A member of two City of Nanaimo committees wants to transfer her efforts and her values over to the city council table.
Erin Hemmens, who sits on the community engagement committee and the community vitality committee, officially announced this week that she’s running for Nanaimo city council. She held a campaign launch event Tuesday evening in front of her home in south Nanaimo.
Hemmens said she’s volunteered hundreds of hours on city committees, but hasn’t always seen the work pay off.
“It’s really frustrating to sit there and know that this isn’t going anywhere, this isn’t really doing anything, this isn’t helping staff do their jobs, it’s not helping council make their decisions,” she said.
When she addressed council on behalf of the community engagement committee, there were misunderstandings about the committee’s mandate. Hemmens said the city needs leaders who will use community engagement to inform decision-making.
“We’re working in a culture where community engagement actually isn’t valued and we’re trying to put a program on top of it and you can see the results,” she said. “Council’s unsure of what we’re doing; the public is really skeptical.”
The community vitality committee, she added, has too broad a scope, looking at topics from social planning to culture and heritage. Hemmens said her platform calls for a re-examination of the committee structure, “in order to really create those tables where citizens can come and talk to leaders and actually make decisions with leaders, because that’s what the committees are meant to be.”
One of her primary campaign pillars is well-being, with an eye to the homelessness crisis, mental health and addictions and affordable housing. Hemmens said city council should be guided by the experts from social agencies, but should be sitting down with impacted businesses, neighbourhoods and with Discontent City leadership. She doesn’t think the camp should be dismantled until there’s a plan in place for the occupants.
“I think the sharp, pointy edge of the homelessness issue is tent city…” she said. “We need to be comfortable having uncomfortable conversations. This is really dividing the community. There’s a lot of rhetoric out there.”
Hemmens, who works as a coroner and has young children, said “it would be easier” for her not to put her name forward for election, but she said she doesn’t see herself represented on the current council.
“We need to see more women, and women of my age, women with children, women who understand the economic pressures of raising a family, women who live in neighbourhoods that are dramatically affected by homelessness,” she said.
Asked how she will differentiate herself as a candidate in a crowded field, Hemmens suggested that her campaign won’t be based around any particular pet project she wants to see realized.
“I have my ideas, but if I’m elected, I’ll be working as one of nine,” she said. “So rather than ideas, what I bring are values and skills and an ability to work together.”
To read interviews with other local government election candidates, click here.