The six candidates seeking the city’s top job answered questions put forward by the public on Wednesday night.
A standing-room-only crowd packed the upper level of the Prince George Public Library’s Bob Harkins branch to hear from Prince George’s mayoral candidates, while others watched a livestream of the forum from a second seating area on the library’s main floor.
Adam Hyatt, Terri McConnachie, Lisa Mitchell, Roy Stewart, Chris Wood and Simon Yu were asked to weigh in on topics including how to tackle the social issues downtown, manage city spending, support affordability housing, build a vision for downtown and address truth and reconciliation with the city’s Indigenous population.
DOWNTOWN, HOMELESSNESS AND DRUGS
Hyatt spoke about his four-point plan to address the city’s social issues: converting the provincial youth correctional facility to a drug treatment centre, investing in supportive housing, increasing RCMP foot patrols downtown and creating employment opportunities for vulnerable people in the city’s workforce.
“Housing works,” he said. “It costs about $30,000 to house people and provide essential services.”
The city needs to reinvest in its existing civic infrastructure downtown, he added.
“I’m a performing artist. I’d love a performing arts centre, but we can’t afford it,” Hyatt said.
McConnachie said as mayor, tackling the city’s downtown social issues would be top priority.
“We have one of the highest numbers of people who are dying on our streets from the poison drug supply. Businesses are also scared and hurting, as are our residents,” she said. “We need housing first.”
She would like to see a new multi-use convention, arts and sports venue built downtown in the area around the Prince George Conference and Civic Centre, but would like the issue to be decided by referendum.
Mitchell said she wants to get Prince George back to being a place “where we can go downtown, take our families.” The downtown needs to be cleaned up, not new expensive capital projects.
“It’s not an easy solution. The business owners, they are being really failed,” Mitchell said. “We have to have tough love. We need to stop enabling people.”
Stewart said if elected, he would work with mayors across the province to lobby the province for more treatment facilities for drug addictions and mental health issues, and increase RCMP patrols day and night.
“We have so many services in the downtown to enable drug users to continue to be drug users,” he said.
He would support the creation of a performing arts centre downtown to help bring more people and foot traffic into the city core, and support area businesses.
Wood, on the other hand, wants to decentralize the businesses in the city’s core by offering up to $40,000 in city-backed loans to help businesses relocate out of the downtown. Once those businesses have moved, the available land would be free for housing projects.
Wood also advocated for additional outreach workers and gathering information to help quantify the number of people who are homeless in the city.
“We need to measure the problem,” he said.
Yu said housing is the solution, and with his background as an engineer he’s the person to get housing projects built successfully.
“They need a home. They need a place to sleep,” Yu said.
He’d also work with other levels of government and promote youth programs to engage young people in healthy, positive lifestyles and avoid falling into addiction. In addition, more planning is needed to create a long-term vision for downtown and the community as a whole.
CITY SPENDING AND TRANSPARENCY
Hyatt said there needs to be accountability at city hall, when projects run over budget or miss deadlines.
“There are only two jobs where you can get things wrong every day and still have a job: the City of Prince George and the weather channel,” Hyatt said. “We need to focus on the must-haves.”
McConnachie said as mayor, she’d look to abolish the city’s finance and audit committee and instead have all financial matters brought before a committee of the whole, ‘bringing that accountability to mayor and council.”
Mitchell said she’d take a back to basics approach.
“It’s not a matter of what we want, but what we need,” she said.
Stewart said in his law practice, he’s dealt with cost management of construction projects many times.
“We need to change the procurement processes and policies of the city,” Stewart said. “We have to ensure the business of the city is transparent to the taxpayers.”
Wood said he’d like to see video cameras brought into all city meetings, so the business of the city is recorded, available online and open to the public.
Proper project management starts with decision making, Yu said.
“The first big question is ‘should we build this in the first place?’” he said.
In the case of the new Canfor Leisure Pool being built downtown, Yu said he would rather have seen two smaller pools built in the Hart and College Heights to provide greater access to the community.
But if a project is to proceed, the city needs to undertake thorough project management, he added.
All the candidates for mayor and city council will be back in action at Canfor Theatre at UNBC on Saturday (Oct. 1) at 1 p.m. for a general all-candidates forum hosted by the Citizen, UNBC, the Prince George Public Library and CKPG.
For more details, and information about additional upcoming election forums and events, check out all the Citizen’s coverage of the 2022 civic election.
Yu said several times during the forum that he attended a residential school.
In an email, Yu said he attended Prince George College, later renamed O’Grady Catholic High School, from 1975 to 1977. Students who attended Prince George College were not eligible for a settlement, under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.