British Columbia

B.C. Liberals try to make political hay out of Maple Ridge homeless battle

While the debate between the provincial government and the City of Maple Ridge continues to escalate, a different group sees a political opportunity.

NDP has announced modular housing in a new site, over objections of mayor and most councillors

Maple Ridge residents are divided over how to deal with a growing homeless problem, and the B.C. Liberal Party has begun giving more overt support to the city's mayor, who is battling the NDP government over the issue. (Yvette Brend/CBC News)

While the debate between the provincial government and the City of Maple Ridge over an incoming modular housing complex continues to escalate, a different group has seen a political opportunity. 

"The people of Maple Ridge do not want this imposed on them," said B.C. Liberal MLA Jas Johal, as his party brought up the issue for the first time in question period at the legislature on Thursday. 

"Will the premier listen to the people of Maple Ridge and put together a proper program that includes real access to services?"

In a bid to alleviate conflicts over a homeless camp in Maple Ridge, Housing MInister Selena Robinson last month announced the province will be constructing 51 temporary modular homes on land it owns in the city.

Robinson has consistently argued that her government's model for replacing homeless camps in municipalities with nearby modular housing does not need to be modified for Maple Ridge, and repeated as much in response to questions from the B.C. Liberals.

"There are 1,000 people around this province who, before, did not have a home. They lived in a tent. And they now have a home," Robinson said.

Better solution is 'make-believe,' premier says

Later on Thursday, Premier John Horgan continued his government's defence of its decisions in Maple Ridge, which are in opposition to the wishes of Mayor Mike Morden and most councillors — a marked departure from the cooperation demonstrated in most modular housing projects in the Metro Vancouver area.

"I believe we're on the right track," Horgan said. "Is it a challenge? Absolutely.

"But in the case of Maple Ridge, there is a sense of make-believe, that somehow there's a better solution on the horizon."

In the 2018 provincial election, the NDP won both seats in Maple Ridge from the B.C. Liberals.

'In the case of Maple Ridge, there is a sense of make-believe, that somehow there's a better solution on the horizon,' B.C. Premier John Horgan said about the situation in Maple Ridge on Thursday. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

'The minister's statement is patently false'

On Thursday, the Liberals also referenced the situation in Nanaimo, the other B.C. municipality where tensions over modular housing has been acute in recent weeks. 

"On April 4, [Robinson] wrote that crime has not increased at NDP-imposed housing sites in Nanaimo. Her letter reads: 'There has been no increase in crime,'" said Johal.

"The minister's statement is patently false, and for her to be unaware of the facts shows a shocking level of incompetence."

He said Nanaimo police have reported a 250 per cent increase in crime at one project, and a 66 per cent increase at the other.

While Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog has said implementation of two modular camps in his city has seen "significant issues" around crime, the percentages Johal cited are based on total calls to police, not arrests or charges, and based on the general geographic area, not the specific site.

'Raping and pillaging' comment

At the end of question period, Robinson attempted to turn the tables on the Liberals, asking if they "think that 'raping and pillaging' is the appropriate perspective to have on people who are homeless."  

Robinson was referring to an eyebrow-raising comment the Maple Ridge mayor made during a staged interview earlier this week, in which he said that homeless people were "basically raping and pillaging all our community and our businesses."

B.C. Liberal MLA Jane Thornthwaite declined to respond, but on Tuesday, Maple Ridge Coun. Ahmed Yousef gave a partial defence of Morden's words.

"The word rape does have several meanings, including the wanton destruction or spoil of a place," Yousef said. 

And while he said he wouldn't have used Morden's words, he noted: "I think he was speaking in the tongue of the everyday Maple Ridge resident who has suffered from property crime."

The only councillor who has opposed the mayor's strategy on the homeless controversy, Kiersten Duncan, has called for Morden to make a formal apology to council

Morden did not respond to a request for comment by CBC News. 

With files from Tanya Fletcher and The Early Edition

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