Comment on BC Supreme Court Ruling re. Camping in Parks

by Yule Heibel on October 19, 2008

Tim Ayres is a realtor in Sooke, BC, who blogs about real estate and Victoria issues.  I’ve seen his Twitter updates in the Twitter Local Net, but haven’t been following his blog.  The other day, however, I saw that someone I follow on Twitter twittered that he had left a comment to Tim’s video post, Get Ready For The Homeless in Beacon Hill Park [Video], which asked readers what we all think about the “camping in parks” ruling.

For anyone in BC, the recent BC Supreme Court ruling is …uh, significant.  (And for the best local coverage on this question so far, see the Vibrant Victoria forum thread, Homeless win right to camp in city parks.)

I clicked through to Tim’s video blog and posted a lengthy comment.  However, as it appears to be held up in a moderation queue I’m re-posting it on my blog, too (minus some pre- and post-amble…):

The ruling by (BC Supreme Court Justice Carol) Ross is not helpful if it does nothing to bring the various levels of government together to address the problem of homelessness, and I have to voice my disagreement with comments here that the city should be able to fix the problem.

Far from defending our current municipal leadership — because it has been wishy-washy — I would argue, however, that the cumulative effects of off- or downloading by *all* parties at the senior (Provincial and Federal) levels of government has created the mess we’re in now.

By all parties I’m referring to how Paul Martin’s Federal Liberal government really accelerated the downloading of federal responsibilities to the provinces; how our current Conservative federal government, when approached for help with infrastructure in cities — which includes *so* many aspects — reduced the issue to banalities by replying that “the Federal government isn’t in the business of fixing potholes”; how at the Provincial level, we’ve lost mental hospitals to cut-backs, are failing to provide detox.

Most importantly, I’m also referring to how, we, in urban centres, are subservient to rules laid out in a British North America Act that gave Provinces all power over municipalities because cities were considered unimportant, mere entrepots for raw resource export (which is manifestly no longer the case), and how our Canadian Constitution also fails to take into consideration the fundamental importance of cities to 21st century economies.

And yet the problems of homelessness as well as untreated mental health problems and often attendant drug- and alcohol-abuse as well as the criminality associated with procuring drugs (and paying for them, that’s based on crime often enough) aggregate in our cities. These are problems dumped on municipalities, which in turn can’t seem to deal with them. Yes, people are poor and even homeless in rural areas, people become addicts in rural areas, people lose their minds in rural areas. But when they come for help, chances are they’ll migrate to the cities to seek it, expecting services that those cities are increasingly unable to provide because they’re being asked to do too much with too little.

In case you’re interested, a number of months ago I wrote a blog post about off- or downloading and how the spectacle of homelessness is the last link in that downloading scheme, Connect the dots: two articles by Miro Cernetig and Bob Ransford that should be read together.
What I argued was that we citizens are the last link in that chain: the municipalities have dumped the problem on us — and just as the downloading of responsibilities from Feds to Provinces to Municipalities was ill-conceived, downloading to Joe and Jane Citizen is equally wrong.

It’s wrong for the same reasons: if you download responsibilities (which entail fiscal responsibility) without ensuring that the entity you’re downloading to has a tool kit with which to approach the responsibilities, you’re asking for trouble down the road. When Canadian cities were asked to take on the responsibility for the hard-to-house, the mentally ill, and the drug-addicted, the scheme collapsed. Why? Because there’s nothing in Canadian cities’ toolkit to allow them to create the fiscal arrangements to pay for that responsibility. Canadian cities depend on property and business taxes, while all income and consumption taxes go to senior levels of government. Municipalities can’t keep jacking up property and business taxes, unless they want to drive out their most successful members.

I’m not excusing poor leadership at any level of government. But Canada is set up in a very weird way, and it’s not as easy as some would believe to deal with these problems. There are way too many silos and too many policy restrictions on how cities can be pro-active.

What I would like to see (and ask municipal politicians) is “how are you going to be an effective lobbyist for us?” I would ask, “how are you going to break down the party mentality that sets up us-and-them dichotomies?” — something we see far too much of in Victoria, which likes to nurture an NDP chip on its shoulder and complain about the “evil” Liberals. I’d want to know how you (municipal leader) are going to seek out contacts on a personal level, make sure you meet the right people at all levels of government, how you’re going to *schmooze* and wheel and deal, assemble teams, and break down the g-d-damn silos, so we can work toward the common good. I would not want a municipal politician who has lofty ideals and refuses to get his/ her hands dirty by working with “the other side.” I would specifically support politicians who are ready to throw the old partisanship out the window. At least we who are housed still have windows to throw things out of. Let’s use that.

PS: I don’t work in government or have any professional affliliation with policy making. I am passionately interested in cities, though, and write often about Victoria in particular.

I’ve written several other entries related to housing, homelessness, affordable housing, and so on, but the specific entry I cite above (Connect the dots…) is probably the one most relevant to the crisis we’re dealing with currently.

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Tim Ayres October 20, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Hi Yule, thanks for the link, and thanks for the well-thought-out comment on my blog. It’s been posted live – sorry about that – I somehow missed it over the weekend.

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