Fraser-Nicola candidates addressed issues of crime, housing and homelessness and the opioid epidemic at a virtual all candidates meeting Oct. 14.
On BC Housing’s proposed supportive housing development
A question from the Hope and District Chamber of Commerce concerning a proposed BC Housing supportive housing development, asked candidates how they would ensure Hope would be able to handle the people who might require social services should these plans go through.
Independent candidate Mike Bhangu called supportive housing a “double edged sword” that if incorrectly approached could damage a community and be a waste of money. He added that proper consultation is needed, and mental health and addictions recovery are critical components in such an undertaking Bhangu proposes a “state of the art rehabilitation centre” be built in every B.C. community, a proposal he mentioned several times during the two-hour meeting.
Incumbent BC Liberal candidate Jackie Tegart said she has met with local representatives, as well as the care providers in the community to talk about BC Housing’s plans. She stressed the need to provide wrap-around services and not simply housing people, as well as providing a “pathway to treatment.” Ensuring communities are safe is another important component, she added.
“I have yet to talk to anyone who doesn’t believe that we need to help our vulnerable population, but how it works in each community can be different. But the province has a job to do also,” Tegart said.
Dennis Adamson said 52 units was a “good start”, he also wanted to see more affordable housing for seniors and families, which would provide local jobs. “I would also like to make sure that these houses are zero net energy, so the cost of living there would be lower,” he said. “I also like to see it with fireproof on the exterior,” he added, to ensure the houses are less susceptible to damage should fires break out.
BC NDP candidate Aaron Sumexheltza said that many have “neighbours, friends, brothers and sisters” who have suffered from homelessness at times. He attacked the BC Liberals who he said “did nothing” during their 16 years in power as “homelessness tripled.”
Under Horgan’s leadership, Sumexheltza said a standalone ministry of mental health and additions was created and “we’re committed to more treatment recovery and detox facilities across the province, as well as improved hospitals to provide the services. Our communities need more doctors, nurses and health care workers.” Sumexheltza did not address directly the supportive housing plans for Hope.
BC Green Party candidate Jonah Timms said homelessness is a complex issue and needs to be addressed in a “fact-based and compassionate approach.”
“Everyone has the right to feel safe and secure their home and in their neighborhood, while at the same time everyone has the right to have a home,” Timms said. The struggle to find housing is affecting people across the “age and economic spectrum” he said, even those who are working full time jobs which “shouldn’t be the case.”
While ensuring everyone has a warm place to sleep at night is critical, Timms said the focus also needs to be on addressing the underlying causes of homelessness including mental health services and the prevention of poverty. Timms did not address directly the supportive housing plans for Hope.
On the opioid epidemic and lives lost from overdoses
A Hope mother who lost her son, her only child, to fentanyl poisoning in 2017, adding that the only thing that may have prevented his death would be the drastic reduction in wait times to get into 30 to 60-day addictions rehabilitation programs. “What would you do to make this a reality?” she asked.
Incumbent Jackie Tegart blasted the NDP in her answer. “Remember that it was the BC Liberals who actually called the state of emergency in regards to the opioids, and since the NDP have been in we have seen an increase in the deaths,” she said. The BC Liberals, if they form government, would increase addictions treatment and recovery programs she said, as well as “fix” the issue of wait times for recovery which range from weeks to months.
“Too many lives have been lost due to the overdose crisis, our family, friends, co-workers and neighbours,” Sumexheltza said. He acknowledged the Liberals had taken some steps to expand harm reduction, yet under their watch the crisis wasn’t tackled comprehensively.
Sumexheltza again pointed to the NDP’s creation of the ministry of mental health and addictions, the first of its kind in B.C., as well as placing the focus on prevention.
The NDP plan, if they form government, would be to add 800 treatment beds as well as new treatment, recovery and detox facilities around B.C. he said. While pointing to numbers of overdose deaths going down in 2019 by 36 per cent for the first time since 2012, he noted the spike in deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Timms noted that mental health problems, including addictions, cost the economy six and a half billion dollars per year. “One of the things that I’m being really proud of being a Green…is that we are going to invest and build an affordable and accessible mental health care system where cost is not a barrier to entry for health.”
The Greens plan to allocate $1-billion over four years, Timms said, to ensure the MSP plan can incorporate mental health care including addictions care.
Bhangu repeated his pledge to creating a rehabilitation facility in each B.C. community.
Adamson said the opioid epidemic is hitting everyone he knows and the solution is providing safe homes. “I think it goes back to childhood,” he said.
On crime and safety in Hope
The Hope and District Chamber of Commerce cited data from Statistics Canada stating that the crime rate had gone up between 2017 and 2018, while the number of people charged had decreased. The question was on what candidates would do with the ongoing issue of crime in Hope.
Timms said there needs to be a “good, hard conversation” around funding for how municipalities address this issue, including distributing funding for local governments more equitably.
“Absolutely, people shouldn’t be afraid to walk in their neighbourhoods, or walk around town,” he said. “But we need to move beyond 20th century thinking when we think about how to solve these problems.”
Lowering the rate of inequality by “investing in small business and people-centred care” is the focus for the Greens, Timms said. “When people are working and they have good housing, they feel safer and act as a member of the community,” he said.
Sumexheltza said “people deserve to feel safe” regardless of where they live. He blasted the Liberals for cutting services, which he said resulted in crime becoming an issue in communities.
In his experience as a lawyer, Sumexheltza said he “found that a majority of the crimes that are committed are as a result of addictions and mental health related issues.” The NDP’s plan is to invest $25-million more in mental health and social service workers, which he said would free up police resources.
Calling on the federal government to decriminalize small amounts of illicit substances for personal use is also a focus, Sumexheltza said, in order to further free up police resources to deal with producers and sellers of these substances.
Adamson said the issue in Hope is small crimes and while police are charging people, they are released within a day. “We’ve got to work on a new system, we’ve got to work hand in hand with the First Nations maybe [get] people from there to be officers as well,” he said, adding that mental health training for officers is also needed.
“They’re dealing with people, over and over again, the same people that have mental health issues that should not be on the street. They should be institutionalized for their own protection,” Adamson said.
Tegart outlined the BC Liberals plan to tackle crime, which includes an injection of $58 million to fund among others 200 additional police officers, 100 psychiatric social workers and nurses as well as 40 additional prosecutors and support staff. “You should feel safe and secure in your own community, but under the NDP this has gotten much worse,” she said.
Bhangu said tackling mental health and addictions will result in a natural reduction in crime. “Mental health and addictions and crime are related, but this doesn’t mean we must be lenient,” he said. “We must be tougher, and on the same note we must provide the healing mechanisms for the victims and criminals.” He repeated his commitment, if elected, to fight for a “state-of-the-art rehabilitation facility” in each B.C. community.
This story contained a selection of questions and responses from the Oct. 14 all candidates meeting that focused on social issues. Watch the full meeting below:
Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: