Over the summer, I have met with hundreds of you, and talked about your concerns.
In those coffee conversations, community gatherings, meetings, and even at the local grocery store, issues about safety and crime echoed loud and clear.
And there are things being done about it.
Recent news celebrated the fact that open drug use is no longer legal within 15 meters of playgrounds, skate parks or splash parks. This was something I and my BC United colleagues had asked for since decriminalization was brought in by the B.C. government in January.
The Kelowna Mayor Tom Dyas has initiated a task force on community crime and is trying to find practical solutions for the crime we see on our streets. This task force is a group of uniquely equipped concerned citizens, like former RCMP officers, retired justice employees and non-profit executive directors.
Last week was a bad one for crime on the streets of B.C., as we heard about three people who were stabbed at the Light Up Chinatown Festival (in Vancouver).
The system has failed us, and something has to change.
The premier announced a retired police chief, Bob Rich, has been hired to conduct a study to see why this happened. While we await yet another report to tell us what we already know, B.C. United, led by Kevin Falcon, released our action plan to restore public safety in B.C.
Falcon calls the plan, United for a Safer B.C. He made the following comment, which rings true because I have heard similar sentiments from the people I met with this summer.
“Under the NDP, the system is not working for anyone except criminals, while law-abiding citizens are no longer able to enjoy public parks and amenities or, in many cases, even walk in the streets without fear. Enough is enough. It is time for decisive change that balances compassion and consequences, and puts community safety ahead of a criminal’s right to re-offend. Together with our ‘Better is Possible’ mental health and addictions plan announced earlier this year, BC United’s public safety plan will deliver that change.”
So here are a few of the key initiatives found in the BC United Safer B.C. plan:
Aggressively fill the vacancies
The most resonant note in our plan is bolstering our local police force. This ambitious proposal seeks to recruit 500 new officers across the province. Breaking that down, for Kelowna, that translates to more trained eyes ensuring safety in our favourite spots: our parks, lakefront, and local businesses.
But it's not just about numbers. It’s about efficacy, dedication, and community understanding. We propose attractive incentives such as hiring bonuses and housing allowances to ensure we’re not just getting more police, but we’re attracting dedicated, community-minded individuals.
End the government’s decriminalization pilot
Our vision reflects a two-pronged approach to drugs—firmness coupled with empathy. We suggest moving away from the government’s broader decriminalization framework. The objective is to ensure beloved public spaces, from our City Park to the serene stretches of Waterfront Park, remain family-friendly and free from open drug use.
However, and this is crucial, there’s a deep vein of compassion running through this proposal. Instead of a simplistic jail-or-nothing approach, there's a strong emphasis on rehabilitation. The idea is to provide those battling addiction with pathways to healing and recovery. Such an approach not only addresses the immediate issue but ensures that, long term, we’re nurturing a community where individuals can overcome their battles and find their place constructively within our city's tapestry.
Craft a plan of accountability, while fostering community
Our plan resonates with the ethos that every action has consequences. Whether it's an unfortunate bike theft or an act of vandalism, these aren't mere statistics; they impact real lives, our lives. The drive is towards ensuring that no offence, however minor, slips through the cracks. The proposal emphasizes community service and other restorative actions that, in my belief, could further galvanize the bond of our Kelowna community.
In conclusion, the roadmap Falcon laid out is both comprehensive and attuned to local needs. While policies and plans will always have their mix of supporters and detractors, the overarching aim here is undeniable—a safer, united and thriving Kelowna.
The residents of Kelowna deserve to feel safe. And just like the Mayor’s Task Force on Crime Reduction, it’s time to try new initiatives.
My question to you is this:
What do you want the provincial government to do to restore public safety?
I love hearing from you and read every email. Please email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.
Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.