British Columbia·Metro Matters

Will a new Maple Ridge mayor bring an end to the city's division?

There are three serious contenders for mayor, and two of them — Mike Morden and Ernie Daykin — lost to Read four years ago.

Homelessness and harassment at the forefront of a campaign that has many of the same names as last election

Dozens of people watched the Maple Ridge mayoral town hall from the lobby of St. George's Anglican Church on Oct. 4, 2018. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

It's not often a political townhall hosted by a group of businesses begins with a question about the homeless. And has dozens of people waiting in the lobby of a packed church, straining to hear the answers.

But such is Maple Ridge these days. 

The ever-growing municipality has had more rancour around housing its homeless population than any other city in Metro Vancouver.

In the last two years, three possible locations for housing have been rejected — two by the provincial government, one by city council — and departing Mayor Nicole Read received police protection following online harassment over her support of homeless community members.  

Put another way, there are five separate Facebook groups dedicated to "protecting" Maple Ridge, with names like "Actually Protecting Maple Ridge" and "Protecting Maple Ridge Without The Censorship."

The mood is tense. Less certain is whether the new mayor and council will be able to calm the waters. 

If at first you don't succeed ...

There are three serious contenders for mayor, and two of them —  Mike Morden and Ernie Daykin — lost to Read four years ago. 

Both of them believe the city should prioritize safety and drug use over shelter in the homelessness crisis, but both are happy to highlight other issues. 

For Daykin, who was mayor for six years before losing to Read, it's his experience of leading a council.

"As much as any one of us would like to go down our path and our own set of priorities, it's seven of us working together," he said.  

"It bothers me and makes me sad to see the division and polarization that's happened in Maple Ridge in the last four years. There's some healing that has to be done, and I'm looking forward to being part of that."

For former councillor and chamber of commerce president Mike Morden, it's about low taxes and increased business. 

​"We've got a lot of stores that are closed right now. Why is that happening? We've got a lot of criminal activity in the downtown core and merchants are having to deal with this," he said during the debate.  

"We are a city with urban problems ... let's put out a welcome mat to industry and commerce and seize the opportunity that's in front of us. It is time to take a 180 degree turn." 

From left: Maple Ridge mayoral candidates Douglas Blamey, Ernie Daykin, Mike Morden and Craig Speirs. (Jusitn McElroy/CBC)

Split on the right?

Councillor Craig Speirs quipped that 180 degrees "would take Maple Ridge backwards."

He's the only one of the three candidates to praise the way the city has been governed under Read

"This has been the most progressive council. We've had some struggles. The homeless thing has been difficult, and we got slapped down three times ... but once you discount the homeless situation, we made a huge difference."

He's also the candidate most likely to speak about the homeless situation from the perspective of those on the streets.

"It's absolutely horrible to lump in all homeless people as addicts. That's just not true," he said.

"They can't afford rent ... the cure for addiction is community. That's bringing them in, not pushing people away."

Anger over how the homeless situation has been managed could hurt Speirs, but he could benefit by vote-splitting: Daykin and Morden have supported the B.C. Liberals in the past, while Speirs is a longtime NDP member who ran for the party federally in 2011. 

But whoever wins on Oct. 20 knows Maple Ridge will still continue to face growing pains. 

"This ain't Mayberry anymore," said Speirs. "This is a big city." 

CBC Vancouver is exploring the mayoral campaigns in each of Metro Vancouver's 21 municipalities leading up to civic elections on Oct. 20.

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