Drug addiction and poverty become top issues for future Northeastern Ontario mayors and councilors

Karrie Emms watched the barricades go up in downtown North Bay one day in December 2021.

She knew it was someone who was dead or dying, an unfortunately common sight downtown in recent years.

She didn’t know it was her 27-year-old nephew, Nick.

« Two blocks down the sidewalk he was dying, I was looking at him thinking it wouldn’t be him, » says Emms, who lives in downtown North Bay and is co-owner of the gallery and the Gateway to the Arts studio on Main Street.

Two people are charged with the murder of her nephew, who had struggled with addiction for years and was receiving a « tough love » approach from his family at Emms’ suggestion.

Karrie Emms says her view of people living on the streets in downtown North Bay has changed since her nephew was killed a few blocks from his store. (Karrie Emms)

She thought his death would make it difficult to stay downtown, and that the occasional grumbles she makes about people on the street pushing customers away would become a constant.

« Being downtown is definitely a challenge, but that’s why I think we need to stay downtown, » Emms said.

« If we don’t stay here, if we don’t do this and strive to make a difference, then we’re giving away the city centre. We’re turning our backs on the problems. »

Poverty and addiction are issues city politicians have been accused of turning their backs on for decades.

But in this municipal election campaign, candidates in most mayoral and council races are at least paying lip service to helping those in need.

Matthew Shoemaker, of Sault Ste. Marie’s councilwoman, now one of five vying to be the next mayor, says drug addiction is the main issue in this election.

He says the conversation over the years has really shifted towards helping those who are struggling, although he acknowledges that some voters are more focused on “cleaning up” downtown and other parts of the city. town.

Matthew Shoemaker smiles, dressed in a suit and tie.
Sault Ste. Marie Councilman Matthew Shoemaker, one of five candidates running to be the next mayor, said addictions are the main issue in this campaign. (Radio-Canada)

“People want the city to be livable, beautiful and one of the aspects of that is making sure we can get support for people who frequent the areas of the city that we want to be vibrant,” said said Shoemaker.

He’s proposing a day of action to help educate Saultans about the roots of poverty and addiction, as well as fund capital for a safe injection site, which he says has been « downloaded » into cities by province.

« I think there’s a realization, generally speaking, that money will have to be invested in this serious issue. Now once you’ve actually spent money, I think that There will be comparisons: ‘We could spend that on X or Y or Z,’ Shoemaker said.

« If you can solve the problem in any way, you will free up capacity in the rest of our services. »

Connie Raynor-Elliott, who works with people on the streets of Sault Ste. Marie, struggling with addiction at the Save Our Young Adults From Prescription Drug Abuse group, is skeptical of any politicians who suddenly talk about poverty now that there’s an election.

« They just say what we want to hear. We need action, » she said.

« [Those in need] don’t have faith. They just don’t have any faith. And I don’t blame them. Because you know what? I don’t have much faith. »

Raynor-Elliott says the main way city leaders can help those in need is to push harder for provincial government funding.

Two people sleep under a blanket on the grass next to a pharmacy parking lot in downtown Sudbury.
Advocates argue that the increased visibility of homelessness in Northeastern Ontario cities during the pandemic has raised the profile of poverty as an electoral issue. (Erik White/CBC)

Carol Kauppi, professor of social work and director of the Center for Justice and Social Policy Research at Laurentian University, is encouraged to hear municipal candidates talk about poverty, to a degree she has never seen previously.

She served on a City of Greater Sudbury committee to discuss options for homeless encampment at Memorial Park before resigning out of frustration last year when the city decided to remove people from the park.

« It’s part of the move to kick people out and reduce visibility, but it doesn’t solve the problem, » Kauppi said.

carol kauppi
Carol Kauppi, director of Laurentian University’s Center for Justice and Social Policy Research, says she’s never seen so many municipal politicians talk about poverty. (Provided by Carol Kauppi)

She feels the city is not doing enough to pursue federal and provincial funding, especially programs aimed at building more affordable housing.

Sudbury homeless advocate Bob Johnston, who is now one of nine candidates for mayor of Greater Sudbury, said he would donate $50,000 of his salary over the next two years to create a center assistance and education for people living on the street.

« You can throw a couple hundred thousand dollars, a million dollars, whatever, but if it’s not going in the right direction, we’re wasting our time and wasting our money and I can see why the community is fed up, “said Johnston, who said he was surprised to hear his opponents suddenly talk about poverty.

Bob Johnston stands in Memorial Park in downtown Sudbury wearing a suit jacket, with a few people sitting on the ground behind him.
Homelessness advocate Bob Johnston is running for mayor of Greater Sudbury and is surprised to now hear some of his opponents talking about poverty. (Erik White/CBC)

“Where have you been for the past eight years? Where were you ? You got all these great ideas and so on, why didn’t I see you?

As has been said many times during the opioid crisis, this is not limited to the big cities of northeastern Ontario.

Roger Sigouin, mayor of Hearst for 21 years and who is seeking re-election, says that in a town of 5,000 people, everyone knows who the drug traffickers are and is frustrated when they seem to only get a « slap in the face. on the hand » of justice. system.

Roger Sigouin talks to journalists outside an elevator.
Roger Sigouin, mayor of Hearst for 21 years and who is seeking re-election, says residents of his small town are frustrated that drug traffickers never seem to be punished by the justice system. (Radio-Canada)

« I mean those dealerships, they’re doing good business, rolling around with a new vehicle, better than mine, that’s how it is. After a while you get upset and the kids are paying for it » , said Sigouin, who is trying to land funds for a future 40-unit social housing complex.

« When you talk to a big contractor in town and he says ‘Most of my employees are into drugs’ and they have no choice but to hire them, because they have no other employees. »

« That’s how it is today, I guess. »


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