Nanaimo-Ladysmith Conservative candidate John Hirst, left, speaks at a town hall Wednesday at the Nanaimo Hornets RFC clubhouse with guest MP Dan Albas. (GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin)

Candidates face questions on Nanaimo doorsteps about supportive housing and crime

Federal candidates asked about social issues on campaign trail

All levels of government have roles and responsibilities in some of the overlapping issues of homelessness and social housing, mental health and addictions, and crime.

But it’s federal byelection candidates in particular who are facing those questions and being challenged to offer answers these days.

Nanaimo-Ladysmith candidates say that questions about temporary supportive housing and crime are common ones as they campaign in the lead-up to the May 6 byelection.

John Hirst, Conservative Party of Canada candidate, said he’s reconsidered his priorities since the start of the campaign as a response to the concerns he’s been hearing.

“None of the problems that our community have are in isolation. They’re all related,” he said. “We look at the crime, we look at our homelessness issue, we look at affordability.”

At a town hall meeting Wednesday at the Nanaimo Hornets RFC rugby club, Hirst said addressing crime is now his No. 1 priority and suggested his party has the policies that can make a difference. He said more policing resources are needed to help on “the front lines,” and said the Conservatives would crack down on organized crime by making it easier to identify and prosecute gang members, and legislate tougher mandatory sentences for gang crime.

“We can try and address the problem without going after people who are suffering from mental health or addiction,” Hirst said.

He said he’s confident that as the Conservatives roll out their 2019 platform, the party will have a “multi-dimensional” approach to the related issues, and added that the federal government can be a leader on some of that work.

“Yes, it’s different levels of government, but there’s not one solution to the problem,” Hirst said. “We all have to work together and be able to help in our own areas of influence.”

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Paul Manly, Green Party candidate, said he doesn’t think supportive housing and crime will totally “drown out” conversation on other important issues, but said those who are most affected by it are very vocal about it, and for good reason.

“Definitely in the neighbourhoods around 250 Terminal and Labieux I hear about the crime issue and I hear about the drug addiction issues,” Manly said. “People are concerned, and people in different parts of the community are concerned about those issues, as well.”

He said addressing housing affordability is a party priority. He suggests Canada needs to end the “failed war” on drugs and take the criminality out of it and separate the distribution of hard drugs from the “criminal element.” Addiction, he said, is a health care issue and needs to be treated as such.

NDP candidate Bob Chamberlin said temporary supportive housing has been a topic of conversation many times on doorsteps. He said people have a lot of different opinions, some of them extreme, but he said the majority of people have expressed compassion.

“It’s about understanding not just the housing need, but the health needs, the addiction needs, the mental health treatments and the facilities and programs to lift people up that are at a very vulnerable place in their life,” said Chamberlin.

Affordable housing is badly needed in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, Chamberlin said this month, as party leader Jagmeet Singh promised that an NDP government would build 500,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years.

Michelle Corfield, Liberal candidate, said she has heard concerns from residents about the temporary supportive housing sites in Nanaimo as well as crime while on the campaign trail. She said the Liberals have a $40-billion affordable housing strategy that will provide housing for seniors, youths and others with specialized needs such as those with brain injuries.

“It is a full-spectrum approach to affordable housing. Build it, maintain it and subsidize it,” she said.

The Liberals’ affordable housing strategy, which was announced in 2017, promises to provide 100,000 new affordable housing units, repair 300,000 affordable housing units and cut chronic homelessness by 50 per cent over a 10-year period.

The Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection is May 6. Candidates include Chamberlin; Corfield; Hirst; Manly; Jennifer Clarke, People’s Party of Canada; Brian Marlatt, Progressive Canadian Party; and Jakob Letkemann, National Citizens Alliance.

An all-candidates’ meeting is scheduled for tonight, April 25, at 7 p.m. at the Beban Park social centre.

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