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'We feel the urgency': B.C. housing minister addresses Riverview re-development delays


British Columbia’s housing minister called the lands around the shuttered Riverview Hospital a “huge opportunity” as he offered a slightly different explanation about the delay in planning the redevelopment of the site. 

BC Housing claimed that they had paused a master planning process for the site, which was renamed Sumiqwuelu in 2021, to develop their relationship with the Kwikwetlem First Nation after inking a partnership agreement; they insisted there was no timeline for the resumption of planning.

But Ravi Kahlon, who oversees BC Housing as minister, said that an election among the Kwikwetlem “was one of the main reasons” for the pause and the “hope” was the talks could resume shortly after the First Nation votes on March 30.

“My hope always is that we can find a resolution and a good way forward as soon as possible,” said Kahlon in a one-on-one interview with CTV News. “We feel the urgency, certainly in government, across all the pressures we’re facing, but we know that this process takes time.”

Patience is beginning to wear thin, however. The governing New Democrats came under attack by the Liberals in question period during the morning session of the legislature Thursday, with allegations of “Riverview is stalled, BC Housing is a complete disaster,” echoing many public comments on the unannounced pause in planning.

Kahlon shot back that the Liberals oversaw the final closure of the Riverview Hospital, without ensuring adequate supports were in place for the psychiatric patients who left the facility.

Both parties were involved with the closure of Riverview Hospital over the course of decades as treatment methods and options changed, however, and neither provided enough housing, supervision, or other supports—according to experts and those familiar with the details. 

Coquitlam’s mayor, who advocated against closure of the hospital and has been urging for the re-opening of the best-preserved building that provided psychiatric care, is calling for some sort of action in the face of soaring demand for treatment of addiction and mental illness.

“Quite often it feels like Groundhog Day here at Riverview, at Sumiqwuelu, because so many people agree there is a future for this site in delivery of excellent mental health services,” said Mayor Richard Stewart. “How do we get there? Let’s just get there.”

Kahlon quashed the idea of using any of the shuttered buildings in the interim, insisting it would be tremendously expensive to retrofit them so that they’re suitable for occupancy, arguing the focus should be on long-term solutions to the housing crisis.

When it comes to his vision for Sumiqwuelu, he wouldn’t provide any specifics.

“I think there’s a real opportunity to move forward in a good way, but it’s a conversation we need to have with our partners in good faith,” said Kahlon. “We can’t be going in there and saying ‘This is what we want,’ otherwise those conversations juts won’t go the way that anyone wants.”

While the Kwikwetlem First Nation has claimed the land as theirs and said they want to “come home,” they were also non-specific about their goals, but expressed confidence in the process as they noted a positive working relationship with the province.

“We’ve agreed on a process, we’ve agreed on a journey and we’re going to work hard to get there,” said George Chaffee, a councillor and knowledge keeper. “It’s going to take time. Nothing happens overnight.” Top Stories

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