Residents can vote for Hope’s new mayor and council on Oct. 15 at the Hope Secondary School on 444th Stuart St. (Kemone Moodley/Hope Standard)

Residents can vote for Hope’s new mayor and council on Oct. 15 at the Hope Secondary School on 444th Stuart St. (Kemone Moodley/Hope Standard)

Housing issues front and centre as council candidates square off

Standing room only as council and mayor hopefuls debate

Housing and emergency preparedness were among the topics discussed during the all-candidates meeting last Thursday night (Sept. 29).

The standing-room-only event, held at the Hope and Area Recreation Centre, was hosted by the Hope Standard and the Hope and District Chamber of Commerce and moderated by George Rice.

In attendance were the 13 council hopefuls vying for six council seats and two mayoral candidates.

READ MORE: At least 13 candidates nominated for six council seats in Hope

The more than 40 questions submitted were condensed into eight, although not all were asked.

Each candidate had one and a half minutes to respond, with the opportunity for a rebuttal to any of their fellow candidates. Five of the candidates — Heather Stewin, Victor Smith, Wilfried Vicktor, Arlene Webster and Scott Medlock — have served on council at least once before.

The meeting opened with the topic of emergency preparedness and improvements the District of Hope needs to make.

Emergency preparedness has been a hot topic for Hope since the floods in 2021, and has increased in urgency after the Flood Falls Trail wildfire. All candidates responded to the question, with all in agreement that change needs to happen — including current councillors.

“When we’re on council, and getting updates regularly, I think that we forget how the rest of the community doesn’t know what we know at the time,” Medlock said. “During the floods, which is the best example, rapidly changing, things are happening all the time. And it was hard getting messages out … So communication (needs to improve). I’d like to see some sort of central website, Facebook page, or some sort of message center, that had all of the information from one source as we’re providing the plan.”

Stewin agreed, saying the District of Hope can improve communication.

“I also think we need to do some workshops for the community members and let them know how they can best prepare their own residences, so that they don’t have the fear of waiting for someone to come and help them … but we can definitely do a better job at communicating,” she said.

Sue Turgeon also said that communication needs to improve.

“We need to know where to go and who to contact when a disaster happens,” she said. “And not everybody knows how to use Facebook.”

Zachary Wells said that the plan needs to be better.

“If I get on council I will definitely work towards fine-tuning an emergency plan that will take care of seniors and children. Have food sources, freshwater available – things of that nature,” he said.

Pauline Newbigging agreed.

“It’s an important part that we have to move forward and make a better plan for emergencies,” she said. “There’s lack of communication. There’s lack of accommodation, a lack of help. And people (from the district) need to communicate better.”

Angela Skoglund expanded on this and said that she couldn’t find an emergency plan from the district despite looking.

“Before I came here tonight, I went on the District of Hope website, (to) find out what I could find out about our emergency planning. I found nothing on the website,” she said. “I think (we need) any changes we could make, so that we are more prepared … anything that we can do for any kind of emergency planning, and make it readily available for all of us citizens to be able to easily find it not have to try and find it.”

Janet Wort also agreed that the first step is creating a plan.

“I have seen our community handle some serious issues, and they handled it very well,” she said. “I think that the council did the best they could do. But I do agree that everyone isn’t on Facebook … (and) we have to find a way to communicate with people.”

The topic shifted to housing, specifically affordable housing in Hope. Again, candidates were in agreement that this was a problem, though each had various solutions and thoughts on the matter.

“Affordability and housing is a very, very big question,” Arlene Webster said. “I agree with (having) lane-way houses. But we also have to look at rezoning. I know we’re used to big lots, houses on big lots, and lots of room … But we have to explore all alternatives. People need places to live and they need places that they can afford.”

Bob Shore said this isn’t a problem that can easily be solved by the district.

“I believe that small communities, and municipalities, don’t have the resources to find affordable housing without going through the BC housing,” he said. “We could go under the OCP plan or allow rezoning for lane-way housing. We could look into co-op housing. But I think we need higher levels of government to be able to do any affordable option.”

John Mason also agreed that help is needed for affordable housing.

“Our town can’t afford it. But the federal and provincial governments are where we can get the money,” he said. “And we can do rezoning. We can look for companies like Anhart that do projects where you pay for your room, or your suite, on the basis of what money you earn. Those the projects that we should be looking into.”

Dave Fernie said a possible solution could be tiny homes.

“That’s basically a high-end RV on a metal platform that’s movable, but it’s also the equivalent living standard (of) a whole house,” he said. “A tiny home is as little as $80,000. It has all the implementations needed to provide an immediate solution for so many people because (it can be built) in six months. So, that’s one solution.”

Hondo Stroyan said Hope should work with Indigenous communities.

“(Indigenous communities have) been doing a lot of development,” Stroyan said. “They work with the federal government in developing housing for their own bands. (We could) partner up with Indigenous communities. They do have a lot of land that can be developed and maybe create affordable housing through those avenues.”

Crystal Sedore said affordable housing also requires thinking about how people are going to live in their homes.

“It’s about being able to afford to live in that home,” she said. “So we need to explore options like that for affordability in order to operate these homes. Think about diversifying the housing stock in town is very important. Swepath’s sustainable housing has developed a model where a person can finance a tiny home with what they receive on social assistance for their shelter, which is $375 a month. And that’s something that’s available to anybody who wants it.”

At various points in the evening, the two mayoral candidates — Smith and Vicktor — were also asked questions specific to them running. This included how they saw the role of mayor when providing frequent updates during large-scale emergencies.

“We need to review communication, and keep it at the forefront here, because the fact is people need to be informed all the time,” Smith said. “So many things get dropped off. And too many people don’t know what’s going on. Council gets (updates) but it doesn’t always get passed on. And (people) need to know what’s going on … and I think I can make that happen. I want to build a leadership that shows that and we’ll have a better community.”

Vicktor also focused on communication.

“If we could reserve a radio frequency … during emergency times we could have periodic emergency updates on that specialized radio frequency,” Vicktor said. “We had a time during the floods when we had no power, no Internet … but if we had a funky $5 radio, with a little battery in it, and if we have an emergency broadcast system that’s locally based, that’d be a really easy way to do it.”

Another question asked was how they would work with First Nation communities of the area when it came to including them in Hope’s emergency preparedness plans.

Vicktor answered first and focused on the existing relationship with First Nation communities.

“I don’t think this is a particularly hard one to deal with,” he said. “We’ve always had a good working relationship with the First Nations. It’s as simple as phoning the chief and council and saying, ‘Let’s have a sit-down … they have to be involved.

”I think it’s an imperative and respectful courtesy since they were here before any non-First Nations … I look forward to working with them again if elected as mayor. They have a lot of great ideas to bring to the table. (And) they also have a lot of funding sources that we may not be able to access from an emergency preparedness point of view.”

Smith’s answer focused on relationship building with First Nation communities.

“With First Nations you need to sit down and have a slow talk with them and build their confidence,” he said. “They have to learn to read you. And we need to read them. So as mayor I would do that with them, and then invite the rest of council to meet with their council so we can get on the same page – see what their needs are. We want meetings to happen but it doesn’t happen like that. It takes time. We need to have a long-term relationship … and I would like to extend that going forward. They have lots of property up there too for other things. We can do a lot of things with them which are good for our community.”

Residents can vote for Hope’s new mayor and council on Oct. 15 at the Hope Secondary School at 444 Stuart St. There’s an advanced poll on Oct. 8 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Hope Secondary as well. Mail ballot voting, and special voting are also available and details can be found at hope.ca/local-government-elections.

READ MORE: Advanced voting, mail ballot voting, and special voting for Hope’s 2022 election


@KemoneMoodley
kemone.moodley@hopestandard.com

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