The turnout was light on Thursday, March 20 as B.C. Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanenko hosted a community forum for residents of Midway and Greenwood.
The meeting took place at the Midway Community Hall and joining him for the evening were Randy Kappes, Midway mayor, Colleen Lang, Greenwood mayor designate, and Staff Sgt. Jim Harrison, RCMP detachment commander for the Boundary.
Only eight were in the audience, and one of them was Christina Lake resident Margaret Maximenko who hopes to be able to win the party’s nomination when Atamanenko retires at the end of this term of office. Another of the eight in the sparse audience was Maximenko’s driver and road partner, Darwin Benson.
Atamanenko said the next election would happen no later than October 2015, but may happen sooner if Prime Minister Harper should so decide.
Atamanenko began the evening by answering a question he said he is often asked: “Why don’t you ever say anything nice about the Conservative Party?”
His simple answer was because the NDP is the Opposition. But he added that he opposes the majority Conservative government because when he looks at what is happening with the electoral act, free trade, treatment of veterans, agriculture omnibus bill, Canada Post, genetically modified foods, and trade agreements, he isn’t left with any other option than to criticize them.
Harrison gathered congratulations and thanks from all three politicians at the front table for the impressive crime stats for the Boundary which were recently released in his annual report to mayors and councils.
He said he wasn’t going to take credit for it personally; the local RCMP had followed some standard crime reduction techniques that had given good results.
“Eighty per cent of the crime is done by 20 per cent of the criminals,” said Harrison. He said the local police target meth and crack dealers and make sure that probation orders and release conditions are met or the judge sees the same individual the next time court is in session.
Harrison said small communities don’t have the luxury of having support systems in place to offer lifestyle choices to these criminals. “So they are given three choices: stop doing crime, go to jail or leave town.”
He said a lot of credit for the improvement in crime statistics in the West Boundary goes to Cpl. Kevin Christensen, who has been in charge of the Midway detachment since 2010.
Councillor Colleen Lang was representing the City of Greenwood. She had a shopping list of issues to bring to the table—from more funding for victims services, crime prevention and senior housing to giving Canadian troops support. She also pressed for a registry for repeat sexual offenders that would be published in the community where the offender is living when they are released from jail. “Children should not have their lives ripped apart by sexual predators,” insisted Lang.
Other concerns that she brought up were the lack of security at rural community post boxes and criticism of the temporary foreign worker program. “Canadian jobs for Canadians first,” she said.
Midway Mayor Randy Kappes said the root of the problem in rural communities is the rural/urban disconnect. He had some suggestions for the way grants are awarded. “No one wants to stand in line for grants. We in small communities want the opportunity to be self-sufficient and sustainable.”
Kappes also told Atamanenko it is difficult for small towns to meet reporting requirements that are being mandated by senior governments.
One man questioned the accuracy of RCMP statistics, specifically in regards to domestic abuse. “Violence may occur over and over again before it gets reported,” said Darwin Benson.
Harrison agreed that domestic violence is an ongoing problem but said the RCMP works with Victims Services, the Boundary Women’s Transition Centre and others to provide services.
He said one need that has been identified is an appropriate interview room for children in both Grand Forks and the West Boundary and that proceeds of crime funding is being sought to provide the space, furniture and necessary equipment.
Senior income security, fire truck replacement schedules, the lack of a national environmental strategy, foreign aid and concern about the lack of participation at the polls were other issues brought forward from the floor.
Boundary resident Fred Marshall said he feels a national policy is needed that states unequivocally that Canada is a peacekeeping country. He said emphasis should be placed on paying down the national debt and he lamented the closure of the Chilliwack military base. He said it made sense to keep the base open because the military engineers were then available locally to earthquake-prone British Columbia.
Atamanenko took notes and offered in one case to write a letter to a minister on behalf of one constituent.
Since his election eight years ago Atamanenko has regularly hosted meetings in communities throughout his riding in cooperation with MLAs, locally elected officials and other stakeholders involved with issues of concern. He favours the forum format because it provides an opportunity for panelists to briefly address the audience and then the meeting is opened to questions from the floor.
MLA Linda Larson sent her regrets.