By Tim Kalinowski on October 8, 2021.
Four of the six Lethbridge mayoral candidates took part in a Lethbridge Youth Mayoral Forum hosted by the University of Lethbridge Students’ Union on Thursday night.
The forum focused on common concerns in the community held by all residents, including students, in combination with specific questions related to the concerns of students and youth in the community.
Candidates Bridget Mearns, Stephen Mogdan, Sheldon Joseph Day Chief and Gary Klassen said showing up to the forum was important to them because it’s all about trying to increase civic engagement among Lethbridge’s youth, and to make it understood the issues facing young people in the community are important to them.
Moderator Ryan Lindbland, who serves a VP External for the U of L Students’ Union, asked candidates how they would change the perception many youth have that their voices and issues are simply not important to city council and local leaders.
Mogdan said it has to go both ways.
Leaders must seek to engage with youth, but youth also has to get more engaged and attentive to the civic process too, and to speak up loudly for the issues that are important to them.
“I have always thought of this question as a bit of a chicken and egg type thing,” Mogdan said. “Young people tend to feel elected officials don’t care about them, and elected officials often tend to think young residents don’t want to get involved.
“I think the key to this is to find ways to reach out to younger residents,” he added. “It’s easy to say we’ll engage with them and hear what they have to say, and it is then really easy to sort of ignore that and keep moving forward without addressing those concerns. I think that follow up is the key, and what the mayor and city council should demand of themselves.”
Another issue of importance to students and young people in the community is the accessibility of public transit. Candidates were asked if they would support a program similar to UPass for both Lethbridge College and other high schools in the area.
Day Chief had the boldest take on the issue– saying it should not be about funding affordable public transit at the City level, it should be about providing free transit for all who need it.
“I would expand free public transportation for all, residents and non,” he said. “The people who use public transportation either deem it a necessity or an environmental responsibility. They should not be required to pay. This will increase ridership. This will reduce environmental impact, and contribute to reducing traffic on the bridges.”
Candidates were asked about the impact of the opioid crisis in the community, and conflicts around providing some services like harm reduction.
Mearns said the four pillar approach was the only way to come to grips with the opioid crisis as a collaborative and complete community response rather than a piecemeal offering of one service or another which benefits no one at the end of the day.
“It (the SCS) really polarized people on the key issue of harm reduction in Lethbridge,” Mearns stated. “Whether there is a facility like the supervised consumption site or the overdose prevention site, which it is called now, that’s a provincial and federal decision. But to tackle the opioid crisis in Lethbridge will require all levels of government and the community to work together from a place of collaboration and not confrontation. Harm reduction is only one of four pillars of a drug strategy, and it is evidence-based approach to drug policy.
“Evidence shows if managed correctly they save lives, they connect people to services, and it serves as a pathway to treatment,” she added. “So it is something that is needed in Lethbridge. We have to move beyond the stigma of debate around the supervised consumption site and harm reduction, and move forward with a community-based approach and implement and integrate all the pillars of the strategy, which is prevention, recovery and rehabilitation, harm reduction and enforcement.”
Candidates were asked about the Mustard Seed’s attempts to bring supportive housing and a dry shelter to the community. Klassen said dealing with drug dealers more strongly and getting people off the streets into supportive and transitional housing were the keys to addressing the city’s growing crime and loitering problems.
“The idea of the Mustard Seed is to do transitional housing, and help people get into housing rather than have to be on the streets or be in low income,” he stated. “The Mustard Seed, to me, is a great idea, and I think being mayor that it’s a good thing to really be checking out. The only thing is what happens is people really don’t want it in their neighbourhoods. I don’t really see a problem with it because other cities have the Mustard Seed, and it is going well. And they seem to be doing very well with that. And I think we would too.”
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