into the shelters because they came from puppy mills in the Midwestern U.S. (where) they were maltreated or damaged,” he said, “That made them challenging pets.”
Kate, the four-year-old beagle romping at his side, just recently arrived from a rescue organization in Newfoundland. She’s still learning the ropes. She joins William, another beagle rescue who is 5 and an established member of the Johnston family.
He explains her name, “Since we already had William, we though we would do the royal thing.”
Johnston says with a smile, “That’s the closest I am going go get to the royal family.”
And then former city councillor Ken Johnston says, “Yes, protecting the animals. I’m most proud of that.”