City council candidates Everett Baker and Ian Mitchell met via Zoom at a chamber of commerce forum Tuesday evening, Nov. 17.
Moderator Hendrik van Wyk put questions to each candidate ranging from economic development and spending priorities to BC Housing’s proposed supportive housing facility on 2nd Street. The meeting ran within the one-hour time limit set by the Boundary Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, drawing roughly 60 online viewers, van Wyk said.
The candidates offered broadly similar responses to some of the eight topics covered. Each said he valued volunteerism and the contributions of the local business community.
Grand Forks’ heritage was a civic priority, they agreed.
The candidates disagreed, sometimes fundamentally, on supportive housing and taxation.
Baker said he would oppose plans by BC Housing to run a supportive housing facility on 2nd Street.
“It would be absolutely devastating to our businesses downtown,” he said, adding that the agency’s
The agency, which owns the property in question, has committed in principle to a facility that would be “too large and not in the right location.”
Baker said he was not opposed to the idea of supportive housing, but that a “housing first” approach wasn’t viable absent what he called “wrap-around” supports for mental health, including addiction.
Grand Forks needs “a grass roots solution,” rather than a “cookie-cutter approach proven not to work in bigger communities,” he said.
Mitchell said that he would support the agency’s supportive housing facility on 2nd Street.
“Wherever supportive housing goes in, I’d want to make sure it was well-planned and well-run,” he said, noting Boundary Family Services’ previous successes operating winter shelters in the community.
“I do have to disagree with Everett in terms of the housing-first model,” he said, insisting that people experiencing homelessness are better able to re-integrate into society when they have safe, secure housing.
“It’s the first step to recovery.”
The candidates differed more subtly in their approach to the municipal budget. Baker said that he would back a referendum on a loan he said would be necessary to raise civic revenues without raising taxes.
Mitchell said he would push for careful “asset management” of Grand Forks’ aging infrastructure, adding that he might prefer a cost-savings approach to a loan.
On the topic of inter-governmental co-operation, it wasn’t clear if the candidates agreed or disagreed. Mitchell seemed at first not to have a clear position at all.
Asked how he would work with provincial and federal governments to “make sure Grand Forks got its slice of the pie,” Mitchell joked that the city had “a friend in high places,” seeming to suggest MLA elect-Roly Russell (NDP, Boundary-Similkameen).
A long paused followed, with Mitchell admitting he’d “lost my train of thought.” “I gapped there,” he continued, his clock audibly running down.
Baker said he was fortunate to have had the experience of cultivating relationships with provincial and federal ministers.
“I’ve walked that walk already,” he said.
Revisiting the topic in his closing remarks, Mitchell said, “the reason I flubbed that question was so that I could demonstrate what it’s like to bounce back.”
He would co-operate across different levels of government, he said, by employing the same career skills he hoped to bring to council: compassion, empathy and respect.
Baker lamented in his closing statement that Grand Forks was not the same town he and his family moved to more than 15 years ago. He would be “a strong voice” at council that would “not tolerate” what he said had become a wanton drug culture, with “open drug use on the streets.”
“I will be that voice,” he said.
General polls open in Grand Forks’ council byelection Saturday, December 5.