Mental health and addiction supports are on the radar for the next mayor and council, according to the four mayoral candidates who spoke at an all-candidates meeting Tuesday morning.
The Oct. 2 meeting was hosted by Tsawwassen’s Little House Society, a recovery centre for people with addictions, and focused on what Delta needs when it comes to mental health and addiction resources. Candidates were given packages before the all-candidates meeting outlining some of the work the Little House Society has done, as well as public information on drug addiction and mental health in the community.
Candidates Moneca Kolvyn, George Harvie (Achieving for Delta), Sylvia Bishop (Team Delta) and Jim Cessford (Independents Working for You) were all present at the debate. Independent candidates Vytas Vaitkus and Alex Megalos were not.
Candidates were asked whether mental health, alcohol and substance abuse were relevant issues in Delta, and what their opinion was on the current levels of service being offered to residents. All four of the candidates felt mental health and addiction were key issues to the city.
“Everyone here is saying that this is a problem and we need to do something,” Harvie said. “We can’t just keep this underground.”
Harvie suggested that communication was important in beginning to solve these issues, but so was revenue. He brought up his previous pledge to use casino revenue to finance local organizations to provide mental health and addiction services to Delta.
Cessford opened his speech by saying that seven young people he had coached through sports have now died due to drug issues.
“This is a very serious issue for me,” he said.
He spoke about the difficulties of helping people who have issues with mental health and drug addiction at the same time, and said “there’s a lot of work to do” to create a better situation for these people in Delta.
Both Harvie and Cessford touched on the need to get a recovery facility in Delta, something they both expanded on in later questions. Harvie wants to get a long-term recovery centre in Delta, one that was not only partnership-based but also affordable, as not everyone could afford to travel to use long-term addiction services.
Cessford wants a detox facility that would be open 24-hours a day for those in need.
Kolvyn also spoke about the need for a recovery centre, but said it needed to be a provincially-organized facility, set up somewhere where land is cheaper, like Hope.
“I would love to see a world-class facility a little bit out of town that’s easily accessible,” she said. This facility would help break down barriers to care between communities, she said.
Bishop did not specifically mention recovery centres for the city, but did have similar comments to Harvie about funding. She noted the questions candidates were asked are the same that people were asking 30 years ago; although gains had been made in helping those with mental health issues and addiction, more could still be done.
She brought up her previously announced plan to use casino revenues to create incentives for doctors to come to Delta, which she said would be a first step in helping those with addictions.
“I think we can do more, and we can do better,” she said.
Kolvyn pulled from her experience living in Denmark, saying that addictions need to be looked at all together, not separately. She called out Harvie and Bishop for using money from the casino — money from gambling addictions, as she put it — and said Delta needs some fresh ideas for dealing with mental health and addiction issues.
Her “fresh ideas” include creating a single advocacy group of people who are working with these issues every day, and bringing their vision to council.
Other questions at the meeting were largely focused around Delta’s Social Profile and Social Action Plan, created by city social planner Gillian McLeod. The Social Profile, released in February 2017, outlined the strengths and weaknesses in Delta’s social services. The Social Action Plan, released in the fall of 2017, outlined some of the possible next steps for the city.
Bishop, in her discussion on what the next steps for Delta might be, suggested that the Social Action Plan has provided a way forward for the city. She said mayor and council would need to begin communications with service providers in Delta to make sure everyone knew what the others offered, and then move to communications with at-risk populations, followed by the general public.
She also noted that the provincial government has a new minister of mental health and addictions, and that the ministry has earmarked $170 million for treatment and recovery for addictions and mental health. She said she would work to secure some of that funding for Delta.
Harvie also reiterated his commitment to bring more stable finances to service providers in Delta, saying that “it’s time Delta put more funding in this area.”
“This is not just about money,” he said. “This is about people being committed to solving the problem.”
He called out Bishop for looking to the Social Action Plan, saying: “If we have a plan, it’s not working.”
He said there needs to be a better plan that will be implemented right away. Bishop then called Cessford out, saying that the Social Profile was written based on input from community groups and “was time well spent.”
The questions ended with each candidate being asked how long they feel it would take for them to implement changes to how Delta treats mental health or addiction issues.
Kolvyn said it would take her six months, based on her experience as a business owner.
“You don’t have a choice to spend a lot of time fixing,” she said, using her past experience dealing with addicted employees as an example. “You have to address it immediately.”
Harvie was more modest with his goals, saying he would bring up these issues when the new council was sworn in at the beginning of November to make sure funds could be established for service groups, and would make the creation of a recovery facility a priority during his term in office.
Cessford and Bishop didn’t give exact timelines in their answers. Cessford said he would start working on these issues “from day one,” but didn’t give a completion time. Bishop said the current plan wasn’t moving fast enough, and that there needed to be the will to get it done from the mayor and city manager.