Mayor Bob Simpson knew when he was originally voted into office that he was going to face a degree of public scrutiny.
For the most part, he is comfortable with that. The City of Quesnel provides certain services, and he understands he should be kept to a high standard in providing them.
The City is responsible for fire protection, policing, water, sewage, garbage, sidewalks, parks and recreation, as well as bylaw services.
If there are issues with any of those, Simpson has no problem addressing them with all the resources he has to offer.
Recently, he says, the majority of disgruntled calls he has been receiving do not pertain to anything under the City’s umbrella of services.
The complaints prompted him to write a column on the City’s website with the headline: We can’t do what we can’t do.
Within the column, he points out some of the people who come to him with problems could use a lesson in civics.
“The easy default on complicated issues is to blast off on social media and feel a little bit better that you’ve blasted but not actually do anything constructive about it, and then the other is you go to the most local government and that’s what we’ve been experiencing,” Simpson said in a phone interview with the Observer.
He says he has had a rash of phone calls and visits to his office regarding the goings-on at the walking bridge or the proliferation of needles in public parks or a recent spate of smash and grabs that have plagued downtown.
“One of the members of our own crew said ‘you guys should just go back to the needle exchange program’ and then somebody on the weekend phoned me and said ‘you guys should just shut down the homeless shelter,’ so that was the stimulus [for writing the column],” said Simpson. “People saying ‘you guys should, you guys should’ and really at the end of the day, people need better civics understanding because we can’t [provide solutions to those problems], it’s not in our domain and therefore they need to start more constructively directing their angst to the Province, to the feds, to Northern Health and so on.”
In his column he writes,
“The decision to switch from a needle exchange program to a needle distribution program was made by the Federal and Provincial governments in 2002 based on advice from the World Health Organization. No amount of berating of local Councils to deal with the issue of discarded needles by going back to a needle exchange program will change the Federal and Provincial governments’ decision.”
He says a lot of the City’s resources are being used to counter issues with mental health and addictions individuals who are homeless.
“There are collateral implications at the community level of the service delivery model that’s been chosen, so as an example, switching from a needle exchange program to just a needle distribution program ends up with discarded needles all around the community, which becomes a public safety concern. So people come to us and we have to develop the programs and support things like the Clean Team or Public Works has to clean the needles up.
“It’s the same when you do housing type programs where your shelter, if it’s not run well, becomes a locus for vagrancy or for loitering or for shoplifting or whatever the case may be.”
Simpson notes it is not the City’s responsibility to prosecute repeat offenders who engage in drug-related property crime; and that they do not build shelters, supportive housing units, detox centres, or mental health facilities or fund health care, food services or methadone clinics.
He would like to see the business associations becoming more vocal about the problems.
“Their silence negates our ability to deal with [this],” he says.
“We haven’t seen massive letters to the editor, we haven’t seen petitions, we haven’t seen this backlash that I get on the phone or that you get on social media actually translate into a concerted message that the model that’s currently being used has public safety implications to it that are not being addressed.”
While he has discontinued his social media page, Simpson says he is still kept in the loop as to what is happening on pages like WTF Quesnel on Facebook.
“We have a communication clerk that does monitor that, and we still post a weekly column on [the City’s website] and she monitors that feedback and she also looks at the general buzz and dialogue going on in the community around some of our other initiatives.
“Then of course I’ve got councillors who are still engaged in social media, so they’ll give me a heads up of the general nature of the topics or what the complaints are, etc.”
While previously, Simpson would spend hours addressing individuals on social media, now he finds the weekly columns do the trick much better.
“We’re just trying to give [people] a tool where they can take the column and plunk it in [to a post] and anybody who’s looking for reasoned information and logic has a place to go to instead of spending all my time doing it on a one-on-one basis.”
For the issues above, he suggests concerned constituents start contacting the right individuals. Within the column, he even gives them a hand by providing email addresses for everyone from the prime minister to the premier of B.C. to Northern Health and many more.
Simpson addresses Quesnel residents, writing:
“If you want to see changes too, please use your political leverage more pointedly and productively. Yelling on WTF Quesnel helps no one. Pointing your anger at City Council is unhelpful and misdirected. Taking the time to write the Premier, Prime Minister, and appropriate Ministers can have effect, if enough people engage in this process.”