LOUISDALE: Affordable housing and the continued need for a literacy outreach worker dominated the first of two municipal candidates’ forums designed to discuss local seniors’ issues.

Ten of the 14 people who put their names forward for Richmond Municipal Council’s five new districts shared their views and took questions during the September 27 forum at Richmond Education Centre/Academy in Louisdale, co-hosted by the Seniors Take Action Coalition (STAC) and Health Equity Action Resource Team (HEART). The two groups will host a second forum for Port Hawkesbury Town Council candidates tonight (Wednesday) at 6:30 p.m. at the Evergreen Seniors’ Club on Embree Street.

The 10 Richmond candidates in attendance last week spent much of their two hours of speaking time focusing on the need for affordable seniors’ housing, in the wake of a backlash for a proposal by developer Thai Luong to set up 30 housing units along Highway 206 through Arichat.

“I don’t know that people really understood what he was trying to do,” district 2 candidate Marcel Boudreau said of Luong, who has threatened to pull his proposal out of Richmond County if an alternate site cannot be found before mid-October.

“I think what council has to do is step up in this situation and have a whole public forum in the community and try to get a settlement for those two parties, get a discussion going, and see if we can resolve it and get a solution.”

Fellow district 2 candidate Alvin Martell, one of three incumbent councillors in attendance, suggested that Nova Scotia’s Municipal Government Act requires changes to allow greater cooperation between municipalities and affordable-housing developers, while district 1 candidate James Goyetche suggested raising the maximum household income of $23,000 required to qualify for low-income housing.

“That, to me, is not the basis of an income,” Goyetche insisted. “We should look at that and make more people qualify.”

Several candidates spoke of the need to find permanent funding for a literacy outreach position introduced by the Richmond County Literacy Network (RCLN) on a pilot-project basis in 2014, while others focused on the need for a updated municipal strategic plan that specifically targets seniors’ priorities.

“A strategic plan should be much, much more than a dust-collector for six years,” declared district 5 candidate Jason MacLean.

Other suggestions included a seniors’ advisory council, as floated by district 4 candidate Darren Campbell, and the redirection of four per cent of municipal tax revenue to address poverty at all age levels, as proposed by district 2 candidate Larry Keating in his Richmond Annual Income Supplement Emergency initiative (RAISE).

“We want our seniors to enjoy the fruits of their labour, worry-and-stress-free,” said Keating of his plan, which is designed to run for the entirety of a four-year council term.

“The ‘RAISE’ program would cost us very little to eradicate poverty in Richmond County… to raise every man, woman and child up above the poverty line. We can do this – it’s within our grasp.”