Left to right: Jing Lan Yang, Heather Sapergia, Tracy Calogheros, Mackenzie Kerr and Todd Doherty. Ronan O’Doherty photo

Cariboo-Prince George candidates give take on drugs, crime

Answers revolved around affordable housing and getting to the root cause of the problem

Last week, the candidates vying for the Cariboo-Prince George MP seat gathered for a forum at Quesnel’s College of New Caledonia campus.

A series of 12 questions was asked at the Quesnel and District Chamber of Commerce-hosted event, and the candidates gave their take on everything from pipelines and climate change to seniors.

In our last paper, we relayed the answers to a question on the forestry industry, and for this issue, we’ll recap the candidates’ response to the following audience provided question.:

“Given skyrocketing crime in Quesnel due to drug abuse, what measures do the candidates suggest to combat this problem?”

Candidate answers are provided in the order in which they spoke.

Conservative candidate Todd Doherty led off the conversation by saying the issue goes back to mental health and addiction but pointed out where else he thinks there are failings.

“It also speaks to our judicial system and some of the challenges that we have in terms of judicial vacancies and the revolving door of our judicial system,” he said, adding: “But we have to provide those resources and the capacity for our frontline workers.”

Doherty said first responders, social workers and health care professionals are going to be instrumental in breaking the cycle of addiction.

“We have to do everything in our power for those that want the help with trying to break that cycle and providing the resources for our frontline workers, and we’re committed to doing that,” he said. “We will follow through on the investments that we’ve made and also some of the investments that this current government has made in terms of mental health and addiction.”

He specified where he thinks his government should focus.

“Those funds have to get to the level of grassroots stuff where they matter the most and where they make the biggest difference, and that hasn’t been happening.”

Liberal candidate Tracy Calogheros followed by saying the problem is one that differs from place to place across the country.

“It really calls to attention the fact that this problem — which is nationwide — is intensely personal and site-specific,” she said. “It is very different in Quesnel and Vanderhoof than it would be in Vancouver or Toronto and so the solutions need to come from Quesnel.”

She said she is well aware of the issues.

“I’ve talked to [Quesnel Mayor] Bob Simpson about the harm reduction measures and I’ve witnessed some of the challenges myself in Prince George with needles.

“It’s definitely gone up, but it truly is a symptom, not the root cause.”

Calogheros said the solution lies in “investing in housing and holistic mental health approaches and in addiction treatment and rehab.”

“What I can commit to you as your MP is I can bring together the experts in the community that know where the impacts are happening and I can take that information forward to be able to lobby to be able to being back funds to be able to support it,” she said. “The federal government doesn’t know what’s best for Quesnel. Quesnel knows what’s best for Quesnel, but the federal government is the one in charge of the purse strings, so we need a very strong voice that not only listens to everyone in this room but everyone in this community and then finds those local solutions that are lacking in funding.”

NDP candidate Heather Sapergia reiterated calls for more housing.

“If you’re living on the street, you have no predictability,” she pointed out. “You don’t know where you’re going to be that night, and there’s danger to you from other people on the street. So one of the things that will help the problem is to have supportive housing, but with supportive housing, you can’t just stick somebody in an apartment if they’ve never lived in an apartment before.

“You need to provide — in that building — social services that are targeted to the particular needs of the people.”

She said there needs to be mental health counselling and drug therapy to properly combat the problem before admitting the problem might take some time to solve.

“It’s not an immediate fix,” she said. “It’s a long-term fix and it costs money to put in the supportive housing, so in Quesnel, we’d need to partner with the provincial government and look at other surrounding communities as well to see what things they’ve tried and see what solutions they’ve come up with.”

Jing Lan Yang is the People’s Party of Canada candidate. While her fellow candidates focused on the root cause of the problems, she said she wants to be tough on crime.

“Justice needs to be meted out,” she said. “We need to have the right punishment for the crime. We don’t want a revolving door.”

She admitted drug abuse needs to be dealt with too.

“I think it’s very important we give a hand because there’s a lot of issues involving people taking the drugs,” she said. “Rehab is very important, so as a society and also a community, we need to give help to get people to get over their addiction.”

Yang said the problems need to be addressed from a young age.

“We need to do more to teach our kids,” she said. “Our party believes in four cornerstone values: freedom, responsibility, fairness and respect. We need to teach our kids [those values] to prevent them from temptations,” she said. “Because of social media they’re open to lots of different influences, so we need to do a better job [instilling our values] in them. Family, schools and churches need to work together to do more to prevent the crime from happening.”

The Green Party’s Mackenzie Kerr brought the conversation back to addiction.

“I think we need to look at this from a different lens,” she said, “because right now there’s a huge stigma around people with addiction, people that are homeless and on the street — and we have seen a huge increase of crime in Quesnel and other areas in the Cariboo-Prince George riding — but I really think we need to get to the root cause like Tracy [Calogheros] said.

“I really think it’s bigger than charging people that are peddling and sitting on the side of the street and throwing them in jail. That is not going to solve the problem.”

Kerr says her government would look at the issue with a holistic view.

“We have a couple solutions, like affordable housing,” she said. “It is a huge one. We really need to be investing in affordable housing units that are for low-income people. Stability is one of the biggest things that will help with our crime issue.”

She shared a working example in Prince George

“On First Avenue, we have 100 units of affordable low-income housing with mental health programming in-house on location, and I really think that’s the direction we need to be going in.

“Investing in that sort of infrastructure to really get to the root cause.”

She added mental health strategy is imperative too.

“We need to be bringing our community solutions to the table and discussing it with other rural communities because, just like others were saying, our crime problems were not the exact same and our solutions will not be the same for other communities that are much larger than us, so we need to bring our unique solutions to the table as well.”

READ MORE: Cariboo-Prince George candidates address forestry at Quesnel forum


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