It was standing-room-only in Gracepoint Community Church’s downstairs hall Tuesday evening, as Surrey South and Surrey-White Rock candidates discussed poverty, homelessness and affordable housing.
The all-candidates forum, hosted by Peninsula Homeless to Housing Society (PH2H) and Semiahmoo Seniors Planning Table, invited Green Party, NDP and BC Liberal candidates to participate in the event – attended by more than 130 people.
Stephanie Cadieux (BC Liberal), Niovi Patsicakis (NDP), Tracy Redies (BC Liberal) and Jonathan Silveira (NDP) took part in the discussion. Event organizers set up a child-sized table to the right of Cadieux with name tags for Green Party candidates Pascal Tremblay (Surrey South) and Bill Marshall (Surrey-White Rock), neither of whom took attended.
Among the five not-invited candidates in the two ridings, independent Tom Bryant handed out campaign material before the event started and Surrey South independent Peter Njenga set up a table at the side of the room.
PH2H former chairman Neil Fernyhough moderated the event. Only two candidates – one BC Liberal and one New Democrat – were allowed to respond to each question. Questions were created by the co-sponsors and taken from the audience.
Candidates from both parties agreed more needs to be done on affordable housing, however they sometimes disagreed on what action should take place.
MLA hopefuls were asked if their parties would change legislation to give municipalities the power to zone specifically for rental accommodation.
“The answer is yes,” Patsicakis said, noting municipalities and the province need to work together to make more land available for rental housing. She then promoted the NDP’s plan to create 114,000 rental, social and co-op housing units over 10 years.
Cadieux responded that although municipalities cannot zone for rental housing, they can – through bylaws – force developers to allocate a portion of construction to rental housing.
“I’m not sure that a switch to a rental zone is the way to go. There still has to be an economic reason for a developer to be willing to put the money into building those places, to invest the money to then be able to rent them out,” Cadieux said.
Representatives from the Fraser Regional Aboriginal Friendship Centre Association attended to question candidates on what their parties can do to support youth aging out of government care. The question had a preamble outlining the work the association has done over the past year, and a background on the challenges facing indigenous communities.
Silveira responded by saying the provincial government needs to work with federal and municipal governments to support aboriginal people.
“I find it shameful that… Canada, being such a rich country, the lack of respect given to indigenous communities here. Some of them not even having clean drinking water,” Silveira said.
“I think we have to work with all levels of government, federal and municipal, to make sure that aboriginal communities are not neglected.”
Redies said she agreed that more can be done, noting she’s “not a big believer” in the government allocating more funding to the issue.
“That is the solution sometimes, but I also think that what we should do is figure out how do we lift people out of dependence into independence.”
Redies suggested the provincial government should have “strong consultations with the aboriginal communities to find out what the specific needs are for their communities to help their youth and deal with it on that basis. I think, on general terms, our programs are not helping the youth as much as we need them to.”
PH2H chairman and Gracepoint Community Church lead pastor Rick Bayer said he was encouraged by not only the size of the crowd, but by its diversity.
“It was a cross-section, I’d say, of residents who live in South Surrey and White Rock. You had the whole spectrum. You had people there who were very well off and living well. And there are some people who are part of our Sunday night community dinner here who are the working poor, marginalized and borderline homeless themselves and sort of everything between,” Bayer said.
A list of all candidates in Surrey can be found here.