New Brunswick

Saint John mayoralty candidates debate city's poverty situation

Saint John's Human Development Council put the city's five mayoralty candidates to the test on various social issues, including chronic poverty, in a public debate on Tuesday afternoon that drew an audience of a few dozen people.

Five candidates questioned on social issues at Human Development Council event

The five candidates for mayor in Saint John debated social issues, including the city's poverty situation and possible models to help. (CBC)

Saint John's Human Development Council put the city's five mayoralty candidates to the test on various social issues, including chronic poverty, in a public debate on Tuesday afternoon that drew an audience of a few dozen people.

Don Darling, one of the newer faces in the municipal campaign, said he grew up in poverty, living with his mother, after his parents broke up.

He said the city's mayor should take a leadership role, working with organizations, to get at the root causes of the "intergenerational issues."

Mayoralty candidate Don Darling says the next mayor of the city needs to take a leadership role addressing poverty. (CBC)
"I don't have to have all the answers," he said. "But I can, as mayor, require and demand that we get results. And that is my commitment."

Deputy Mayor Shelley Rinehart said council needs to own the poverty situation in the city and take an active role in addressing it.

"For me the important piece of this, is to actively engage our experts, to take that advice, to understand what is the most effective and efficient use of the scarce resources that we have available to us," she said.

Why don't we spend the money we have, smarter?- Bill Farren, candidate

"And most importantly to use that advice to take all of those plans and make sure that they fit together."

Patty Higgins said Saint John should redirect its money toward programs for its 70,000 citizens and quit supporting extensive infrastructure that benefits suburban commuters and industry, that don't pay their fair share.

"The city can retire from economic development," she said. "We can concentrate on quality of life and recreation and those types of things. We don't have to be paying for policing for people who don't pay for policing. Call the cop you pay for."

Supporting volunteers

Bill Farren said the city needs to continue investing in priority neighbourhoods and support volunteers such as those who work for PALS, the Partners Assisting Local Schools program that provides mentors and financial assistance to students in low-income neighbourhoods.

Candidate Patty Higgins says it's time for the city to stop supporting the suburbs which don't pay their fair share, and redirect that money into quality of life in Saint John. (CBC)
"In the last 12 years that I've been on council, we started off with $98.4 million in the budget. Today, we're at $152 million," said Farren, who was elected to council in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

"That is [an increase] of $54 million in 12 short years. Why don't we spend the money we have, smarter?"

Howard Yeomans, who introduced himself as having grown up in the south end, "very poor," said he was open to meeting with anyone who wanted to talk about ideas.

"It's already been said, we pay a fortune for studies that we put on shelves," he said. "It's time to direct the money where it needs to be, the money that's there. And it's time to get more money."

Future debates

Randy Hatfield, executive director of the Human Development Council, said he thought the questions from the audience were good.

"I thought they hit on the social development themes that this community needs to have answers on: poverty reduction, newcomer inclusion, disability," he said.

However, he thought it might be time to reconsider the format, which gave each candidate two minutes to answer.

"When you have five candidates in a short period of time and you want to treat each candidate equally, sometimes you leave almost as puzzled as when you arrived as to where the candidates stand."

About the Author

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.