Issues ranging from Mission’s housing affordability and homelessness to transportation were all major points of discussion in the second debate for the Abbotsford-Mission riding on Oct. 8.
The second debate was hosted by the Mission Regional Chamber of Commerce and focused more exclusively on the District of Mission.
As in the previous debate, Liberal incumbent Simon Gibson
focused on his previous record as MLA, and his ability to bring $37 million in project funding into the riding; while Mission’s current mayor and NDP candidate, Pam Alexis, used her municipal affairs background to re-enforce her party’s provincial goals.
Green Party candidate Stephen Fowler, Conservative candidate Trevor Hamilton and Christian Heritage Party candidate Aeriol Alderking, all emphasized how a third-party candidate would be able to better leverage concessions for the district in either an NDP or Liberal victory.
Fowler, who consistently highlighted climate change as a top priority, brought up the Green Party’s ability to bring in the Clean Air Act working with the NDP.
“It was a monumental movement that started with the Green Party,” Fowler said. “Minority governments do work. I would really recommend people to try and keep the NDP in check.”
“Simon, I think he’s done wonderful service for our community. Unfortunately, he’s hemmed in – the party whip is too strong,” Hamilton said.
Alderking, as in the last debate, said her main concern was the protection of parental rights to protect children against NDP and Liberal policies regarding transgender children, which she compared to sterilization programs.
On the topic of Mission’s homelessness – which has tripled in the last three years, according to the Fraser Valley Regional District’s 2020 Homeless Count and Survey – all of the candidates agreed there more support is needed.
Alexis said that the numbers started rising when housing prices jumped 15 per cent from 2016 to 2017, which caused a great number of people to cash in on their investments and displace renters.
She brought up the data showing the majority of the homeless are from the region.
“They’re from Mission. They have family doctors, they have attachments to the community,” Alexis said. “What’s required is supportive housing … We can’t build fast enough.”
She said the NDP has done more than any previous government on homelessness.
“The NDP government has provided 25,000 affordable homes, which are either complete or underway,” she said. “It’s a 10 year plan.”
Gibson emphasized his record on securing $15 million for an upcoming transitional housing project in Mission, and followed the Liberal Party’s criticism of the NDP’s plan to “regularize or legalize [homeless] camp communities.”
“I want to go on the record as being opposed to that, it’s not a solution to endorse tent communities. We need to get people into proper housing with proper facilities,” Gibson said. “We need to care for those people and get them off addictions and back into the workforce.”
Hamilton said rehab and addiction buildings were needed, and criticized harm-reduction services like the needle exchange program. He also said there’s a greater need for services for at-risk youth.
“We can’t just provide them with a bed and keep giving them needles on the needle exchange and encouraging and enabling the addiction,” he said. “Rehab facilities simply don’t exist anymore, and the mental health facilities that have been shut down – these are things that the government needs to be paying for.”
Alderking said now the problem isn’t just for people with addictions, as COVID-19 has caused low and middle income persons to lose their jobs.
“A lot of these people don’t always fit the programs that are available,” she said. “We need to house people first and then we can get them stable.”
All candidates agreed that streamlining development applications to increase housing affordability was a path forward – with some minor differences.
Protecting the district’s green spaces was important for Fowler, who stated that he’d prefer construction to take place on land previously developed. He said the focus should be on increasing the rental stock.
Alexis said the NDP would continue to work through BC Housing, while looking at other types of housing stock to address gaps.
Consultation with the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board and the development community was crucial for Gibson, who said densification strategies like coach housing and duplexes could be a path forward.
Hamilton said the BC Conservatives have a plan to reallocate one per cent of crown land for private sale and development to increase the housing supply. He also stated his government would provide more oversight over money laundering through the B.C. housing market.
When it came to smoothing out traffic flows along the major transit routes, Fowler was the only one not repeating the promise to widen Highway 1.
“The problem with roads is that you build them and people come in and you have to make them wider and more people come and you end up like Los Angeles with eight, 10 lanes going each way,” Fowler said.
The Green Party candidate said they should be looking at expanding commuter rail on both sides of the Fraser River, and pointed towards the West Coast Express.
Gibson said he would look at increasing bus routes in Mission, getting an intersection with Highway 7 and Highway 11 and creating a bypass for Mission.
As in the previous debate, he took aim at the NDP’s discontinuation of the plan to widen Highway 1 from 208th Street in Langley to Whatcom Road in Abbotsford when the Liberal’s left office in 2017.
“They turned it down. We desperately need new lanes on Highway 1,” Gibson said. “We’re looking at major stresses on them.”
Alderking and Hamilton followed with complaints about Highway 1, with the latter advocating an expansion of the West Coast Express.
Alexis repeated the NDP’s promise to expand Highway 1 from the NDP platform speech on Oct. 6.
On top of that, she has a three-part plan specific to Mission: Removing truck traffic off of 1st Ave, improving the intersection at Murray and Horne streets and looking at a design for a Mission bypass.
She was skeptical over expanding the West Coast Express because of the shared track.
All candidates stated their commitment to completing the twinning of the aging sewer line project, running from Mission to Abbotsford, which has been pegged as a potential environmental disaster if $20 million in funds are not secured for its completion.