The 2022 Chilliwack Civic Town Hall kicked off Monday night with mayoral candidates going head to head on how they would indigenize the response to homelessness in the community.
Mayoral candidate Ian Carmichael, and incumbent Ken Popove mulled over that question, and a slew of others, from the hot seat in the Aboriginal Gathering Place at UFV Chilliwack, along with 10 of the 12 city council candidates.
Popove said he’d been “working hard in the background” seeing Chilliwack’s next supportive housing project come to fruition with a 40-bed warming centre or shelter on the bottom floor that will offer culturally appropriate services to Indigenous people.
“I do work with the chiefs,” Popove said. “It is challenging, and will continue to advocate for more services for Indigenous people.”
Carmichael commented that “process matters” as leader at city hall.
“As mayor I am the envoy, or diplomat for the City of Chilliwack. I acknowledge we have distinctly sovereign First Nations.”
A government-to-government approach would be ideal in attempting to indigenize the response to homelessness, Carmichael said.
It was the second in-person all-candidates event of the 2022 municipal election. Moderated by UFV’s senior advisor of Indigenous affairs, Shirley Hardman (Swelchalot Shxwha:yathel) and Chill TV’s host of ‘Point of View’ Louis De Jaeger, the all-candidates event was both live in-person, and livestreamed online from 6 p.m to 8:15 on Chill TV.
Homelessness, firefighter staffing, transit, and pump track security, were some of the topics tackled by those seeking the mayor’s chair.
One recurring question election-watchers will have noticed is should the number of city councillors be raised from six to eight?
Popove replied “the short answer is no,” adding it was not necessary to increase the number on council given the way the team has successfully balanced out the workload.
Carmichael said he could see the advantages of having eight councillors, with potential for getting more accomplished, and for increasing diversity on council.
One simple question put their differences in sharp relief.
When asked what constituted Chilliwack’s single biggest issue, Popove replied that it was “homelessness,” and the “social side of the house is the most prevalent one, that everyone sees” adding he’s very proud of the team’s work on this file at City of Chilliwack over the past four years.
“The city is a business,” Popove continued, explaining that all sectors work together, whether it’s administration, social issues or operations, and that’s how they put together a multifaceted security plan.
Carmichael said that response “shows the difference in our perspectives. I don’t see city government as a business but rather a service provided to the citizens of Chilliwack.”
Businesses are not usually “in the business” of taking on social issues, he said.
When it came time for the council candidates they were asked questions in groups of threes or fours.
One question was about the number of women elected to council, and if none were elected after the departure of outgoing Coun. Sue Knott, would that be sustainable?
Candidate Brent Bowker said he’d be happy to see “more diversity” and would be happy to see “at least one of these” women candidates get elected to council.
Candidate Jared Mumford noted that “obviously in politics it’s male dominated,” said he’d love to see more women on council. Why more are not elected, and why there are not more candidates, and “we need to have events like the Women in Politics forum.”
Candidate Amber Price said running for council had taught her “a great deal about privilege,” because she didn’t realize how much money, people, resources and support are needed to win a seat, which are barriers for some and the “barriers are systemic.”
As someone who has sat on governance boards for 24 years, she was still hesitant to run. Female candidates undergo much greater scrutiny for running, and are often subjected to misogyny and abuse, Price said.
“The key is teaching youth they can make a difference.”
Another question zeroed in on the increasingly divisive nature of politics, asking candidates how they would “prepare to mitigate divisive politics” if elected.
Incumbent Bud Mercer said with more than 30 years of working in public safety, he worked with more than 16,000 people.
“I lead with integrity and I treat everybody the same,” Mercer said, adding he treats people as he would like to be treated.
“I don’t get myself involved in dirty politics,” Mercer said. “When you do that people will follow.”
Incumbent Jason Lum said the key is to lead by example, and to admit when you’re wrong.
“I always actively seek out opposing views to sit across the table and discuss difficult topics. When you seek out those with other points of view, it helps educate your own world view. It’s ok not to be right all the time.
Candidate Debora Soutar stated that for her Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, would be a good role model in mitigating the divide.
“She faced a lot of divisive politics,” Soutar said. “Those on the other side may have a story we don’t understand. But that said I will not tolerate poor behaviour.”
Candidate Mike McLatchy said the way through was with integrity.
“It’s sitting in the back listening, and not getting involved with those that attack. There’s always going to be a bully in the room and you just have to deal with it.”
The question of allowing backyard chickens is a perennial hot topic at election time as chickens can only be kept on non-ALR land by obtaining a temporary use permit (TUP). A TUP allows a land-use not permitted under the zoning.
Incumbent Harv Westeringh said he supports the TUP process.
“It’s a good system and neighbours have input,” Westeringh said, adding he’s in favour of keeping it as it is.
“The process works, and in preventing pests like mice and rats, so for those reasons and other I support keeping the TUP.”
Incumbent Jeff Shields suggested they need to see backyard chickens tried out in different neighbourhoods.
“We need to see how it works out,” Shields said adding they’re waiting for feedback on the existing one. “I don’t want to put bylaw through that majority of residents are not in favour of.”
Incumbent Jason Lum noted that he voted in favour of allowing backyard chickens.
“But to play devil’s advocate, if the TUP is the best vehicle, maybe we can craft it to remove barriers,” Lum said.
Incumbent Bud Mercer said he had no issues with backyard chickens but said he’s in the minority on council.
All 10 council candidates who showed up answered the question of how they saw moving forward on reconciliation with Indigenous people in terms of their role on council.
Candidate Nicole Huitema Read said she researched the Truth and Reconciliation Act when it came out, and moving toward reconciliation is something that’s “near and dear” to her heart. She made a point of taking the historical impact training through Stólō Nation, visiting the longhouse and Coqualeetza.
“Reconciliation is extremely important,” Huitema Read said. “We have to build dialogue with First Nations and continue to listen to their stories.”
Incumbent Harv Westeringh said part of it is establishing great relationships with First Nations.
“It’s also educating those around you, and bringing them around to make them understand what happened in the past,” Westeringh said. “We need to recognize and acknowledge what happened to Indigenous people.”
For incumbent Jeff Shields, he emphasized the “truth” part of truth and reconciliation.
“It’s seeing the truth of what we as a nation did to the First Nations,” Shields said, adding they “need to accept and take responsibility” for acknowledging those truths. Until we do that reconciliation will be difficult.”
Incumbent Jason Lum sees “a number of things” that can be done to move forward on reconciliation. He said he recently co-chaired a Build Back Better event, with Stólō Tribal Council president Tyrone McNeil.
“Finding out how to work together, that is reconciliation in action,” Lum said.
Incumbent Bud Mercer underlined truth as the most important part of truth and reconciliation, along with relationships.
“It’s understanding the pain and suffering, and moving forward.”
Candidate Debora Soutar stated: “Reconciliaton is just beginning,” and the work will be ongoing forever.
“We’re going to have to keep learning all the time how to be better neighbours on the orange walk,” Soutar said.
Candidate Mike McLatchy said for him it goes back to fishing with his Indigenous neighbours.
“Understanding reconciliation started then,” he said.
Candidate Amber Price said seeking the counsel of her Indigenous friends started young, and they still offer ideas on how to get there.
“I believe reconciliation is a verb; an action, and when I want advice I ask my Indigenous friends,” Price said. “I seek their advice and it shapes my core philosophy.”
Candidate Jared Mumford pointed to his work on the education front as board chair in helping to usher in local education agreements, (LEAs) as well as a committee table he sits at with Gwen Point.
Candidate Brent Bowker said he’d need more education on this topic first.
“I signed up for a 12-week Indigenous history course,” Bowker said, adding he’s hoping what he learns by taking the course would guide him before he could answer how it would manifest if elected.
Incumbent candidate Chris Kloot, and candidate Craig Hill were not in attendance.
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