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Vancouver mayor opposed Downtown Eastside “czar”

February 20th, 2009 · 12 Comments

Robert Matas’s story in the Globe this morning gets on the record the Vision Vancouver council’s discomfort with the idea of having a czar for the Downtown Eastside, a constantly recurring idea that had been floated again recently.

The Vision mayor and council didn’t criticize the idea at first, but behind the scenes, they were expressing some puzzlement about how anything like that could actually work. The issue with the Downtown Eastside is that there are a huge number of players at work, some funded by the federal government, some funded by the province, some funded by foundations, some funded by Vancouver Coastal Health. The city is also in operation there in various forms (fire, building permit inspectors; homeless outreach workers; planners).

So the question was — how would this czar even operate? To be a czar, you need to have not just a mandate, but people and money. Unless the czar were miraculously given power over city, provincial, Coastal Health and federal agencies working down there, it would be more a job of herding cats.

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  • LP

    From the globe: “I think the notion of a czar is a little out there. It’s not appropriate,” Mr. Robertson said. “I don’t think there is a need for a super boss here.”

    What’s “out there” Mr. Robertson, is that $1M per day is being spent on the DTES and any success to date is virtually invisible to most of us.

    That my friend is $365 Million on a yearly basis to a small community of people year in and year out. This should be unacceptable to everyone.

    Knowing that he has pledged to end homelessness by 2015, I’d like to think that his comments are not due to a CZAR – possibly stealing his thunder, and that perhaps it is just a difference of opinion.

    However, the status quo is not acceptable to any of us, and clearly we need a new approach to managing this gross amount of money that is being tossed around the DTES like a Jackson Pollock painting.

    Since his plan of ending homelessness is lacking on the details of this complex task, if he has a better solution than a CZAR, perhaps he should present his plan rather than criticizing one that may usurp some of his and his council’s control.

  • spartikus

    To be a czar, you need to have not just a mandate, but people and money.

    To be a czar, you need the mandate of God.

    Perhaps we could start by coming up with a job title that isn’t that of a Russian autocrat? 🙂

    It’s Friday.

  • Travis

    How about Sultan? Or my personal favorite: overlord?

    Yes it is most certainly Friday.

    I like the fact that the $1 million a day number is coming from an investigation undertaken by The Province. Despite the fact that this number includes all levels of governement and some “174 groups providing services of some sort in the community,” it is still an astronomical number. Clearly some sort of cohesive system can be found.

    My personal favorite quote from Maureen “I will give my comment to absolutely anybody” Bader:

    ‘Maureen Bader, B.C. president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said a review of the programs in the Downtown Eastside is in order.

    “If that’s how much they’re spending there, then they’re wasting an awful lot of money,” she said.

    “Someone should review what’s going on, put in place effective programs, and just quit throwing good money after bad.”’

    Thanks for that Maureen. What would we do without you?

  • independent mind

    It is really unfortunate that the Vancouver Agreement was allowed to deteriorate. It was the only place where the three levels of government, VCHA and the community could discuss what was being done in the Downtown Eastside and coordinate resources.

    In the last three years the Provincial Liberals, the Conservatives and the NPA decided it was not needed. As a former bureaucrat who worked in the Downtown Eastside the only way we could focus the meagre funds that were allocated for the community was to work together.

    How all the governments and the health authority think they can spend money wisely without knowing what else is happening in the community is just plain crazy.

    Bring back the Vancouver Agreement and start the talking again.

  • hohoho

    Gregor will not be able to “solve” homelessness in 50 years, so, this is all about maintaining the status-quo and making sure the poverty industry continues to thrive in the DTES. Just look at who is financing Gregor and Vision.

  • hohoho

    Stop the presses, Alex agrees with me on something!

    Well almost. Lifting the prohibition on maryjane is needed unless the city, province and country intend to invest billions in more cops and enforcement and throwing people in jail for buying and smoking a harmless plant. Just look south of the border to see how well that has worked out.

  • As I have written before, I strongly believe that a new entity, which brings together the three levels of government, the key community organizations, and the private sector is needed. Notwithstanding all of the good intentions, there is simply too much duplication and lack of accountability to continue doing things as we are.

    In the US, Community Development Corporations have been established to play a somewhat similar role. The successful models have strong Boards of Directors, and an extraordinary, superlative Executive Director who somehow galvanizes all the different interests towards a common goal.

    It is a model that works in the US, and it could work here. It would just take a greater level of cooperation, a bit less ego, and the right leadership. Without such a strategy, I fear we will continue as we have done over the past decade, without sufficient results for the money spent.

  • LP


    Legalizing mj in this country would do nothing to stop this insanity – the majority of what we grow here is going south of the border where BC Bud is a brand the likes of which Nike cannot even touch.

    The THC in our pot is so strong, the sellers in the states are even putting warning labels inside packages to smoke small quantities in pipes only, as the amount required for a joint would bake them beyond belief.

    It is a very well known and published fact that we produce far more mj in this country than we could ever consume and that it’s an export crop. Still Canada only supplies less then 10% of what americans consume of this little plant.

    The people involved in this illicit trade are very aware of the room for growth in market share for our canadian crop.

    Secondly, by not legalizing other drugs, such as coke, crack, heroine, crystal meth, et. al., the gangsters would still trade our legally grown stuff, or illegally grown stuff to americans for those drugs and guns that come up here and cause most of the trouble.

    I could continue but your argument to legalize the stuff as a way to end the problems here/DTES is so laughable it doesn’t warrant anymore of anyone’s time.

    For you to argue that the US should just legalize it, and give up the war on drugs…….well, you’re just in fantasyland now aren’t you. (Just in case – that was not a reference to our former premier and any paper bags full of money.)

  • LP

    To really twist this subject around, I think AGT should run for mayor and donate the salary to charity as he suggests above.

    This effort requires someone have the balls (big enough) to ending the poverty industry bullshit that’s plagued that area for so long.

    At the very least our civic politics (Mayor AGT vs. The poverty Industry) would make for very entertaining viewing.

  • SV

    Funny that the Province is concerned with the amount of money spent per day in the DTES. I wish they were more concerned with the money that Canwest sucks out of both of our city’s dailys, reinvesting very little and leaving us with a substandard local print media. Off topic I know, but hey, it’s Friday.

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    Frances, what happened to my post?

    Did you receive complaints from the poverty pimps that I named?

    Sorry darling…

  • T W

    I support Michale Geller’s previous and present comments on this issue.

    What is not needed is a Czar. What is needed is a community board of directors to set the strategy for the so-called Czar. But a plenopotentiary (ie with full powers) is not needed (or wanted for that matter)