British Columbia

Candidates for hotly contested Maple Ridge-Mission riding debate how to tackle homelessness

B.C. NDP candidate Bob D'Eith, Chelsa Meadus from the B.C. Liberal Party and Matt Trenholm from the B.C. Green Party go head-to-head on CBC's The Early Edition.

NDP, Liberal and Green Party candidate go head-to-head on CBC's The Early Edition

Those vying for the MLA role in Maple Ridge-Mission include, from left to right, B.C. Liberal Party candidate Chelsa Meadus, B.C. Green Party candidate Matt Trenholm, and B.C. NDP candidate Bob D'Eith. (Twitter/@BobDEithMRM, OWEN IMAGING 2016, bcliberals.com/team/chelsa-meadus/)

The provincial election is in full swing and a suburban municipality at the eastern edge of Metro Vancouver is a hot battleground.

The riding of Maple Ridge-Mission was won by the B.C. NDP in 2017 by a margin of six per cent over the B.C. Liberal candidate, making it one of the tightest races in the province. Since then, the city has been the focus of passionate and high-profile debates around social housing and tent cities.

Candidates vying for votes in the riding this year include incumbent Bob D'Eith, Maple Ridge Coun. Chelsa Meadus running as a new candidate for the B.C. Liberals, and health-care professional Matt Trenholm for the B.C. Green Party.

All three joined Early Edition host Stephen Quinn, Thursday morning to debate a key election issue —homelessness. Names were drawn at random to determine question order and candidates were given opportunities to react to one another after each round of questions.

Homelessness and crime have long been key issues in Maple Ridge, which was home to the Anita Place tent city and now has modular housing in its downtown core. (Valerie Gamache/Radio-Canada)

What concrete action will the B.C. Liberals take to address the root causes of homelessness?

Meadus: We need to be addressing this as a health concern and evaluating individual plans for people. We are warehousing people.

We are putting them all in the same place and saying, OK, well, we gave you a house, now it's all good. The Liberals are going to address the root causes — trauma, health conditions and mental health. 

The Green Party leader said the key is to focus on community-based solutions. What does that look like?

Trenholm: The underlying cause of homelessness can be rooted in mental health issues, drug or alcohol addiction or low wages mixed with unaffordable housing.

We must address those key issues to get people back on their feet with the help they need. Homes have been treated as commodities and regulations must be put in place to curb this.

What is the NDP going to do to find permanent housing solutions for those who remain homeless? 

D'Eith: Under the Liberals, our tent city grew and became a dividing force in the community. The NDP resolved the issue, moved people into housing, and replaced the tent city with a park. 

If the province hadn't provided temporary supportive housing, the tent city would still be there. 

A modular housing complex in Maple Ridge on Burnett Street was built by the provincial government in 2019 on land it owned in an attempt to alleviate conflict over the Anita Place tent city and house people living in the homeless camp. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Candidate reactions to round one:

Liberals' Meadus:  The camp was closed because of the municipal government and our taxpayers have over a million dollars in outstanding costs to do with that camp. 

Green Party's Trenholm: Nothing has improved over the last few years under the NDP government, and it certainly didn't prior under the Liberal government.

NDP's D'Eith: The tent city would not have been resolved without the temporary supportive housing and that's a fact.

ROUND 2

What is the B.C NDP doing to get ahead of the homelessness problem during the pandemic, rather than reacting?

D'Eith: We've created a 30-point housing plan. Part of that is speculation tax and that's putting units back into the housing market and part of it is getting to the root of the issue such as addiction treatment and mental health supports.

How do the B.C. Liberals plan to consider the anxieties of homeowners and business owners without it coming at the expense of those who are most marginalized?

Meadus: Our business community wants to come together, but they're really suffering.

Our municipality had to invest $1.6 million in a community safety plan so we could start to address the challenges —challenges with defecation on our sidewalks, challenges with seniors not wanting to walk in our community and support local business. 

We need to be taking folks that are at a challenge in their life and helping them move forward and the only way to do that is to invest in root causes, to sit down with your doctor and come up with a plan.

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson, left, speaks with Kenza Adam, who started a project in the spring to make free face masks for seniors, during a campaign stop in Maple Ridge, B.C., on Sept. 24. A provincial election will be held on Oct. 24. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

If supportive housing isn't the answer for those who are homeless, what will the Green Party do differently?

Trenholm: With the pandemic, on top of the opioid crisis and homelessness, we've had a lack of leadership and clear messaging coming from government.

We have businesses making up their own rules about masks and sanitizer. This lack of regulations and clear messaging has a trickle down effect and can impact our most susceptible people, who are homeless people.

We need better messaging. We need better leadership from our government.

Candidate reactions to round two:

D'Eith: One of the key projects the whole community supports is a youth safe house. There was a safe house that the B.C. liberals let die and we have committed to fully funding.

This idea that we're not doing anything is ridiculous.

We've just launched a new ACT team led by psychiatrists and nurses and social workers to provide specialized care for  that's shown to bring down violence and street discord — so we are taking significant action.

NDP Leader John Horgan stops to speak to a concerned citizen during an election campaign stop in Maple Ridge, B.C., Sept. 24. ( THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

Meadus: Bob and I both sit on the safe house planning table, but what I found embarrassing is finding out there might be funding for a program that wasn't brought to that table, which has about 55 community members.

Those members ask me for details I don't have because there is a lack of connection with local government and stakeholders. This government is doing things in complete silos.

B.C. Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau speaks during a media availability following her speech at the UBCM convention at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, B.C., on Sept. 24. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)

Trenholm: The current government seems to just want to move homeless encampments from one area to another. That's not treating the root cause of any issue.

We need to provide more services to the people of British Columbia — more mental health services, more health services.

We need to treat the cause of the problem as opposed to just merely shuffling the problem from district to district.

This interview aired on The Early Edition on Oct.1 and has been edited for clarity and structure. To hear the complete interview, click on the audio below.

Incumbent NDP MLA Bob D'Eith, BC Liberals candidate Chelsa Meadus and Green Party candidate Matt Trenholm debate housing. 16:33

With files from The Early Edition and Justin McElroy

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