Downtown Eastside alley in Vancouver

BC VIEWS: BC promotes poverty and crime

Premier Christy Clark will likely make poverty and housing an election issue, but her government's approach is flawed

The B.C. government is getting ready to roll out its master plan for social housing, having set up a $75 million fund, with more to come from its new foreign-buyer tax.

Poverty and homelessness are shaping up to be Premier Christy Clark’s main theme for the 2017 election, turning the page from a natural gas-fired industrial expansion that isn’t likely to arrive in time. And there are reasons for that.

Aside from the social housing spending spree guided by Housing Minister Rich Coleman in recent years, Clark has presided over an aggressive employment support program for single parents on income assistance, along with an overdue increase to disability assistance recipients.

The NDP has focused on a factually challenged urban campaign about charging for bus passes, and continues to promote the failed socialist notion that a five-year plan for poverty reduction will fix everything.

Poverty causes crime too, right? Everyone learns that in our modern welfare state, and it’s a bedrock NDP belief.

I received a couple of snide replies to last week’s column, in which I mentioned British psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple’s questioning of this orthodox idea.

After working in an inner-city London hospital and prison for years, Dalrymple came to the conclusion that crime is not an inevitable result of economic inequality and the greed of the rich. Rather, he writes, “the cause of crime is the decision of criminals to commit it.” Indeed, if poverty were the cause of crime, then most, if not all, poor people would be criminals.

Looking at the shelter-camper-drug user-thief epidemic that has taken root in many B.C. communities, and the government and media reaction to it, a stranger would conclude that drug addiction is the main cause of crime. And since drug abuse is deemed to be a disease rather than a choice, the health care system is scrambling to hand out needles and catch up with overdoses from potent new street drugs.

The Vancouver media report on clusters of overdoses on “Welfare Wednesday,” as if spreading out the distribution of money would be an improvement. And there is growing enthusiasm that supervised injection sites will soon spread beyond Vancouver, where no expense is spared to support the ever-rising, seldom-recovering population of addicts.

Vancouver is pioneering “tenant-proof” social housing with easier-to-repair floors and walls, and bathrooms with central drains so the whole room can be washed down. Just wreck the place, people, the taxpayers will clean up after you.

One reader was offended by my reference to the loss of social order that used to be provided by family, religion and work among what the British frankly call the lower classes. Most Western countries have experienced this.

In B.C. the surge of street people is mostly feral males. Not that long ago, most of these guys could have found work in a bush camp, coming to town to blow their paycheques and then heading out again for an enforced stretch of abstinence and exercise.

Those jobs are gone, and now it’s the nanny state’s turn.

A Chilliwack reader tells me she now considers Coleman to be a leading figure of the enabling left, buying flophouses and transitional housing that even includes catered meals.

The question I keep asking is, transitioning to what? If the Downtown Eastside is the model, there’s little evidence of recovery. A staffer at the Insite injection facility was once caught offering to train a self-described newbie how to shoot heroin.

I’ll be watching the housing plan to see if there is any strategy beyond containment and catering.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: Twitter: @tomfletcherbc


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