Crime, homelessness, transparency focus for Thompson mayoral candidates
Les Ellsworth, Ron Matechuk and Colleen Smook running to become northern Manitoba city's mayor on Oct. 26
The three candidates running to become mayor of Thompson in next week's municipal election agree the city faces issues like homelessness and crime, but they have differing opinions on how to tackle those problems.
The city's crime severity index — a measure that tracks the severity of police-reported crime, taking into account how much crime is reported as well as the seriousness of the crimes — was 438.7, in 2021, according to an August report by the Thompson Citizen. Among cities of 10,000 or more in Canada, that put Thompson second only to North Battleford, Sask., according to the report.
The Canadian average index in 2021 was 73.7, according to Statistics Canada.
Colleen Smook, who has served as the city's first female mayor after being elected in 2018, says if re-elected, she'll work to help bring down the crime rate in the city.
"A lot of our statistics come from persons that don't have Thompson as an address, but go through the system here," she said.
She also pointed to the city's recently opened healing centre, a shelter that significantly increased the number of beds available in the community for people who are homeless.
"That will definitely address some of the issues," she said.
Smook says that people who might previously had been processed at the RCMP detachment in Thompson can instead be directed to the healing centre.
"That will definitely bring our numbers down significantly."
Mayoral candidate Les Ellsworth, who has lived in the community for more than 40 years and is currently a city councillor, says his priorities are bringing down the city's rates of crime and homelessness.
"I've watched for the last few years our city becoming overpopulated with the transient. Crime is on the rise, and I've been seeing it for a long time," he said.
"As a councillor, you get one vote. But as a mayor, you get a little bit more leeway to meet with the government and different avenues of people that you can certainly make a difference with."
Regarding homelessess in Thompson, a "point in time" survey done in 2022 found there were 138 people experiencing homelessness in Thompson, a city of just over 13,000. A smiliar survey in 2018 put the number at 130.
Ellsworth hopes to get more affordable housing in the area to meet those needs.
"They need to have something," he said. "So we need to build more units to get affordable living."
Ellsworth said as mayor, he'd work to bring down the crime rate by meeting personally with RCMP regularly to find solutions, getting increased support and funding for mental health, and working with organizations like StreetReach — a provincial program that works to address the safety and well-being of vulnerable children and youth.
Meanwhile, Ron Matechuk, a former councillor who is running for the mayoral seat for a fourth time, says transparency is a big priority for him.
Matechuk is looking for more transparency from city council, including more detailed information about costs and budgeting on big city projects like the community's upcoming aquatic centre.
On crime, Matechuk said "there's very little you can do" when it comes to dealing with the more severe crimes, saying the city always ranks high in crime severity.
"The laws are in place," he said. "There's very little you can do about it.… [Crimes are] going to happen. Drinking is probably the cause of most of them. How do you curb the drinking?"
The three mayoral candidates will take part in a Q&A Thursday evening at the Ma-Mow-We-Tak Friendship Centre on 4 Nelson Road.
The municipal election takes place Oct. 26.