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Maple Ridge mayor says province is ‘taking voice away’ from local voters

Click to play video 'Focus BC: Friday, March 29, 2019' Focus BC: Friday, March 29, 2019
WATCH: Richard Zussman talks to Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden and more on Focus BC for Friday, March 29 – Mar 29, 2019

Maple Ridge mayor Mike Morden says the provincial government is taking the city’s voice away in a fight over housing the homeless.

But the provincial government says the province is stepping in to ensure those that need help getting housed get help.

“We are really concerned about the fact that municipal government here is having its voice taken away,” Morden said on Focus BC. “We are essentially taking the local government act of the provinces [and] tearing it up on a whim when they see fit here, because they think they know best.”

READ MORE: Housing minister decries ‘frustrating’ pace of housing in Maple Ridge, points to ‘roadblocks’

The B.C. government recently announced a plan to house some of the city’s homeless in a 51-unit supportive housing complex on Burnett Street, just off the Lougheed Highway. The residents have been living in the community’s controversial Anita Place.

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Morden’s council has voted against the provincial project over concerns of drug use in previous modular housing units.

“I know what the people are dealing with on the ground,” Morden said.

“What is happening here is we are not going to house ourselves out of a fentanyl problem. We welcome housing investments to solve solving problems but not serious addiction problems.”

WATCH (aired March 21): Province bypasses city to build supportive housing in Maple Ridge

Click to play video 'Province bypasses city to build supportive housing in Maple Ridge' Province bypasses city to build supportive housing in Maple Ridge
Province bypasses city to build supportive housing in Maple Ridge – Mar 21, 2019

The B.C. government insists that a vast majority of communities in the province have embraced the rapid response homelessness program and have requested supportive housing to support homeless residents.

According to the province, a few communities have struggled with local opposition. However, even in these cases, all other local governments besides Maple Ridge have worked with their community to support provincial efforts to build supportive housing in their communities.

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On March 20, Housing Minister Selina Robinson announced 51 units of supportive housing would be built on provincially-owned land in Maple Ridge — enough to accommodate all 47 people who, until recently, were living at Anita Place. The province says Maple Ridge council has not come forward with any proposals that would address the housing needs of people at the camp.

WATCH (aired March 2): After years of controversy, Anita Place is finally evacuated by police and Maple Ridge city staff

Click to play video 'After years of controversy, Anita Place is finally evacuated by police and Maple Ridge city staff' After years of controversy, Anita Place is finally evacuated by police and Maple Ridge city staff
After years of controversy, Anita Place is finally evacuated by police and Maple Ridge city staff – Mar 2, 2019

The government says the City of Maple Ridge brought forward a proposal on March 12th that they knew was not workable. City staff were told by BC Housing staff on March 6 that the proposed site couldn’t accommodate any additional units due to the physical restrictions and slope of the site.

“The Minister of Housing, Lisa Beare, Bob D’Eith, the local MLAs, have been working with city council since we formed government,” Premier John Horgan said this week.

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“The homelessness crisis in Maple Ridge predated our arrival in government, and it was a serious challenge, and we’ve been working hard to try and resolve it. We told the mayor and council before they moved a resolution that their suggestion was physically not possible. Staff told their staff. Minister Robinson told the mayor. The mayor didn’t share that information with council.

“We want to make sure that we address homelessness in the community for the safety and well-being of those who don’t have homes, but also for the broader community, who are, quite frankly, tired of the debate about what to do about the homeless camp.

“We need to fix it, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

READ MORE: Province to move ahead with Maple Ridge supportive housing without city’s support

But Morden says this isn’t what the community wants and the province should back off. The Maple Ridge mayor even suggested that he plans on getting other mayors involved to take up the fight over being overruled by the province.

“I think it’s pretty clear [that] the Maple Ridge citizens did vote for what they think is best, but we want to work together. We made strong commitments to do that,” Morden said. “It’s really troubling that we found ourselves here.
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“I’m going to be bringing that forward to every municipal government and British Columbia, because this can’t be happening. This is a time-honoured tradition that we were together and that’s now not the case.”

There is one city councillor in Maple Ridge, Kiersten Duncan, in favour of the province’s modular housing plan.

“Many residents in the community have reached out to me, wanting to express their strong support for the project, but the challenge is they are constantly being intimidated and bullied into silence by a small, select group of vocal residents that oppose the project who use aggressive and malicious tactics to bully anyone who dares disagree with them,” Duncan said.

“It is a very challenging situation when compassionate people are afraid to express their feelings for fear of retaliation.”