About 150 people turned out for their last opportunity to hear from White Rock’s political hopefuls en masse.
Sponsored by First United Church, Peninsula Homeless to Housing Round Table and South Fraser Women’s Services Society, the Nov. 9 meeting put three questions to candidates, on issues of affordable housing, food security and living wage.
Asked about the Affordable Housing Strategy and how they would enhance it to ensure the needs of the city’s lowest-income citizens are met, mayoral candidates Larry Anschell and Wayne Baldwin both expressed disappointment that it is still just a draft document; mayoral candidate Lynne Sinclair, – an incumbent councillor – cited pride in the report and said the first step to enhancing the plan is to put it in place.
Council candidates’ suggestions for improvement ranged from using permissive tax exemptions to redeploy resources (Brad Forster) and putting city staff on the street to identify those who are challenged (Steven Hughes), to boosting discussion of the issue (Dave Chesney and incumbent Helen Fathers), moving on the strategies outlined (incumbent Grant Meyer) and venturing outside of the Official Community Plan (Louise Hutchinson).
Incumbent Al Campbell, noting the strategy will be enacted next year, said the city is already moving to improve the situation.
Candidates were then asked if they would commit to adopting a living-wage policy for city staff and contractors.
Sinclair said she would not support such a policy, but as a councillor had “championed” an increase to minimum wage; Anschell said the policy should be “more clearly defined”; and Baldwin noted New Westminster already has the policy.
Barry Belec and Meyer supported adopting a living-wage policy; Forster and Cliff Annable opposed the move; and Hughes described it as “a valid principle” that relies on the three levels of government working together. Fathers questioned how small-business owners would pay such a wage – $18-plus an hour – and how the city would enforce it.
Chesney endorsed the policy in principle, but would not commit to bringing it in, citing a problem with politicians who make promises they can’t keep. Wood questioned the cost; Hutchinson said concern should focus on minimum wage; and Campbell noted he supports a living wage in his own business.
The final question, which focused on food security, drew suggestions from Anschell of creating a food co-op and using road ends and the like for community gardens. Baldwin suggested adding greenhouses to the mix; Sinclair stressed the importance of teaching children about food sustainability.
Belec said education is the solution; Meyer said priority for community-garden use should go to those without yards. Chesney said a food-bank farm, like one in Surrey, “makes perfect sense.”
Campbell said supporting the food bank makes better sense. Annable agreed, noting the food bank can buy $3 worth of food with every $1 donated.
Larry Robinson suggested programs such as Regina’s Chili for Children and those that feed breakfast to homeless people are doable in White Rock.
Hutchinson suggested a “sharing-shelf” concept, whereby those who have can share with those in need; Wood pointed to a need to better use the city’s wasted space, such as flat roofs and vacant lots.
Bruce McWilliam suggested encouraging social conscience among those in corporate settings, and for the city to forego Christmas parties.
Incumbent Mary-Wade Anderson did not attend, as she had meetings for city business. She said Thursday she was “quite bereft” at not being able to get there, and further upset that attendees did not pass on her apologies for her absence.
Election day is Nov. 19.