Kelowna at a 'critical juncture' says MLA

Downtown problems

This last two weeks at home have been amazing.

I love hiking up in Mission Ridge Park, going for coffee in the SOPA area (in South Pandosy), enjoying a meal from the newly reopened Olympia Taverna (in Rutland), and walking around downtown Kelowna.

We have such an amazing city.

However, amidst this joy, a dark shadow looms. Distressing headlines have surfaced recently, painting a grim picture. Vandals struck the Von Schweets Treat Shop (on Bernard Avenue downtown) just weeks after its grand re-opening following a closure of 65 days.

Similarly, Bia Boro (on the same street) fell victim to another robbery, with shattered glass and stolen goods marking the aftermath. Additionally, alarming images of fires set ablaze near residential buildings have surfaced, along with reports of a man involved in an attempted stabbing at a business on Banks Road being caught and subsequently released.

The question echoes through our streets—what is happening to our once vibrant urban spaces?

The essence of our city cores, once bustling with life and offering a safe haven for families and visitors, now stands at a critical juncture. The visible surge in drug use and petty crime, following the path of (drug) decriminalization, not only jeopardizes public safety but also poses a significant threat to our local businesses.

Many shop owners, who have poured their hearts and souls into their establishments, now face the heartbreaking decision to close their doors, citing the changing environment as a direct impact on their customer foot traffic and overall sense of security.

The narrative of Kelowna, as it stands, is one of caution. The sight of closed shopfronts and the palpable tension in the air serve as a stark reminder of the consequences of policy decisions that do not fully account for their wide-ranging impacts.

It is imperative we take a step back and consider the holistic wellbeing of our community, ensuring that efforts to support those battling addiction are balanced with measures that safeguard public safety and the economic vitality of our downtown area.

The revolving door of the criminal justice system spins ever faster, leaving us bewildered. Stores are fortifying their security measures, installing cameras, bars, and increasing the presence of guards. Many no longer keep their doors unlocked during business hours, a testament to the brazenness of criminals.

Assaults persist, driving away employees who no longer feel safe working in our urban centres. These audacious crimes have ignited debates about the delicate balance between compassion and accountability.

While there's consensus on the need for a compassionate approach to substance abuse and mental health, there's a growing demand for measures to ensure Kelowna remains a safe haven for all. That necessitates enhanced policing, better coordination of social services and community-led initiatives to address the root causes of addiction and homelessness, while simultaneously tackling criminal elements.

This is the reality we face after seven years under under David Eby's leadership—first as attorney general and now as premier.

The current administration's lack of solutions is glaring. Decriminalization, touted as an answer, has proven insufficient without substantial investments in mental health and addiction treatment facilities.

The challenges we face require a nuanced approach, one that recognizes the delicate balance between compassion for individuals struggling with substance abuse and the need for accountability to maintain order and safety.

We first need the government to show some humility and admit its approach is not working.

Reforms within the justice system are imperative, the current catch-and-release approach only exacerbates the situation. Criminals must face consequences for their actions.

Considering those concerns, we need a concerted effort among policymakers, law enforcement, social services and the business community to forge a path forward.

That includes the immediate enhancement of police presence to deter criminal activity, a change to the justice system so criminals suffer consequences for their choices, the expansion of mental health and addiction treatment services and the implementation of community-led initiatives aimed at revitalizing our urban areas.

This fall we go to the polls. BC United has laid out its plan for tackling these issues. We will not accept this new reality because we know better is possible.

My question to you is this:

Do you feel safe in our urban areas? Why or why not?

I love hearing from you and read every email. Please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna - Mission and Opposition caucus whip and critic for Environment and Climate Change, Technology and Innovation and Citizens’ Services. She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee on Education as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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