Mayoral and council hopefuls squared off for the first time Tuesday night to discuss social service issues at the first all-candidates at the Clarke Theatre.
More than 300 people attended the event organized by Mission Community Services Society, Women’s Resource Society of the Fraser Valley, Mission Friendship Centre, Fraser Valley Child Development Centre and Mission Association for Community Living.
Each candidate was asked specific questions, and others could offer their input by using one of their three rebuttal cards.
The only topic every candidate spoke about was how to clean up the streets of downtown.
Retired MLA Randy Hawes believes an abstinence program is needed in B.C. to help those with addiction problems.
“Now the government’s policy on dealing with addition and mental health is to give all the money to Fraser Health,” said Hawes, noting the agency treats addictions with methadone, which brings needles in to the community.
“We have to get to know every one of the people on the street. … we need police to do that.”
Hawes explained once the vulnerable individuals are identified, they can be assisted to get the help they need.
“We’re are not using the right approach in the province for addiction,” said Hawes, noting it’s a community problem and it’s up to the community to do something about it.
Wendy Bales argued different solutions are needed for different people.
“We need to start with housing first,” she said, noting if users are off the streets, there won’t be as many needles discarded in the community.
Community advocate Kevin Francis maintained, “Policing won’t work; it’s been tried. Abstinence won’t work; it’s been tried … We need to start believing science, not politicians.”
“I don’t agree abstinence is the only solution,” said incumbent mayor Ted Adlem.
Coun. Tony Luck questioned where the funding would come from for more police officers.
“Abstinence works only if it’s what they want to do. We can’t force it,” said Luck, who suggested a good relationship with Victoria is needed to get funding for programs. “Fraser Health is in charge of a lot of these programs, we can’t discount them.”
Luck said he is interested in putting together a citizens advisory committee to come up with solutions.
Hawes said he has researched addiction services all over B.C.
“I never said everyone should be treated with abstinence … We have 14,000 people today doing methadone. It shouldn’t be the first choice. We shouldn’t get people off one drug onto another.”
Hawes agreed a broad range of treatment is needed, but noted methadone treatments don’t come out of Fraser Health’s budget.
“I think that’s why they push it,” said Hawes. “We need to understand who these people are and how to treat them.”
Different views were shared by Luck and Adlem on a seniors’ centre for Mission.
Luck said building the centre will not solve all seniors’ issues and favoured more consultation from the public.
“It’s a lot of money,” he said.
The seniors’ centre proposal is for multi-generational use, said Adlem, noting he sees it being used as a place for seniors during the day, and opened to other users at night. He also added the centre will be built through a partnership with a developer.
Bales suggested the health of seniors should be looked after first.
All 19 candidates for council packed the Clarke Theatre stage to discuss issues concerning the community. Candidates were each given four indicators cards to answer the questions posed to the group.
Among the topics discussed were council’s role in working with local non-profit organizations, transit, living wage in the Fraser Valley, and affordable housing.
Incumbent councillors Jenny Stevens and Jeff Jewell supported increasing municipal funding to local non-profits.
The district will have more money for such projects because the external debt has been paid down, explained Stevens.
The current council was able to reduce civic debt, while keeping taxes low, agreed Jewell, who suggested increasing funding for non-profits by up to 20 per cent.
Jim Hinds, who volunteers with numerous groups in the community, suggested making the process to apply for grants easier.
“The process this council brought in is taking time and expenses (from non-profits),” said Hinds.
“Non-profts are the essence of our community,” added Pam Alexis. “The district is so lucky to have non-profits because they do things the district doesn’t.”
Terry Stobbart agreed more needs to be done to improve transportation for seniors and others with disabilities.
“If you consider people who need (public) transportation to get to their job, we’re failing them terribly,” she said. “A lot of time is wasted on waiting for buses.”
Only the West Coast Express links Mission to Maple Ridge, added Bobby Brar. “We need to increase that.”
“Unfortunately, transit in municipalities is a chicken and the egg argument,” said Ronn Harris. “What comes first, passengers or buses?”
The cost of transit is “fairly heavy,” said incumbent Larry Nundal. “It’s time to go to the taxpayer who is paying the bill… There is a balance. We have a contract with BC Transit and we don’t have ownership of the buses.”
Carol Hamilton pointed out it is challenging for University of the Fraser Valley students to get to classes. “We need to review transit,” she said.
Shazad Shah suggested increasing the number of stops, or allowing passengers to call out for stops.
The living wage in the Fraser Valley for a family with two parents and two children is calculated to be $17.02 per parent – providing basic needs and care, such as food, shelter, childcare, and other household expenses, according to Living Wage Fraser Valley.
When asked if the candidates would support the District of Mission being living wage employers, incumbent Dave Hensman noted there are “Cadillac wages” at city hall. “I don’t think there’s a flea on the window that makes less than living wage (at municipal hall),” said Hensman. “It’s a philosophical issue … It’s not something you can legislate from city hall.”
Michael Nenn agreed while city hall can’t enforce a living wage, it can promote the development and creation of jobs that pay well.
“We’re a bedroom community,” said Nenn. “I work in Langley. It’s a terrible commute. I wish I could work here.”
On the topic of affordable housing, Danny Plecas noted it was an issue every community in the Lower Mainland is facing. He suggested networking with resources already available in Mission and build “one unit at a time.”
“Council can assist organizations like Mission Community Services,” suggested Barry Jeske, adding the subject of homelessness can be talked about with downtown revitalization.
Council shouldn’t be developers of affordable housing, but should be open to any proposals coming from developers in any area with it, offered Terry Gidda.
Candidates also talked about engaging youth and encouraging them to stay grow and stay in the community.
“I worked directly with youth in the last 10 years as an Optimist,” said Rhett Nicholson. “They just want to be heard … we should be supporting youth and get their ideas on the table.”
Rich Vigurs, who has worked the youth as a recreation programmer, said they are “probably the least understood group of people… they need people to sit down and help them navigate the rules.”
“Listening is the most important thing we can do with kids,” said Attila Davalovsky, who would like to see more post secondary schools in the community.
Don Forsyth was present, but didn’t offer views on the questions asked.
The next all candidates meeting is Nov. 4 at the Clarke Theatre.