Rental housing, Residential Tenancy Act reform, and the future of St Paul’s Hospital were among the topics highlighted at the Vancouver-West End candidates’ debate, April 25.
The debate, held at the Central Presbyterian Church, attracted approximately 100 community members.
Other topics such as education, seniors’ care, childcare, economic sustainability and community amenity space were also discussed under the theme Affordability and the West End.
Five candidates participated in the debate: incumbent NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert; Liberal Scott Harrison; the Green Party’s Jodie Emery; the Workless Party’s Mathew Kegis; and then-Conservative Ron Herbert.
Herbert was fired by the Conservatives three days later, allegedly for using misogynist terms to describe Premier Christy Clark and Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin on social media. In a subsequent interview with Xtra, Herbert declined to discuss the reasons for his dismissal. He is now running as an independent, “small c” conservative in the same riding.
As the April 25 debate got underway, one community member asked candidates to stand up if they live in the West End. Chandra Herbert was the only candidate to stand.
The candidates were then asked which three issues they consider paramount to West End residents.
Ron Herbert listed housing, transportation and crime among the Conservative Party’s most important priorities for the neighbourhood.
Kegis listed housing costs, food security and the public expansion of community space for the Workless Party.
Harrison said more downtown schools, investment in social housing and the redevelopment of St Paul’s are priorities for the BC Liberals.
“We’ve got to the point now that we have a premier that finally is listening to the downtown and the redevelopment there,” he said.
“We have a project board, which means they are designing it, which means they can price it so we have a good idea of what it actually costs,” he continued. “They just need to get the design down first.”
“We do need to renew St Paul’s Hospital,” Chandra Herbert agreed. “Unfortunately, despite what the Liberal government has said, there is no money in the budget as we see it right now.
“We need to rebuild that hospital so it is seismically safe,” he said.
In addition to redeveloping St Paul’s, Chandra Herbert said the government should also provide more home care. “We had to advocate for so many people who have been cut off home care. We need to increase investment in home care.”
People also need to feel secure in their homes, Chandra Herbert continued, pointing to what he considers to be needed changes to the Residential Tenancy Act.
“I don’t question what the number-one priority for me is — and that’s affordability and fixing the Residential Tenancy Act,” he said. “We’ve had too many of our neighbours lose their homes, too many people illegally evicted through use of loopholes to push them out of their housing.
“I’ve introduced two private member’s bills in the legislature, which could have been passed had the Liberal government decided that it was a priority,” he continued.
Had the bills passed, they could have prohibited “renovictions” and landlords’ ability to hike rents up to 73 percent, he said.
Kegis agreed that the act needs work. “You wait two or three months before you can speak to someone at the Residential Tenancy Board. We need to staff that properly so that people can have their complaints dealt with in a timely fashion,” he said.
Kegis also called for electoral reform.
“We need bottom-up democracy,” he said. “We need easier access to recall if someone who is voted in isn’t doing their job. We need simple, accessible, horizontal, democratic systems put in place here in BC so that people’s voices are what are heard and not a representative’s voice.”
Emery agreed and called for fresh voices and faces in government.
“We need some better representation. Nobody sees fairness and accountability, and we desperately need accountability,” she said. “The Green Party believes in empowering our MLAs to speak for the people.”
“Trade is important,” Harrison reminded constituents. “It generates the wealth and pays for the things we need, and keeping our credit rating is important because it keeps our interest rates down so we have more options.”
Chandra Herbert said it’s been an “incredible privilege” to serve his constituents.
“Some days are challenging,” he said. “But it is a privilege because working to better your neighbourhood with your neighbours — what could be better than that?
“We’ve achieved a lot together,” he continued. “We’ve stood strong with those renters who’ve faced evictions. We’ve stood against homelessness and we’ve reduced homelessness.”
Christine Ackermann, executive director of the West End Residents Association, which co-organized the debate, applauded Chandra Herbert’s commitment to affordable rentals and a more balanced Residential Tenancy Act.
“I really appreciated what Spencer had to say about rental reform,” she told Xtra after the debate. “I think that’s absolutely needed in the West End. But I’m very disappointed with what all the other candidates had to say about it.”