It’s become one of the main issues in the Kelowna mayoral election campaign—dealing with a growing sense that safety downtown is deteriorating.
The four men running for mayor tackled the issue head-on Tuesday night in the first debate of the campaign that saw them address each other directly on the issue.
And, as expected, incumbent Mayor Colin Basran and his three challengers, Tom Dyas, Bob Schewe and Bobby Kennedy had different takes on the current state of downtown and what is being done to address the problem.
“I am a business owner in the downtown core and over the last four years I’ve been seeing this get worse and worse,” said Kennedy, Kennedy runs a skateboard shop on Pandosy Street and said: “It’s absolutely imperative we start doing something.”
He said the attack of a woman in the area last Friday night is just the latest example of problems in the area.
Basran said a key is making sure there are resources available for the police and bylaw officers, noting the city has added 18 more RCMP officers and seven more bylaw officers in the last four years, as well as hiring private security to patrols areas of the downtown.
“It’s a balance between enforcement and making sure people have a sense of safety,” he said.
And he said the city’s Journey Home strategy to not only address homelessness but try and get more support services for those on the street will also help.
But Dyas accused the current city administration of not addressing the situation downtown properly over the last four years, claiming the business community offered its help but was shut out.
“We wanted to talk, we wanted to help but the door was shut on us,” said Dyas, a former president of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce.
He said he believes what’s needed is a return of RCMP auxiliary officers to the area, more involvement by the faith community in the city and neighbourhood associations, as well as the city advocating for a return of community courts.
“If we do not address the problem what is going to happen is that the business that are down in that area are going to leave,” said Dyas.
Basran countered, saying the removal of auxiliary offers was a provincial decision not a city one, as the situation has become more complex with addiction and mental health issues church groups have found themselves not trained to deal with problems and that why the city is employing a strategy of enforcement and help.
He said a key is getting people off the streets and into treatment programs, and that’s where the Journey Home strategy will help.
“It’s about making meaningful change,” said Basran.
Kennedy challenged the incumbent mayor on the issue, saying over the last four years it appears the city’s answer has been to simply to add more enforcement.
He characterized city bylaw officers as “super expensive alarm clocks” because he feels all they do is roust the homeless first thing in the morning if they have been sleeping in city parks.
“We’ve put more and more money to police. Maybe we should put more money to prevention,” he said.
Basran said the reason the city is implementing the Journey Home strategy is so it will not have to keep hiring more police and bylaw officers.
And, in response to Dyas’s criticisms, he noted the Chamber of Commerce, under Dyas’s leadership, supported the Journey Home strategy and signed off on it.
Dyas said while he thinks the strategy is excellent, it does nothing in the immediate term.
Schewe, a retired city bylaw officer, has made public safety one of this main election campaign themes.
He said he believes there are two type of people living on the streets in Kelowna—those who want to work and get into programs that will help them and those who prey on other more vulnerable individuals. He characterized the latter as drug dealers, pimps and thieves.
He said they must be shown they are not welcome in the city.
You can watch the entire debate, which was streamed live on the Capital News website, at kelownacapnews.com.
The civic election is October 20.
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