VERNON - Okanagan-Shuswap MP Colin Mayes is under fire for ‘disturbing’ comments he made at a recent homelessness event, with Vernon’s mayor suggesting he resign.
In what was meant as a solemn dedication by the community to commemorate and recognize some 14 homeless people who have died on Vernon streets in the past two years, Mayes only enraged those gathered.
“At that dedication, Colin Mayes, our federal MP, stated that homelessness was not a government issue,” Vernon Mayor Rob Sawatzky said at a council meeting Monday.
The comment was part of Mayes’ address to a group of community members gathered in Polson Park Oct. 17 for the unveiling of a homeless memorial. Several people there confirmed Mayes' words were: ‘Issues of homelessness are not an issue of government, they are an issue of the community.”
Sawatzky said the statement was, "at best, disturbing" and suggested Mayes resign if he truly believes it.
"He is abdicating his responsibility with his stated position and we in local government suffer the consequences in our communities," Sawatzky said. “It is clearly a government issue.... A reason we have the issue is precisely because of senior levels of government.”
Sawatzky said he recently attended a homelessness and harm reduction strategy session attended by 14 government agencies. While it was rewarding to see how many people and agencies ‘got it,’ Sawatzky saw first-hand how those organizations operate without much help.
“(It) was discouraging to see that their efforts were targeted to how we could deal with the issues without appropriate support from senior levels of government,” he said.
He noted Canada is the only G-8 country without a national strategy to deal with homelessness and affordable housing.
Contacted this morning, Mayes says his words were taken out of context and is disappointed with what he calls an attack by the mayor.
“I said homelessness is basically not the government’s fault, it is an issue of addictions and mental illness,” Mayes said Tuesday. “What I was trying to explain and state... is this is a humanitarian issue, not a government-give-us-more-money-and-build-homes-and-everything-will-be-okay issue.”
He said the federal government has played a role by providing some funding but insists many issues are best tackled from within the community itself.
“There’s more than just providing homes for the homeless. It’s a bigger issue and that’s what I was addressing at the memorial,” Mayes said. “It bothers me that everyone that criticized my statement or questioned my statement, not one person, not the city council, has ever phoned me up and said we’d like to meet with you to talk about (homelessness) in Vernon.”
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