Election 2020 in Kamloops: The social issues debate

Thompson Rivers University students Megan Dalgleish and Rachel Knuttila partnered with the local branch of the BC Association of Social Workers to host the Oct. 6 online forum, with all eight candidates between the two Kamloops ridings discussing the issues.

There was civil discussion, some finger-wagging and tiny delays from overused mute buttons as the first local debate of the provincial election took place via Zoom on Tuesday (Oct. 6) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thompson Rivers University students Megan Dalgleish and Rachel Knuttila partnered with the local branch of the BC Association of Social Workers to host the online forum, with all eight candidates between the two Kamloops ridings discussing social issues. About 80 people watched the debate, which featured four questions from social work students and a few queries from the audience.

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Here’s how the candidates responded:

Mental health

Asked how they plan to manage the effects of added mental=health issues brought on by the pandemic, noting the limited availability of the Car 40 program in Kamloops, all eight candidates agreed that program needs expansion.

Car 40 is  is a program that pairs a mental-health practitioner with an RCMP officer as they respond to calls involving mental-health situations.

Kamloops-South Thompson Green candidate Dan Hines also noted his party is proposing adding $1 billion for mental-health support and capacity, Todd Stone (Kamloops-South Thompson) noted his B.C. Liberals are promising to bring a foundry centre to Kamloops for youth mental health, while the B.C. NDP’s Anna Thomas (Kamloops-South Thompson) said Car 40 should be expanded to Chase and Savona.

Amongst Kamloops-North Thompson candidates, Conservative Dennis Giesbrecht said the program needs to be rolled out provincewide to help alleviate the added stress on the RCMP, while NDP candidate Sadie Hunter said mental health is a complex problem and supports for counselling and housing, which her party is putting forward. need to be part of the equation.

B.C. Liberal candidate Peter Milobar said there has been a lack of funds put toward it, which is why the Liberals intend to commit another $250,000 for the initiative.

Independent candidate Brandon Russell said the program needs to be extended to fire and ambulance services, while Green candidate Thomas Martin said his party is proposing rolling mental-health services under medical service premiums, so service to all not just available to those with extended health.

Drug overdoses

Asked what their plan is to reduce the high number of fatal overdoses in B.C., Milobar said there needs to be more supports for those in need, which he said will also ease tension in neighbourhoods.

Martin said the Greens will continue to listen to the experts when it comes to this issue and are prepared to implement recommendations of the provincial health officer.

Hunter said there needs to be a crackdown on those distributing the illicit drug supply, adding that the NDP will lobby the federal government for the decriminalization of illicit drugs for personal use.

“That will allow the RCMP to focus on those who are supplying the drugs in a higher quantity,” Hunter said.

Russell said the issue needs to be dealt with as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue, while Giesbrecht noted statistics show the majority of overdose deaths are occurring indoors among males who are alone. He said the province needs to encourage people to use with a friend and get them to a point where they feel comfortable seeking help.

Thomas listed the NDP’s work on this file, noting the party has spent $332 million to combat the overdose crisis, launched a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, expanded access to Naloxone kits and provided the First Nations Health Authority with $20 million over three years to address the issue in First Nations communities.

Hines highlighted the need for a safe supply of drugs, lauding the provincial health order allowing registered and psychiatric nurses to prescribe pharmaceutical alternatives to street drugs.

Stone said prevention and treatment need to become more front and centre.

Poverty

Asked how they will address poverty in Kamloops, Stone highlighted the bipartisan support all three parties in government had when addressing the COVID-19 pandemic on a broad range of public services.

Hines said there’s many ways government can address poverty, noting the Greens are proposing free early childhood education.

Thomas pointed out the NDP has raised the amount of money people can earn on while on income or disability assistance, and increased those funds as well.

Hunter stressed that while B.C. was the last province to get a poverty-reduction strategy in place, it was formed by the NDP government — something the Liberals failed to do while previously in power.

“There were 16 years before that when it could have been done,” Hunter said, noting there is more work that needs to be done.

Milobar said he is more concerned with results rather “than the marketing document that’s purported to deliver a service or program.” He said it took a few years for this plan to get off the ground and its still unclear what programs will be rolled out from that document.

“I want to see the deliverables,” Milobar said.

To address poverty, Giesbrecht said Conservatives will nix the carbon tax and increase the base exemption on income tax to allow people to keep more money in their pockets, while Russell lauded the Green’s poverty policy, which, as an independent, he could work across party lines to help enact.

Martin noted the Greens helped get B.C.’s minimum wage increased and are now proposing a means tests for rental support as there are many renters spending more than 30 per cent of their income on rent.

UNDRIP

The final question from social work students surrounded what actions the candidates would take, if elected, regarding the province’s adoption of the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous People.

Hunter said the UNDRIP decision was a huge step, pointing to the $233 million the NDP put toward the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C., which involved 60 First Nations-led projects, while Milobar said the local First Nation leaders he’s spoken to say they are disappointed with how the bill has been implemented to date.

Martin said First Nations need to be included in landscape-level planning, Giesbrecht noted First Nations need to be partnered with companies to get resource projects off the ground and Russell chastised the NDP’s record with First Nations — citing the government’s decision to carry on with the Site C dam and the conflict with the Wet'suwet'en people in northern B.C.

Stone said he has also heard from many frustrated First Nations leaders who feel progress with UNDRIP has been too slow.

“We really do have to recommit ourselves on this file,” he said.

Thomas admitted that UNDRIP is new, but noted a lot has been accomplished, such as renaming provincial parks, signing an accord transforming treaty negotiations to get results in a shorter time frame and a $50-million grant from the province to the First Nations Cultural Council to support Indigenous languages.

Hines said it’s too simple to lay the issue at the feat of any single government as it is an issue from a colonial legacy.

“This is built into the system,” he said, adding there has been many promises to First Nations that haven’t been fulfilled . He feels, though, that there is opportunity to partner on renewable energy.

Pointed questions

A few questions from people who wrote in via Zoom’s chat function were posed to pairs of candidates.

Milobar and Hunter were asked what, if any, improvements they would make to BC Housing and why.

Milobar noted the need to keep costs low by addressing development cost charges, noting the Liberals’ promise to eliminate the PST for a year will shave $19,000 off a housing unit.

Hunter stressed that improvements have been made with the use of modular housing, referencing Mission Flats Manor, the 55-unit modular home complex installed on Mission Flats Road.

The question of what is most urgent social issue in Kamloops and why went to Stone and Hines, who both noted getting through the pandemic. Beyond that, Hines stressed the needs of seniors’ care, while Stone said the primary social issue in Kamloops is homelessness.

Would it be a good idea to operate a harm reduction bus, such as those used by Interior Health, near the Friendship Centre so the two are in close proximity? Why or why not?

Martin and Russell were both in agreement on that point and each said harm reduction should be expanded further. Russell added that he’d like to see other initiatives, such as more storage locker facilities for the homeless population.

Asked how to address to the inequalities of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and ensure their inclusion in implementing UNDRIP, Giesbrecht said trust and communication needs to be restored between the RCMP and First Nations, citing as an example hiring more Indigenous officers.

Thomas said there is a national action plan and calls to justice on the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls report that need to be moved forward. She said she would push for local leaders to be more engaged on the file as the issue is near and dear to her heart.

“We need to take leadership from our grassroots women,” Thomas said.

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