Victoria candidates squabble in forum free-for-all

The first all-candidates meeting of the Victoria civic campaign took on a circus-like quality Thursday night with the only clear winner being moderator Gregor Craigie, who managed to keep the event from veering seriously sideways.

There was even a clown — Changes the Clown a.k.a. Rob Duncan, who is running for mayor, was sporting a clown suit, red nose and jester’s hat.

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In what Craigie, a CBC radio host, jokingly characterized as “speed-dating politics,” the evening, sponsored by three social agencies and hosted at the Downtown Community Centre, opened with each of the 24 candidates — including eight vying for mayor — given a 30-second window to introduce themselves to the standing-room-only crowd.

That went off without a hitch, but it didn’t take long for some candidates to get on other’s nerves.

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Mayoral candidate Riga Godron, who was prone to spontaneous outbursts, was soon being chastised by Stephen Andrew for her “offensive” behaviour, prompting her to respond that she has not needed medication since the last election.

David Shebib, who is running for mayor in 13 capital region municipalities, stormed out midway through.

“This is crazy,” Shebib said. “If you think this process is going to solve anything, you all have lost it.”

When an audience member shouted at Shebib about a “mouldy vehicle,” Godron started yelling about the seriousness of people sleeping in their cars.

Craigie managed to regain control, wish Shebib well as he left, and calm Godron down with the reassurance that it was an emotional situation and candidates should be able to agree to disagree.

Andrew distinguished himself from the field when he said it was time to “rethink the way we are dealing with people with mental health [issues] and addiction on the streets.”

“We need to intervene and we need to intervene on a regular basis and get them into, first of all, acute care … and then take them into the situation where we can get them into recovery,” he said.

“I think if we introduce the recovery model, we will see better results at the end of the day,” he said to applause.

Candidates were later asked to stand if they supported a supervised drug consumption site in the city. Only Geoff Young, who is running for re-election as a councillor, remained sitting.

In response to another question, Coun. Marianne Alto said the process of making a consumption site a reality in the city is already underway.

“I think we’re going to be ready to actually put that application in in about six months, and then I think we’ll have a year of advocacy and organization with all your help,” Alto said.

When Mayor Dean Fortin was asked how someone coming out of rehab or detox was expected to stay clean and sober in the face of so many people doing drugs in the city and with so many places to consume alcohol, Fortin said it’s important to provide housing and supports outside of the downtown core.

“Most important I think is, once they come out of detox, rehab or wherever they come out of, to make sure they have a worker with them to help guide them through,” Fortin said.

Both Fortin and Andrew cited the recently closed youth detention centre in View Royal as a possible site for a treatment centre if the province would come on board.

The municipal election is Nov. 15.

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