VANCOUVER -- Once a quiet bedroom community with classic commuter issues, Maple Ridge is seeing massive growth as a small city and B.C.’s two big political parties are promising fixes to the economic and homelessness issues in its two battleground ridings.

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge-Mission have seen some of the tightest provincial election results in the past two decades, as both ridings flipped from Liberals to the NDP in the last election. Both the BC NDP leader and the BC Liberal leader made Maple Ridge one of their first campaign stops in the first few days of the snap election as they sought to make early good impressions on voters. 

“It used to be a small town, it’s got a lot of small-town community feeling. We’ve got a great core structure of people that live here and we’ve got a lot of new families coming in from Vancouver and other parts,” said Maple Ridge mayor, Mike Morden.

“We’ve got housing needs, we’ve got health needs, we’ve got infrastructure needs, everything from our hospital — our which hasn’t seen a major upgrade in years, we’re 90,000 people — and we need upgrades done there.”

On the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows side, NDP’s Lisa Beare won a decisive victory over the Liberals in 2017, but so did the Liberal candidate in 2013. Beare, who’d been the minister of tourism, arts and culture for the past three years, is now running against former school trustee and one-time Coun. Cheryl Ashlie for the Liberals.  

In the eastern riding, Bob D’Eith is seeking to hold the Maple Ridge-Mission riding for the New Democrats. The former lawyer and father of five won the seat by just 325 votes and is going head-to-head against Coun. Chelsa Meadus, who’s worked in community development and the tech sector.  

In the past 20 years, both ridings have seen tight battles between the two dominant parties, with candidates narrowly claiming victory. This year, both ridings are seen as tight races and could easily go to either the Liberals or NDP. 

Maple ridge results

A key issue: homelessness

A chronic issue the community has been dealing with since at least 2015 has been a growing homeless population that moved into a residential area on Cliff Avenue, before they were moved out of the area and took over a vacant city property on 223rd street near the Haney Bypass.

The situation came to a head after a local shelter closed and people had nowhere else to go and a long-term encampment dubbed the Anita Place tent city was established. Both were in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows riding.

After a long and bitter legal battle, and amidst some harassment from Maple Ridge residents, the campers were ultimately evicted and the property fenced in. A picturesque park planned and funded by the municipal government sits where the camp once stood while many of the campers were housed in a 51-unit, provincially-funded temporary modular housing complex established in the Maple Ridge-Mission riding; it was the subject of a community petition and protests as hundreds of residents were angry, believing the low-barrier policy didn’t lead to long-term solutions and would perpetuate drug use.

“There isn’t great intergovernmental relationships and we’ve seen the result of that and our community is really upset,” said Meadus, who has seen clashes with the province first-hand at the council table. 

“We definitely have a large homeless population in our community and the biggest challenge for us is that population’s not getting the services they need … it’s impacting our downtown core and as well, the city has had to take a lot of what would typically be provincial initiatives and we have had to execute on those — including a community social safety plan.” 

But D’Eith insists the NDP has done a good job after Liberal mismanagement of the issue.

“Homelessness had actually increased by 50 per cent in Maple Ridge and so we inherited a tent city. So what we did is provided supportive housing, temporary supportive housing, and were able to resolve the tent city and provide wraparound services so people can get the dignity and help that they need,” he said, promising to address the root issues of homelessness as well. 

“We have addiction services in Maple Ridge, but we need more. There is actually a commitment in the platform for treatment beds in Maple Ridge.”

Local economy

When D’Eith speaks with constituents he immediately reminds them the NDP removed bridge tolls, including on the community’s Golden Ears Bridge, and that they reduced and then removed MSP premiums.

“When we took office, clearly people in this community were struggling financially. A lot of people were living paycheque to paycheque,” said D’Eith, pointing out safety upgrades on the busy Highway 7 are also underway and that more childcare is coming to the area. 

“I think people are happy with the way the government’s been handling the crisis with COVID and with our policies.”

But Meadus believes the NDP has a blind spot for the economy, which is what the community needs to kick-start in order to thrive.

“I’m not sure they’re hearing what’s actually going on here. Whereas I really know what’s going on in the community. The businesses are suffering and we have had to put taxpayer money towards the programs that should really be provincially funded,” she said. 

“Maple Ridge has really come up with a unique program and we’re actually being asked by other cities ‘how are we doing it?’ And so we’ve transitioned some of our bylaw officers to go out and connect with businesses, citizens, but also connect with the street-entrenched population and try to connect them with services.

“But again with the (funding and service) gaps we’re seeing, they’re not able to do good work. So I keep saying it’s like we’re taking two steps forward and two steps back and that’s just not working for our community.”

Morden says he’s also looking for an assessment of Maple Ridge Hospital, which has never seen an upgrade or expansion despite the city’s population growing from 78,000 people in 2011 to 91,000 now. Aside from another drug treatment centre, transitional and seniors’ housing, he’d also like to see an expansion of the walkway along the Fraser River to connect the downtown core and a regional park to bring more visitors.

“A happy, healthy community is one where you need to build a strong local economy and that’s really important for our city,” said Morden, who acknowledges a very small commercial tax base to operate the city, an imbalance he hopes to rectify. “To be able to move forward, we need to be able to put all these pieces in place.”

The Green candidate 

 Health-care worker, Matt Trenholm, is seeking a seat for the BC Green Party.

"We deserve better from our elected officials,” says Trenholm in his party biography. “I will strive to improve our economy and healthcare, I will work with small business owners, not against them, and I will take measures to ensure we care for our environment and begin the process of transitioning off of fossil fuels.”

Ready to co-operate

Faced with the challenges of a community in a massive growth phase — outpacing even Surrey in population growth in four of the last five years — the mayor is ready to work with whoever forms government.

“This is about partnerships and about working together and we’re looking for commitment and we need resources and we need willingness to be at the table here to work through things we may not agree on — but by and large there’s no reason why we can’t agree on everything,” said Morgen. 

“Everybody needs a home, we need to work on infrastructure and housing, we’ve talked about all those needs; they’re not different no matter who’s in power.”