Business groups in Moncton demanded a stronger response by municipalities, the province and federal government to crime and homelessness they say threaten the economic viability of downtown.
The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton, Downtown Moncton Centre-ville Inc., 3+ Economic Development Agency, and Destination Moncton-Dieppe outlined five “demands” at a joint news conference Friday.
About 200 people attended the news conference where the groups said there has been too much finger-pointing between levels of government as issues continue to get worse.
“This is a crisis, I think this room speaks to that,” John Wishart, the CEO of the chamber, said. “And for the sake of business and everyone in our community, both housed and unhoused, the business community is calling for a crisis intervention now.”
The event was meant to be an “alarm bell” for the city and province, Wishart said in an interview with Information Morning Moncton.
The news conference followed reports that there are more than 550 homeless people in the Moncton area — a figure that doesn’t include those using emergency shelters — and the death of Luke Landry in a washroom outside city hall after he couldn’t get a shelter bed.
There have been growing calls to address crime and public safety in the Moncton region after Statistics Canada reported the city had the third-highest crime rate of metropolitan areas across Canada last year.
Wishart said businesses should be able to operate free of fear for the safety of staff and customers. Downtown businesses have spent more than $2.4 million on private security over the last 18 months, he said.
5 demands of governments
The groups are asking:
- Moncton, Dieppe and Riverview to direct Codiac Regional RCMP to address frequent property crime, assaults, and open-air drug use.
- Moncton and the province to work together to ensure sufficient capacity in shelters.
- The province to establish a mental health court that has long been sought in the region similar to one already in place in Saint John.
- The province to spend more on mental health and addictions recovery services.
- Moncton, the province and federal governments to increase the supply of affordable housing and support services.
“We believe these five urgent actions are required to restore order to our downtown, prevent rising crime, and get Moncton’s vulnerable population the services they need to survive,” Wishart said.
Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold said she welcomed the demands.
“I’m thrilled the business community has stepped up like this. We’re in a crisis situation,” Arnold told reporters alongside the mayors of Dieppe and Riverview.
In a letter with the five demands, the four business groups said various levels of government must “own” the issue and show accountability.
“We all own this,” Arnold told reporters.
Dorothy Shephard, the New Brunswick minister of social development, said Friday that the province would increase staffing to provide more mental health supports for people in shelters.
She said there hasn’t been enough co-ordination on the various issues, and that will soon change. Shephard said they’re planning to ask a “national organization” to help the city.
“It’s obvious we have to do more, and we’ve got to get it co-ordinated so we can get the best outcomes we can get,” Shephard said.
She said the region won’t be in the same position next year.
“We’re going to be having a plan that’s going to be — there’ll be a system in place that can scale up or scale down and it will service the needs that are here.”
Daniel Allain, Moncton East MLA and minister of local government, attended the news conference.
“I’ll make sure these that requests will be discussed with caucus, at cabinet, within the next couple weeks,” Allain said.
Allain said the demand for a mental health court is something the government continues to work on.
Many of the demands echo previous reports and recommendations over recent years, including a task force organized by the chamber of commerce.
“I think what’s been missing to-date is accountability and leadership,” Wishart told reporters.
“There’s been a lot of finger-pointing between the city and the province about ‘not our job.’ Today was really a call for those two levels of government to work together.”
While the first demand is for the three municipalities in the Moncton area to direct RCMP, the chair of the civilian board overseeing the force says that’s not something they can do.
“Directly — the municipalities cannot,” Don Moore said in an interview.
“RCMP take their primary direction from their bosses in J Division and work in consultation with the Codiac Regional Policing Authority to set priorities that are needed here in this community.”
The policing authority recently approved new priorities, including adding 25 officers over three years.
Moncton, Riverview and Dieppe have approved budgets for next year that add five officers in 2023, bringing the force from 147 officers to 152.