All 14 candidates vying for a council seat showed up at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre Wednesday night for the 2018 City Council Debate.
A huge crowd of about 400 people showed up in person, while another 200 watched it online at ChillTV.ca.
The candidates’ meeting, hosted by Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Chilliwack BIA, introduced an innovative website, slido.com, to help moderator William Klassen winnow dozens of questions down to the 15 most significant.
What was interesting about the impact was that many attendees said post-event that they changed their minds about who to vote for, after listening intently to candidates’ answers and answering the online polls.
More than 400 people logged onto the website to “like” questions, and participate in polls, such as the one at the outset of the night, asking voters how many candidates they were sure they would be voting for.
The most popular questions not surprisingly focused on solutions to crime, housing, homelessness, enforcement, and visible addictions on the street. But there were also questions about attracting business and investment, where to best locate cannabis production facilities.
Here is but a sampling of the many questions answered over the quick-paced night.
Candidate Harv Westeringh answered the question of how to address homelessness and visible drug addiction by stating there is “no easy answer” to those particularly “complicated” challenges in Chilliwack.
“To me the solution is to get more subsidized housing,” Westeringh said.
Candidate Louis de Jaeger called for “commitment and leadership” at city hall to address addictions and homelessness, pledging that he would push for a safe injection site in Chilliwack.
“The science is already in on this,” De Jaeger said.
Candidate Debora Soutar said the problem has to be attacked on many fronts.
“I’m proud to be part of a community that cares enough to provide food and temporary shelter for people,” Soutar said, adding that prevention of homelessness had to be part of the equation and listening to youth.
On the question of what role the city can play in physician recruitment and retention, candidate Ken Smith replied that it’s a “big problem” that might require offering incentives for doctors.
“We have to find some sort of benefit to make them want to come here,” Smith said.
Candidate Jeff Shields said the role of the traditional family doctor is almost a thing of the past.
“Selling them on what Chilliwack has to offer,” is needed, in contrast to what’s offered in other communities like Kelowna, in terms of amenities or schools. “That is what will bring them to Chilliwack.”
Candidate Sandy Mathies called for “more RCMP” boots on the ground to reduce the crime rate.
“We need enough to free up a task force of officers to attack the supply chain of drugs,” Mathies said.
Candidate Bud Mercer pointed out the overall crime rate dipped last year to seven per cent in Chilliwack, compared to 2016.
“That said, the crime in Chilliwack is personal and it’s in our faces,” Mercer said. “It’s all drug-driven and we see it everyday.”
The lack of “drug court” locally is a factor in why the RCMP may be reluctant to seize drugs, Mercer said, and the fact that the judicial system can be a “revolving door” where just released addicts often reoffend when they get out.
Treatment options for addictions are needed in Chilliwack, and if the Chilliwack MLAs pushing hard for more treatment services, then Chilliwack might need “new MLAs,” Mercer stated.
Candidate Patti MacAhonic emphasized mental health has to be addressed with a long-term community strategy, alongside questions of crime.
“I see the effects every day and it’s not pretty,” MacAhonic said, emphasizing that more “prevention” services were needed, and easily accessible treatment for substance use issues.
Candidate Sue Attrill, when asked about green transit, noted Chilliwack has created “a really great” transit plan, and even managed to “grow” the transit system with a huge expansion. She mentioned more electric vehicles in the city and the charging station put in at city hall.
Candidate Cam Hull, also answering the green transit question, gave kudos to the city for its transit plan, but said there was more to be done. He noted incredulously that there is “no bus to city hall” and said the FVX #66 bus should go directly to a Skytrain station rather than to the Carvolth exchange.
Candidate Jason Lum said the original goal was having the #66 end up at the Sky Train, but in the end one of the biggest challenges was having to “beg” just to have the bus go as far as Carvolth in Langley.
Lum called the successful FVX bus route the “first attempt at inter-regional transit.”
Candidate Terry Cross, when asked what Chilliwack’s greatest challenge was, he said it was “moving people from one side of Chilliwack to the other” and said the road system needed to be reworked.
Candidate Lisa Morry named housing and transportation as the greatest challenges facing Chilliwack, and she offer ideas to investigate such as tiny houses, laneway houses and legal basement suites.
Candidate Chris Kloot noted that “everywhere in the Lower Mainland” is feeling the stress of additional people coming to their communities. Chilliwack has taken a proactive approach, he said, moving to legalize secondary suites in the R1A zone, as well as coach houses.
He pointed out that more than 100 units of affordable or supportive housing were on their way for Chilliwack, “which are good steps in the right direction.”