City council lacked “courage” to deal with downtown homeless and addictions problem and failed to make progress on Indigenous and LGBTQ issues, council contenders concluded at an election forum Thursday.
Candidate Bruce Buruma was among those who questioned why Red Deer is in the position of potentially having its homeless shelter shut down in 60 days, just as temperatures plunge into winter?
“It should have been resolved, but council has not had the courage to make these decisions,” said Buruma, at an online discussion sponsored by the Red Deer Welcoming and Inclusive Communities (WIC) Network.
Other council candidates also voiced frustration and dismay with council’s decision to shut down the Safe Harbour temporary shelter before another location was found for it. (The shelter remains open for now because of a local emergency order, due to the pandemic).
Candidate Dax Williams was incredulous that no one who actually depends on the shelter was consulted before council made that decision. “It’s like the M.O of city council is a general lack of respect for individuals…”
Williams feels council needs to take the lead and address the needs of minority groups.
“Housing is a human right, it’s as basic as that,” stressed Sadia Khan, who believes the way to solve the indigent/addictions issue is to stop seeing this as an “us versus them” situation.
Many candidates were critical about Red Deer city council failing to ban conversion therapy, when even smaller communities like Rocky Mountain House managed to to outlaw it.
“I find it horrific. We need to move on… it’s unfortunate we are even talking about this,” said Nicole Lydiard.
Hans Huizing called conversion therapy “stupid,” noting that a good friend underwent this — much to Huizing’s consternation. “I left my brother’s church because of that” and joined a more tolerant congregation, he added.
Participants in break-out sessions on treatment of Indigenous people, as well as racism, agreed that Red Deer needs to do much more to foster a climate of tolerance and reconciliation.
Williams and Sheyi Olubowale felt electing more people of colour on city council would help facilitate this shift. Olubowale also feels it’s about time to engage more Indigenous youths in politics. First Nations people have been here longest, he added, so why are they not part of municipal decision making?
Incumbent councillor Michael Dawe said it’s time for city council to get more engaged and pro-active in helping find Indigenous graves, which are known to exist in several locations in the city, but are not commemorated.
Former city manager and council candidate Craig Curtis feels it’s “ridiculous” that city council doesn’t even verbally acknowledge it’s doing business on Indigenous lands before starting council meetings.
And he believes the vision hasn’t been fully realized for city council’s relationship with local Indigenous organizations.
Lisa Spencer-Cook said she’s been learning about Indigenous trauma and believes “White man’s guilt” must be set aside so that we are all willing to have much needed “uncomfortable conversations.”
Cindy Jefferies believes many people grew up being taught “the big lie” that glosses over Canada’s colonial past, and now have to make an effort to see things from the First Nations perspective, in light of the “heart-breaking history” that’s recently come to light.
Candidates generally agreed that Red Deer’s racist reputation needs to be confronted and remediated.
“I definitely think there is racism in Red Deer and I want to be the voice to denounce it,” said Graham Barclay, who moved here from more multicultural Toronto and appreciates diversity.
As a volunteer with the CMHA, Barclay also spoke out about the need for more attention to mental health and its relationship with homelessness and addictions.
Matt Chapin, who’s has had to deal with some mental health issues within his own family, agreed that many people don’t know where to seek help or find resources.
Sarah Harksen, believes transporation and other municipal services provided to disabled and disadvantaged residents, need to be audited and assessed to make sure they are meeting needs.
Brenda Campbell said she supports inclusion programs in schools, including pride clubs and gay-straight alliances, saying “we’ve come a long way since I was a kid,” but still have some way to go.
Twelve of 30 city council candidates attended the inclusive communities forum. Incumbent Lawrence Lee said he and fellow incumbents Vesna Higham and Dianne Wyntjes were tied up with a city council meeting that went extra long.
Other council contenders who were absent from the forum are: Kraymer Barnstable, Calvin Campbell, Steve Coop, Victor Doerksen, Grace Joy Engel, Chad Krahn, Ryan Laloge, Lindsay LaRocque, Jason MacDonald, Jozef Mihaly, Liam Milaney, Harish Ratra, and Janise Somer.