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Richmond Community Coalition looks to increase voter engagement

A new electoral organization has been launched in Richmond.

The Richmond Community Coalition has been founded to increase voter turnout and improving community engagement in the next Richmond civic election.

Launching the coalition at a Monday afternoon press conference were former city councillor and MLA Rob Howard, community activist Julie Halfnights and school trustee Kenny Chiu.

“Our grassroots coalition’s goal is to create more opportunities for Richmond citizens to get involved in our municipal government – and get more people voting in the November municipal election,” said Howard.

The coalition is planning a townhall meeting July 15 and will create a formal board by September. Howard said the coalition will endorse good candidates.

“Does that mean we’ll be running candidates in the next election?” Howard said in a press release. “The answer is yes—we want to make the election more accessible to Richmond citizens who want to run for local office, to make Richmond a better place.”

The organization was formed by a “group of Richmond community activists” which aside from Howard, Halfnights and Chiu includes community volunteers Wayne Duzita, Sylvia Gwozd and Matt Pitcairn and Michael Chiu.

Howard said the coalition’s goal is to create more opportunities for citizens to get involved in municipal government “and get more people voting in the November municipal election.”

Voter turnout in Richmond has been dropping over the years and was 24% in the 2011 municipal election.

Halfnights said attracting young voters is a big part of the coalition’s goal.

“Richmond has come a long way, but we need more citizens to be a part of future planning, and that starts with ensuring more of our citizens take an interest in that planning – and that the city becomes more active in encouraging that participation,” Halfnights said.

The formation of the new electoral organization was attended by one veteran councillor who recently split quietly from his long-time allies. Coun. Ken Johnston, who previously ran with Richmond First Voters Society, was the only city councillor at the event.

Johnston could not be reached for comment, but long-time city council colleague and friend Derek Dang said he wasn’t aware Johnston was at Monday’s announcement.

“I think that Ken is looking at his options,” Dang said Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t believe he’s going to be running with us. He’s got every right to be anywhere he wants to be. I didn’t know he was there (at Richmond Community Coalition’s press conference).”

Dang was reluctant to reveal much about Johnston’s departure, other than to say it was a “mutually agreed upon thing. He wants to go in another direction.”

Dang said he’s known Johnston for three decades, and their friendship will remain unchanged.

“I look forward to Ken getting re-elected...Nothing’s going to change as far as my working relationship with him, my friendship.”

Regarding the future of Richmond First, Dang said:  “Everything is fine as far as I can tell. We’re a united group. No signs of upheaval or anything like that. We’re committed to the community.”

Coun. Bill McNulty, also a part of Richmond First and who received the most vote among councillors, could not be reached for comment.

—with files from Bhreandain Clugston

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