Despite what some pundits have alleged, Tuesday’s (Jan. 31) marathon Kamloops council meeting was not a gong show, nor was it a mess.
It was messy, granted, but democracy often is. Democracy can also be frustrating and prone to lengthy debate with verbose participants. Tuesday’s council meeting was a textbook example of democracy at the local level in action.
Critics of the meeting’s length — and of council’s decision to spend much of the five hours on Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson’s notice of motion regarding the storage facility used by the city’s homeless population — are likely peeved because they are impatient.
Democracy is not for the impatient.
True, council could have cut down on some debate by sticking to the focus of the mayor’s notice of motion (a review of the storage facility) and forgoing discussion about reviewing the whole of Victoria Street West. And the ongoing issue of whether the mayor is in conflict added to the length of the meeting.
But in the end, there was deep discussion on issues that defined the civic election campaign a few months ago. And that discussion was not confined to those at the council table.
We heard plenty from city staff — explanations from community and protective services director Byron McCorkell on the city’s limitations with respect to provincial oversight were especially instructive, as was the frustration evident in his cadence, a weariness likely born from having to repeatedly explain to the masses why the social disorder on the street is an incredibly complex problem that has no quick-fix solution.
We also heard from those working for social agencies that have direct contact with the homeless population and the insight from Cal Albright of the Aboriginal Friendship Centre and Kelly Thomson from The Mustard Seed was illuminating and a reminder why these agencies are so crucial.
The statistics rolled out were interesting, with about 25 per cent of those using the storage facility being connected to much-needed services. There are indeed success stories in the street.
And, yes, we also heard from Victoria Street West business owners who have been severely impacted by those on the street who have no desire to respect others. Crime, vandalism, threats and a laundry list of detritus have the business owners once again asking for help, much like they have for the past few years.
While city hall can only do so much, as explained by McCorkell, even if the municipality could do more, the fortunes of those business owners would not likely change any time soon.
Time and again we have heard from politicians and city staffers that addressing the street disorder issue is a long process. That’s true — and until the upper levels of government get serious with a comprehensive (and extremely expensive) recovery plan for those suffering from addiction and mental-health issues, incremental measures (such as the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of hard drugs and a shelter here and there) won’t do anything to change the streetscape we see now.
We are in this for the long haul. It is a bleak outlook, but I fear this is the new normal for the forseeable future.
The long discussion on Tuesday was an example of city council giving its citizens as much time as they needed to vent and allowing the elected representatives to weigh in on the matter, sometimes with opinions that met like two angry bighorns.
It was democracy in action, warts and all.