Selfless approach in Vancouver, complete lack of grandiose plans in Toronto

If you read the newspapers or watch the news and hear politicians talk about saving people from addiction, it would be easy to think that they mean very little without stronger local and provincial…

Selfless approach in Vancouver, complete lack of grandiose plans in Toronto

If you read the newspapers or watch the news and hear politicians talk about saving people from addiction, it would be easy to think that they mean very little without stronger local and provincial leadership, which would then demand less government and more private-sector and philanthropic spending. Here is where our colleague Bessel van der Kolk draws a bright line between provincial governments and municipal officials.

“For drug addiction to be tackled effectively, the main difference between levels of government, [he says], is how much decentralization and control it allows. I know I have repeatedly heard the same message on the provincial level about our issues. It must be a challenge to break through to the provincial level in a country with a lot of heads.”

But he says that such an approach is important in such a scale. He points to the work of Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City and Mayor Kathy Mulcahy of Seattle, cities that have walked the talk in their approaches to the opioid crisis. “They talked up the epidemic on top of the efforts they had in place to address other things, including school safety and gun violence. It is a choice of emphasis.”

He is in touch with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, whom he refers to as “Doug Ford the Lagoon Man,” because of his “fake money” approach to solving the problem in Toronto.

“I think Doug Ford is ignorant,” he said. “I think he is deluded,” and an “absentee mayor.”

He calls Ford’s chair of the drug and alcohol advisory board “the most gutless thing I have ever heard. His choices are: If you want a fight, look for it elsewhere, that’s what you do.”

When asked what the difference is between a city and the federal level, he said that Toronto and New York have a pretty similar political style, while other cities have the added effect of income inequality and ethnic difference.

He was generous in his praise for the mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, because he is taking on the issue in “a language that a lot of Canadians could understand.” He said Vancouver showed the difference by passing a law that would restrict the sale of Insite, which was the first supervised injection site in North America. “No one else was saying anything,” he said.

“The slowdowns in approvals when it came to street drugs in Vancouver showed how important it is to have strong planning in place in order to understand street drug use.”

When asked about New York City, van der Kolk said, “There is no current imitative or initiative that is comparable to Insite in New York.”

He praised the work of Mr. de Blasio, whose approach to the issue was to “support people with substance abuse disorder,” which puts him in a group with Dave Matthews.

“I admire Mayor de Blasio because he is taking on the epidemic as an opportunity to create a safe environment,” he said. “The most effective way to accomplish that, he seems to me, is by building support among the people who have been most neglected by governments in the last three decades. To me, that means getting people into recovery.”

He can see no other approach. In Seattle, he says, the city worked hard on law enforcement, and through rehabilitation, graduated people out of jail and into treatment programs.

“I saw cities that have managed to do that successfully,” he said. “If we have learned anything from these cities, it is that only by making our economies stronger and stronger and enabling people to live better lives and not incarcerating or incarcerating them in the same system where they were once released. I thought about this, about how do we manage a civil society in which you can survive in poverty, be in jail or in prison? So this is not just for Ottawa. This is for the whole country.”

Leave a Comment