By COLLIN GALLANT on July 23, 2021.
A candidate for mayor says the city should take the lead on tackling social problems like drug addiction, crime and suicide by creating a dedicated department of mental health within city hall.
“This city is dealing with major mental health issues and suicide without any help from our municipal government,” said Tony Leahy, a realtor, who at age 35 is the youngest person in what is currently a four-person race.
“I’m looking forward to the next 35 years … and for Medicine Hat to become successful we have to start dealing with these things.”
The city should also modernize the utility and maintain public ownership
Leahy says he personally knows eight individuals who ended their lives in the last year, as says mental health, addiction and crime are “all related,” that homelessness is now a problem throughout Medicine Hat, not just certain neighbourhoods, and action is needed.
In the summer of 2020, general discussion and Alberta Health Services action suggest a large increase in suicides in the community, though health officials won’t discuss specifics.
Mayor Ted Clugston dedicated a portion of the 2021 State of the City address to the rise in self-harm, but the position from Clugston and city hall has often been that health is a provincial issue and out of their control.
The city has a well-evolved strategy on homelessness, and council is spearheading a push to create a permanent shelter with community groups – a process that has been fraught with controversy over location.
Another controversy over a supervised injection site to curb opioid deaths seemingly saw citizens and city hall square off with harm reduction advocates.
That could be solved, said Leahy, with a city backing for a mobile injection service, complete with public health nurse and social worker on every call, to engage with drug users.
Leahy said the city needs to be a leader, plain and simple.
“The best approach to deal with problems of a municipality is with local municipal approach,” he said.
“Right now I see a lot of different departments, different levels of government trying to do the same thing and they are all in silos,” he said, stating local programs could be supported financially by other levels of government.
“Right now police are dealing with 1,000 mental health calls in a year – they are over burdened,” he said.
Leahy joins a field of three candidates who are registered in the mayor’s race, not including Clugston, who announced his re-election bid in the winter, but has yet to file paperwork or launch his campaign.
Alan Rose and Linnsie Clark are also registered to run.
He said the city’s utility department should be modernized by increasing renewable power production while relying less on natural gas when it’s financial feasible.
“With all the city-owned buildings, how many solar panels are on the roofs?” he asked. “Let’s not get rid of gas, but let’s add to the utility.”
He says he understands the needs of the business community as a licensed residential and commercial realtor. He has lived in Medicine Hat his entire life. He and his wife have two young children.
He also holds a power engineering degree previously worked in the city’s corporate asset management department as a facilities manager.