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Province must do more on crime, mental health: Nanaimo mayor

Addressing criminal behaviour that flows from drug addiction is a priority for many Nanaimo residents, re-elected Mayor Leonard Krog said in his inaugural address and swearing-in ceremony
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Mayor Leonard Krog gives his speech after the new Nanaimo council was sworn in on Monday. VIA CITY OF NANAIMO

Nanaimo’s newly re-elected mayor has a message for incoming B.C. premier David Eby: The mental-health crisis and crime on the streets are top concerns for many of the city’s residents.

“They are moved by compassion for the obvious and significant mental health crisis that exists in our streets [and] the criminal behaviour that flows through drug addiction,” Leonard Krog said this week in his inaugural address and swearing-in ceremony at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.

The number of people without housing in Nanaimo has grown in recent years, with an increasing number of people suffering from mental illness and addictions visible on city streets.

Four years ago, the city had the largest tent city in the province.

It’s not a problem any municipal government can fix, said Krog, adding he is “hopeful and optimistic” that Eby’s NDP government can have an impact.

Krog said the city, with a population of about 100,000 residents, is one of the five fastest-growing regions in the country.

New and existing residents have been slammed by the high cost of housing, which has been tempered recently as interest rates have gone up.

Krog said he understands that growth can be difficult. “I’m old enough to remember a quiet little Nanaimo where Commercial Street was our high street and Eaton’s was a big deal.”

But good relations with Snuneymuxw First Nation were lacking and there was racism in what was then a “coal town,” he said. “It was a place you came from. It was not a place you came to.”

That’s no longer the case, said Krog. He said the city has been discovered, pointing to a high number of building permits issued in the first half of this year and Nanaimo’s economic progress. The Vancouver Island Conference Centre will help attract business to the city, with a new hotel underway next door, he said.

“Welcome every tourist who comes to Nanaimo, every conventioneer because we need their money to make this place work properly and boost the tourism sector, which has taken such a horrible hit.”

The pandemic devastated B.C.’s tourism sector, as well as other industries.

Nanaimo also has a “wonderful public education” system, including Vancouver Island University, he said.

The eight councillors include newcomers Hilary Eastmure. Janice Perrino and former Green Party MP Paul Manly, and returning councillors Erin Hemmens, Ian Thorpe, Tyler Brown, Ben Geselbracht and Sheryl Armstrong.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com