Pubdate: Sat, 11 Feb 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Stephen Quinn
Page: S4


In these dark days of "say anything" politics it appears that no one
is immune - certainly not the 11 people elected to manage the business
of Vancouver.

Some context: As a reporter, I covered Vancouver City Council for
about eight years - from Philip Owen to Larry Campbell to Sam Sullivan
and finally to Gregor Robertson. I've watched COPE splinter, the birth
of Vision Vancouver and I've seen the NPA be anything but non-partisan.

I've waded through countless city reports, sat through hundreds of
hours of mind-numbing meetings and witnessed behaviour unsuitable for
a daycare setting. I've seen politics, I thought, at its worst - that
is until this week.

While the chattering classes were watching the not-hacking
"nontroversy" unfold on the provincial stage, inside the warm,
wood-lined council chambers at Vancouver City Hall, at least one
elected official was being publicly accused of murder - at least that
was her take.

Council was debating a motion on how to allocate additional funding to
combat the overdose crisis, a move Melissa De Genova and her fellow
NPA councillors have steadfastly opposed for a variety of reasons -
not the least of which is that it has meant an additional 0.5-per-cent
increase in property tax, which council approved in December.

During the debate, Ms. De Genova expressed frustration over the
inability of law enforcement to stem the supply of drugs such as
fentanyl, or to go after high-level drug dealers. To illustrate her
point, she drew an analogy: "If nine people died in the city of
Vancouver in one day at the hands of another person we would be
looking for that person. We wouldn't be out saying, 'I think we're
just going to look for the potential victims and help them,'" she

At her next opportunity to speak, Councillor Andrea Reimer of Vision
Vancouver obliged to reply. "Nine people did die at the hands of a
single person in the city of Vancouver in a single day, and that
person was an elected official," she said.

Ms. De Genova interrupted on a point of order: "I could go back and
say it again because it was so offensive - I believe Councillor Reimer
just called me a murderer."

Councillor Heather Deal, who was chairing the meeting, offered
abruptly: "You weren't named - out of order," and punched off the 

Ms. Reimer continued, "Every time an elected official chooses not to
take action to prevent these deaths, they are in fact culpable in
these deaths."

A short time later, NPA Councillor George Affleck replied. "I'm very,
very, very concerned about the comments by Councillor Reimer. They are
not only bullying tactics, they are threatening to me," he said.

"We obviously don't always agree in this chamber, but to tell me that
if I make a decision against this that I am culpable for somebody's
death is unbelievably disrespectful to the process and to democracy -
I will not stand for it. Unbelievable. That is the most inappropriate
thing I've ever heard in politics," he said.

Mr. Affleck echoed Ms. De Genova's concerns that the city was picking
up an unfair share of expenses to help deal with the crisis, and that
property owners were shouldering the cost. It has been his long-held
position. I give him points for consistency.

Eventually, it all calmed down - the vote was as predictable as
always: 7-3 in favour and council moved on.

Is being accused of murder the most outrageous thing ever said in
council chambers? Well, it would be if the word was actually said out
loud by someone other than the offended party. But that's how politics
works now.

As for the accusations, the anger, the sniping, the reactions and
overreactions - it all paints a picture of a deeply divided and
increasingly dysfunctional council. It's a council of entrenched party
politics - a farm team where your voting record is being watched by
those who have the power to call you up to the big leagues of the
legislature. Yes, you too may become the province's next

As offensive as Ms. Reimer's comments may have been, in everything
that was said it was one seemingly innocuous statement by Ms. De
Genova that has stuck with me because of what it revealed. Referring
to the burden of the overdose crisis on first responders, she said,
"I'm also concerned that our firefighters who do great work -
meaningful work - are being taken away by these calls."

Take a moment to think about that.

Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 
88.1 FM in Vancouver.
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