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FOULDS: Let's talk about the next mayor of Kamloops

I hope Hamer-Jackson takes a deep breath, reflects upon his awesome responsibility and enters city hall with humility, curiosity and an eagerness to learn from incumbent councillors and staff
Foulds column head

It could be argued that Reid Hamer-Jackson’s mayoral campaign actually began in March 2020, when he and a group of Victoria Street West business owners decided to speak out on the Ground Zero of social disorder their area had become.

Furiously silent until then, Hamer-Jackson and a number of Victoria Street West business owners finally agreed to speak with KTW, as they had reached their limit on patience.

Gathering at Hamer-Jackson’s Tru Market Auto auto dealership, the future mayor was joined by Coun. Bill Sarai and fellow business owners — including Andre Giasson of Andre’s Tire World, Nina Johal and Mindy Sandhu of Stereo Warehouse and Sisters Sleep Gallery and Audra Domich of Audra’s Image and Wellness Day Spa — as they unloaded their frustration into the notebook of KTW reporter Jessica Wallace.

The issues? Chronic theft, vandalism, graffiti, arson, scattered needles, syringes and drug paraphernalia, garbage, prostitution, defecation, public nudity and more.

The story got a lot of attention and the city did respond with some attempts at addressing the problems, but the social disorder on streets across the city has only worsened since those early days of the pandemic.

Hence Hamer-Jackson’s eventual decision to run for mayor, a pursuit dismissed by many as quixotic  — until it became as real as the words written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.

Saturday’s election results can be studied forever.

Obviously, Hamer-Jackson focused in on the clear-cut No.1 issue concerning voters — social disorder on the streets, encompassing homelessness, addiction, mental-health problems, crime and more.

There wasn’t another issue even close to importance in the minds of the vast majority of voters and that was a sentiment relayed to us by 27 of 28 candidates running for mayor or councillor seats.

(Reo Rocheleau’s councillor platform was filled with asphalt, to be poured into potholes, which is perhaps why he finished in 28th spot.)

During the long campaign — and it was longer than usual, with the unofficial race beginning on Family Day, way back in February, when the unbeatable Ken Christian announced he would not seek re-election as mayor — Hamer-Jackson was derided by many as being a one-issue candidate.

While that is not true, it is a fact he focused almost exclusively on social disorder and his ideas to improve the situation as he talked with voters, attended forums and erected his signs — fewer in number than his opponents, but larger than most.

And why wouldn’t he focus on social disorder plaguing the streets? It was, and remains, issue No. 1, the very problem that propelled him into the campaign.

As for other campaign issues, it might interest residents (and surprise some of his supporters) to know Hamer-Jackson is a big backer of the proposed performing-arts centre. He has also mentioned the need to improve transit service, having used it through June, and wants to have the city work with the Canadian Home Builders’ Association in addressing the housing crisis.

Hamer-Jackson is like a bull in Pamplona. He seems to only know how to charge forward. Some have told me he is stubborn. For the social disorder mess afflicting Kamloops, perhaps stubbornness is a valuable attribute to have in a politician.

Upon his victory on Saturday night, social media erupted with disbelief, condemnation and insults aplenty aimed at the rookie mayor-to-be.

One argument posed on KTW’s Facebook page was that Hamer-Jackson does not have a “mandate” as mayor because so few people voted. At 29.01 per cent, voter turnout in Saturday’s civic election was the lowest of all seven Kamloops general civic elections held this century.

Hamer-Jackson’s 7,298 votes represented 32 per cent of the 23,087 mayoral votes cast, while another 57,000 eligible voters didn’t bother to cast ballots.

Not surprisingly, I don’t recall that argument being made about Christian’s mayoral byelection win in 2017, when voter turnout was a measly 21 per cent.

No, the argument here is not with the turnout, but with the candidate — a blunt, plain-spoken everyman who does not seem to care much about adhering to the more politically correct mores of today’s society.

He is, as someone told me, a guy who is tired of talking, tired of the studies, tired of the meetings. He is a guy who just wants to get stuff done.

If so, he is not all that different from so many people in this city who have expressed that same sentiment to me.

But to many, he is disqualified because he dared to speak out publicly about issues that so many people are railing against privately.

How is suggesting a study on rehab centres a bad thing? How can calling for an independent review of shelter providers be criticized, when many of those shelters have negatively impacted the adjacent neighbourhoods? Where is the downside in any of this?

Perhaps most disappointing — but predictable, given the toxicity that is social media — are the comments mocking Hamer-Jackson’s occupation, derisively referenced as a “used car salesman,” as though that vocation alone is something of which to be ashamed and something that cannot possibly be worthy enough to qualify someone to stand as mayor.

(Hamer-Jackson is actually a small business owner, one of thousands in Kamloops.)

And these comments are coming from many people who would generally be described as being left of centre, perhaps “woke,” maybe part of the “inclusive” community.

Some of these same people have objected to those who criticize Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s past work as a teacher.

It only proves hypocrisy knows no bounds.

It seems those who did not want Hamer-Jackson to be mayor are now openly wishing for him to fail, democracy be damned. By extension, these progressives want Kamloops to fail.

Hamer-Jackson is not the easiest man to deal with. He and I have butted heads many times in the past two years, mainly over his fixation on keeping the social disorder issue in the news. He has the remarkable ability to elicit the most creative of profanity from the mouths of newspaper editors while engaged in conversation on the phone.

But he has not wavered and here he is, on the precipice of occupying the mayor’s office with a goal of fixing social disorder on the street.

Will he succeed? Who knows? And, I would suggest, voters may not care. I suspect they chose Hamer-Jackson because they figured the status quo has not worked, so why not give him a shot? In their minds, there is nothing to lose.

As I noted in a previous column, the mayor has but one vote of nine and has precious little other power to get stuff done via council. The mayor is, however, blessed with a lobbying window about which the rest of us can only dream. The mayor has rare access to those in Victoria and Ottawa who can help get things done.

I hope Hamer-Jackson takes a deep breath, reflects upon his awesome responsibility and enters city hall with humility, curiosity and an eagerness to learn from incumbent councillors and staff.

And his detractors should have the same hope, for the sake of the city.

Twitter: @ChrisJFoulds