The four mayoralty candidates agreed on one thing Thursday night – they were generally OK with the way Maple Ridge was responding to the looming legalization of marijuana.
Ernie Daykin said he liked the fact that council is limiting the number of retail pot stores downtown, but is concerned about kids accessing the drug.
“I think we need to protect these kids.
“We have to be careful. We’re going to be responsible for regulation and enforcement and bearing a lot of those costs.”
Michael Morden compared marijuana to alcohol and also supported council’s approach which calls for a minimum distance of one kilometre separating recreational pot stores within commercial zones.
“Credit where credit is due to this council because they’ve taken a cautious approach,” said Morden.
But safety for the kids is important, as well as safety of the product, and council needs to figure out what the costs of enforcement are, he added.
Coun. Craig Speirs said legalization is coming and reiterated council’s decision on separating pot stores, adding that the marijuana industry is a good job generator.
“There’s a lot of pretty good growers here, I know that for a fact,” Speirs said. “It’s an industry that’s going to be legal, three days before the election. Let’s not be shy, let’s reach for it.”
Doug Blamey, though, said marijuana will make people lazy and not creative.
“It’s got its side effects, as well as its good effects. So I’m kind of neutral on it.”
The candidates for mayor of Maple Ridge were at the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Chamber of Commerce mayoralty debate, held in St. George Church.
About 300 people packed into the church to hear candidates answer questions submitted by the chamber.
Candidates were peppered with questions submitted earlier to the chamber, which focused on Maple Ridge’s future and how to manage growth.
“First up, we have to stop burdening residential taxpayers,” said Morden.
He said there should be incentives for commercial growth to improve downtown, noting that seven stores in Haney Place Mall are currently empty.
“Why is that happening? We’ve got a lot of criminal activity in the downtown core,” Morden said.
He said he wants Maple Ridge’s downtown plan changed.
“The official community plan says we have to develop our downtown first and we’ve got to do it, and we’ve got to get it right.”
The city’s official community plan, which focuses growth in the urban area, has to be honoured, but he added that “we need to massively increase our commercial tax base.”
Speirs said the city needs to fill in the gaps in its infrastructure, without doing it at property taxpayer’s expense. He said the next council will have a “delicious dilemma” – because it currently has about $5.5 million that, so far, has been raised by council’s implementation of new community amenity charges, paid by developers, as well as higher development cost charges.
He cited the recreation projects already underway and said both encouraging the arts and growth of tourism will spur economic growth in Maple Ridge and renewed his call for a new museum.
“Our museum is sub par, to be generous.”
He said that enhancing the arts scene in Maple Ridge is an “economic driver. The arts pay big time.”
He called the city a “diamond in the rough” with its tourism attractions close to a Metro Vancouver population of about a million people.
Daykin, though, said it’s not a matter of if Maple Ridge will grow, but how it will grow and called for better transit to give people options in commuting.
The issue of homeless provoked relatively little discussion.
Speirs, who voted for the supportive housing complex earlier this year proposed for Burnett Street, said it was “horrible” to lump all homeless people as addicted.
“Anger and hate never cured anything,” said Speirs. “We’ve had three proposals [for shelters] knocked down.”
“We’re not going to get anywhere until we have peace on our streets,” Speirs said.
Morden said he would work to “ensure that our laws are enforced equally, to protect our neighbourhoods and businesses from the crime that’s taking place. I will work with senior governments to close [Anita Place Tent City] down and get people the help they need.”
Daykin had a similar view: “I want to see those in the camp housed and supported with treatment and the health care they sorely need. And it’s not just about housing, we all know that.”
Daykin added that if a mayoralty candidate says they’ll direct law enforcement, “Well, they’re wrong. The RCMP does not take direction from the mayor and council.”
But he said he wanted to work with police to ensure a return of “a feeling of safety in Maple Ridge.”
Candidates were also asked how they would provide leadership and what would be their first task if elected.
Speirs said he takes issues seriously, but himself lightly, saying he never holds grudges against others for their stance on issues and said he listens to the “quiet voices” on issues, instead of the loudest ones.
Morden cited his running three businesses and his former leadership of the chamber of commerce.
“Leadership skills are definitely learned over time,” he said.
“I’m a strong, relationship guy. I have two ears and one mouth for a reason,” added Daykin. “It’s building bridges, not burning bridges.”
At the end of a debate, people should be able to shake hands, he said.
If elected, candidates said they had a range of tasks that would be first on their to-do list.
Morden said he’d push for a strategic plan to guide council and staff.
“We’ve watched poor performance for four years.”
Daykin said council would discuss how to interact with respect.
“There’s a theme here and it’s all about relationships.”
Speirs said he’d ensure new councillors get “in-depth” orientation to local government. He didn’t describe council as a team, but instead as “collaborators” that cooperate on issues.
Blamey said he’d first get the RCMP to investigate several unsolved murders that have occurred in Maple Ridge over the years.
Daykin said council seems fractured and not cohesive.
“In the four years since I’ve been off council, I’ve seen our community become polarized and divided and that makes me incredibly sad.”