St Lawrence parishioners ask questions about population, housing and assisted dying

Election 2022 St Lawrence Constable hustings Picture: JON GUEGAN. (33533029)

AFFORDABLE housing, population policy and attitudes to assisted dying competed with local issues like troublesome cyclists and the location of the parish defibrillator at the St Lawrence Constable’s hustings.

Sitting Constable Deidre Mezbourian shared the platform with her challenger, Emily Joseph, both standing as independents, for an hour of questioning from 50 or so parishioners, presided over by Procureur du Bien Public Bruce Harrison.

The Constable told the audience that her affiliation was to the parishioners, established over a 20-year period as Vingtenier, Deputy and, since 2008, Constable. Electoral changes meant that the Constable would now be the only directly elected voice for the parish in the States, making skills, experience and knowledge especially important, she said.

Among the parish achievements to which she drew attention were: continuity of services through the pandemic; help for parishioners of all ages delivered by the community support team she had established; road safety improvements; modernisation of areas of the parish hall, with the creation of the war memorial gardens; and protection of Millbrook’s playing fields.

‘Looking ahead, I will continue to oppose inappropriate development within the parish. Working with the procureurs, we hope to deliver additional sheltered housing facilities and create a new accessible meeting room for the parish hall,’ she said.

Within the States, service as Assistant Health Minister and Assistant Home Affairs Minister, chair of Scrutiny panels, chair of the Constables’ Committee and member of the Planning Committee were among the posts she had occupied.

Mrs Mezbourian argued for continued investment in healthcare staff, a need she said had been highlighted by the pandemic, and in education, and for protection of agricultural land and green spaces, while she also called for the government to release parts of its estate for housing.

Ms Joseph explained that she was standing for three main reasons: first, because of her passion for the community and desire to involve parishioners of all ages in the life of the parish with more active communication; secondly, she wished to reach out to charities and help connect those in need with the appropriate agencies; and thirdly to keep her feet firmly in the parish and have as much face-to-face time with parishioners as possible.

‘We need our own volunteer network in our parish and I look forward to working closely with other Constables in our Island to bring in initiatives working well in other parishes,’ she said.

She also said that her academic qualifications – in international relations and peace and conflict studies and war and human rights journalism – would prepare her for States work, primarily in Scrutiny to allow her focus to remain on the parish.

‘I have a wonderful support network consisting of two former Constables and many long-standing and deeply knowledgeable parishioners who I know I can rely on to advise me on all parish matters.

‘We have reached crisis point in this Island in many areas and I know that by working in collaboration with charities, volunteers, schools, churches and businesses, and all our other communities, we can make a huge difference to the lives of people of this parish,’ she said.

A question on increased funding to support end-of-life care revealed differences in approach on assisted dying. Ms Joseph thought there were limited specific situations in which assisted dying should ‘be left on the table’ with heavy scrutiny but she sympathised with the view that deficiencies in existing care justified investment in palliative care.

Mrs Mezbourian said she had voted against assisted dying because she had responded to the views of parishioners at a public meeting and would do so again. ‘The consensus was that they were not in favour because of the perceived dangers,’ she said, adding that end-of-life care should be available at home.

On the climate emergency, the Constable said that, having worked on the carbon neutral strategy, she would look at replacing parish vehicles with electric models when the next occasion arose, and was taking part in discussions with a number of other parishes with the involvement of interested parishioners chosen from citizens assembly nominees.

Ms Joseph advocated the ‘adopt a road initiative’ which other parishes had trialled to make sure the environment was kept clean, and she added that using the community gardens to educate children about sustainable growing was important, as was engaging more widely with the community.

In relation to population, Ms Joseph was cautious because of the numbers of younger people reported to be leaving the Island and she described the situation of affordable housing as a crisis.

‘Another area we can look at as a parish is definitely more sheltered housing,’ she said, identifying the lack of suitable accommodation for the elderly as a block on house sales for those contemplating downsizing.

Mrs Mezbourian agreed that the impact of the housing situation was harmful socially and economically. Jersey was investing in many of its young people, only to lose them because they could not afford housing. However, she said that the Constables were reviewing redundant glasshouse sites across the Island to come forward with proposals, where suitable, for developments for first-time buyers.

Pressed on controlling the population, Ms Joseph advocated further research on current labour shortages, noting particularly the challenges for hospitality and the knock-on effect for small businesses.

Mrs Mezbourian said that work permits should be given for between nine months and five years but that licences should only be granted where it could be demonstrated that there was no one in the Island able to fill the job.

Questioners also probed the two candidates on parish activities for younger people, methods of publicising parish assemblies, initiatives to promote honorary service, the desirability of licensing bicycles to help combat dangerous cyclists, whether the parish should have a foodbank and the possibility of relaxing restrictions on exercising dogs on beaches in summer.

However, the question which came closest to flummoxing both candidates was one which invited them to give just a single -word answer. If a proposition was brought to the States to move to central European time, how would they vote?

Responding first, Ms Joseph said that, being honest, it was a question which she had never considered before, prompting the questioner to respond by inviting her to do so now. She would vote against such a move, she then decided.

Mrs Mezbourian was given no less testing a time. She said that her memory, not being as good as it was, meant that she could not remember how she voted when this issue last came before the States.

‘I know how you voted last time,’ her questioner retorted to laughter around her. This was sufficient to prompt another spontaneous decision: ‘Emily has said no, so I’ll say yes,’ Mrs Mezbourian declared.

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