Two local children help Quesnel mayor Bob Simpson cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the Southills playground in 2017. Improving local public spaces was one of the initiatives undertaken by the City of Quesnel in Simpson’s current term. Melanie Law photo

Bob Simpson to seek second term as mayor of Quesnel

Simpson highlighted property crime, housing availability and environmental initiatives as focuses

Current Quesnel mayor Bob Simpson announced via his Facebook page on Monday Sept. 10 that he will seek a second term as mayor.

In his post, he highlighted some of the issues he’d like to focus on, including the sustainability of the forests and the local forest economy; the approval of the North-South Interconnector project; improving housing; developing the city’s riverfronts; improving community safety and reducing property crime; and positioning Quesnel as a leader in environmental initiatives.

At post time, Simpson is the only candidate in Quesnel’s mayoral race, with the declaration of candidates set for Sept. 14. Voting will take place Oct. 20.

He has been a Quesnel resident for more than 30 years and originally moved here to teach high school. He later worked as a consultant to the City and then for Weldwood, before being elected MLA for Cariboo North for two terms, in 2005 and 2009. He took up his current term as mayor of Quesnel in 2014.

Simpson, who is currently in Whistler for the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention, said City representatives have meetings this week with the province’s solicitor general and attorney general to address the currently understaffed Quesnel RCMP branch. Simpson said in an interview in June that the City provides funding for 21 officers and the province provides for nine; however, the local RCMP detachment has at times operated with as few as 16 officers.

“We have a very specific ask that, from the policing perspective, we want the full complement that we pay for, so we can run our specialty teams like the prolific offenders and serious crimes unit. If we had those units fully staffed, we would get on top of a lot of that petty crime of property theft $5,000 and under, and the drug-related crime that is causing our crime numbers to be inflated,” he said.

Simpson admitted the current crime statistics for Quesnel have been one of the biggest challenges he’s faced as mayor, and that four years ago when he was initially elected, property crime was not something that was on his radar.

“We are not the only community that’s experiencing this. That situation can undermine a lot of the other work we are doing to reposition the community,” he said.

READ MORE: Council calls for more police resources in Quesnel

Simpson also believes that improving the quality of rental housing in Quesnel can work to decrease criminal activity.

“We think a big chunk of what is going on to attract people in our community is some very low rental housing in some questionable sub-standard housing arrangements.”

Simpson said that installing a new safe and affordable housing bylaw would allow the city to address the quality of housing, which could in turn have an effect on whether criminals have the opportunity to work within the community.

“We have some places people can squat and where there’s drug activity going on. … When municipalities put a maintenance bylaw in place, we can establish the minimum requirements for what we consider safe and healthy housing… then people can complain to the city and our building inspectors and bylaw officers can get engaged and we can write those owners to come up to what those minimum standards are.

“Having minimum standards for safety and health doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in rent, because that is determined by the market; but it would mean an increase in quality and it would meet a nominal test of what is a low-level rent – not because it’s got mould and the walls are falling apart and it has no hot water and they can charge people squatters’ fees to be in there and it can become a problem property,” he explains.

Simpson said he thinks a combination of new bylaws and better social housing would address some of these issues.

He also spoke about the need for a bylaw to allow secondary suites, and the need to develop higher-level executive rentals for people looking to move to Quesnel or for seniors wishing to downsize from their single-family homes.

Over his last four years as mayor, Simpson said he is most proud of the way the council and City of Quesnel staff have worked together to overcome challenges.

“To come in as the new guy on the block with an incumbent council and a staff that’s well established, you can get at cross purposes quickly, and that didn’t happen. We came to a common understanding of the challenges we needed to take on, and everyone had the courage and fortitude to do that. Anything else [we achieved] is a subset of that.”

In terms of the re-branding of the city that he and council have initiated over his current term, Simpson said he feels they’ve gotten the word out provincially that Quesnel is an interesting and fun place to live.

“Two seasons of fires have stymied us a little bit, but we are only just starting the targeted marketing process,” he said, explaining that the next step in the re-branding process will be to look at worker recruitment to bring in more professionals and technicians to meet economic need as well as a number of local professionals who are retiring.

“The other piece that will deepen our branding is our sign program,” said Simpson.

“The plan is in place and we need to finance that so we do the transformation next spring. … For me, that’s when you’ll start to see the benefits of the work we’ve done on the branding. When people come into our community and see all that new sigange … it drives the message home that we are a funky, fun, interesting place to stick around.”

Simpson said that looking forward, in addition to continuing current projects in the works and hoping to expedite the construction of a North-South Interconnector, which is currently in planning stages with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, he’d like to focus on Quesnel’s potential to become a leader in environmental initiatives.

“We were so focused on the infrastructure and fiscal side [this term]… but part of the interesting aspect of Quesnel would be to position ourselves as a leader on environmental initiatives, especially as we are living with the consequences of climate change.

“In the next four years I’d like to engage the community in conversations about how we ramp up that part of who we are as a community, and I think it would add to our attractiveness.”

READ MORE: Ministry of Transportation moves forward with North-South Interconnector

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