A war of words has erupted between Vernon’s mayor and the local MP.
Rob Sawatzky used Monday’s city council meeting to blast Okanagan-Shuswap MP Colin Mayes over comments he made at the recent unveiling of a homeless memorial in Polson Park.
“For Mr. Mayes to state that this was not a government issue is, at best, disturbing, said Sawatzky, adding that homelessness does fall under Ottawa’s responsibilities.
“It is clearly a government issue. A reason we have the issue is precisely because of senior government policy.”
Sawatzky, who did not attend the memorial unveiling, went on to accuse Mayes of abdicating his responsibilities and says municipalities suffer the consequences from not having the appropriate resources to act.
“His salary is paid by our public and if he truly believes that government has no role, then it might be appropriate for him to resign his position,” said Sawatzky.
Mayes insists his remarks at the memorial unveiling are being misinterpreted.
“My comment was it’s not government’s fault there is homelessness. They (homeless) have come into homeless issues because of disabilities or addictions,” he said, adding that the federal government has invested in programs that assist the homeless.
“Providing housing for every homeless person is not the solution to the reason they are homeless or why those we were remembering passed away. I further said that this is a community issue. We must reach out as citizens to the homeless and help them deal with their addictions and illness. This was an event to remember those that had succumbed to their illness, not a time to criticize government for not giving enough money to fix the problem. Money is not the solution to this issue.”
Mayes also says that he never publicly criticized an MLA or MP when he was Salmon Arm mayor.
“For Mayor Sawatzky to say that is inappropriate without speaking to me to discuss the issue,” he said, adding that he should have been allowed to clarify the comments.
Sawatzky is receiving support from Coun. Juliette Cunningham, who was at the memorial unveiling and heard Mayes’ comments.
“It was upsetting for the MP to make that statement. It was pretty demoralizing,” she said.
Coun. Mary-Jo O’Keefe was also at the ceremony and has concerns about Mayes’ comments.
“It was an ill-advised statement but the federal government has spent $62 million this year on homelessness,” she said.
“His comments were not well thought out because everyone is dealing with the issue.”