The first all-candidates meeting of the Chilliwack municipal election season took place Wednesday morning with a youthful focus.
That’s because the mayoral meeting held at the Neighbourhood Learning Centre at Chilliwack secondary was hosted by the Chilliwack Child and Youth Committee (CYC).
All five candidates for the top job were in attendance: incumbent Sharon Gaetz, Dave Rowan, Ken Popove, Brigida Crosbie and Sam Waddington.
There were about 50 people in attendance, including some youth, and questions kicked off with bios of the five as well as a question about how each candidate would help reduce vulnerability of young people in Chilliwack.
The preamble to the question noted that 29 per cent of Chilliwack’s ever-growing population are under the age of 25, and there is an increasing number of children living in poverty with 34 per cent of young people reporting in a poll that they had experienced vulnerability in a poll.
Sharon Gaetz kicked off the answers by explaining there are multiple levels of government, and that issues such as poverty and housing are in the jurisdiction of the provincial government.
“So if you are going to be mayor, you are going to have to talk to those people all the time,” Gaetz said, pointing to meetings she has had recently with various provincial ministers including the Minister for Social Development and Poverty Shane Simpson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy, and Education Minister Rob Fleming.
Increased daycare funding is possibly on the way, Gaetz said, adding that schools are crucial in reducing vulnerability in young people.
Dave Rowan began by saying he is not a politician but a hardworking businessman.
“I don’t know a lot about what’s going on in this town,” he said. “On this situation I don’t have much to say, but I do believe more after school programming has to be developed to keep these kids off the streets.”
He added that kids are the future: “Education, education, education.”
Ken Popove pointed to his work with the CYC, his appointment as the city’s representative of the Chilliwack Healthier Communities working group, and his interest in Cyrus Centre, the youth homeless shelter in town.
“For me it’s all about collaboration and getting these levels of government together and working on these programs,” Popove said. “The work Cyrus Centre has undertaken is monumental in this city to help vulnerable people.”
He said research has shown that the age groups of 15 to 19 and 40 to 49 are among the most vulnerable, and he wants to focus on that younger cohort “because those could be the next group of homeless that we might have to deal with.”
Brigida Crosbie addressed the crowd saying, like Rowan, she is not a polished politician. She talked a little about her work with vulnerable seniors and how she herself was a vulnerable youth, involved with the Ontario children’s agency.
Sam Waddington started by saying that he agreed with Gaetz about the shared responsibility the city has with other levels of government, but he added the city does have a significant role to play.
“We see other cities doing far more than what we are doing,” he said, adding that some of the risks to those facing child poverty aren’t necessarily during school hours but on weekends and holidays and after school.
By way of a specific example of what could help, Waddington pointed out that the city owns the Cheam and Landing recreation centres, yet the operation is contracted out to a for-profit company that has no incentive to offer programs for at-risk youth.
“This is one example of where we can pivot,” he said. “We have a huge mandate as a community and we are going to deal with those challenges down the road if we don’t deal with them up front.”
Chilliwack voters have their first chance after work hours to hear from candidates Wednesday evening (Oct. 3) from 6 to 9 p.m. at an all-candidates forum for city council candidates hosted by the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown BIA. The discussion will be focused on business in Chilliwack.