NPA coun­cil­lor Re­becca Bligh and COPE’S Jean Swanson re­veal what is­sues they want to ad­dress.

The Georgia Straight - - News - By Travis Lupick

As lo­cal politi­cians pre­pared for their Christ­mas break, NPA coun­cil­lor Re­becca Bligh told the Georgia Straight that there would be one piece of busi­ness on her mind over the break: the over­dose cri­sis.

“We’ve just spent the morn­ing look­ing at and con­sid­er­ing the re­port by the Mayor’s Emer­gency Opi­oid Task Force,” Bligh ex­plained in a tele­phone in­ter­view on De­cem­ber 21. “So we’ll be fol­low­ing up to see how we, as a coun­cil, can make some head­way here.”

Bligh, who worked in com­mu­ni­ca­tions and lead­er­ship devel­op­ment be­fore join­ing coun­cil, said she wants Van­cou­ver Coastal Health and its part­ners to take se­ri­ously the idea that cannabis may, for some peo­ple, work as a sub­sti­tute that can help them tran­si­tion from and stay off harder drugs that come with risks of fa­tal over­doses.

“It’s per­haps a lit­tle bit con­tro­ver­sial, but there is [an epidemiologist] at UBC [Michael John Mil­loy] who has been awarded a pro­fes­sor­ship to study it,” Bligh said.

There are 10 seats on coun­cil, and eight of them are filled by politi­cians serv­ing their first terms. Bligh said these cou­ple of months have been a bit of a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, where new coun­cil­lors have had to grap­ple with de­mands for the city to re­spond to prob­lems that are tra­di­tion­ally re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the provin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments. The opi­oid epi­demic is one such ex­am­ple, she noted.

From the other end of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, Jean Swanson, a first-term coun­cil­lor with COPE, said the same. “At all these brief­ings, I’m learn­ing that so much of what the city has to deal with is caused by bad provin­cial poli­cies,” the long-time ac­tivist told the Straight. “Home­less­ness, for ex­am­ple….hous­ing, so­cial-wel­fare pro­grams—these are very much provin­cial and fed­er­ally funded man­dates.”

Swanson em­pha­sized that she will con­tinue to work on these is­sues once coun­cil re­con­venes in 2019.

“What we re­ally need is va­cancy con­trol, but the province has re­ally caved to the de­vel­op­ers and the land­lords on that one,” Swanson said.

The term “va­cancy con­trol” de­scribes reg­u­la­tions for how a land­lord can in­crease a unit’s rent between ten­ants, usu­ally plac­ing a max­i­mum on that amount. On De­cem­ber 12, the provin­cial Rental Hous­ing Task Force is­sued rec­om­men­da­tions. To some peo­ple’s cha­grin and oth­ers’ re­lief, a va­cancy con­trol was not on the list.

“As long as we don’t have that, there’s a profit in­cen­tive to evict ten­ants,” Swanson said. “It’s re­ally bad for af­ford­able hous­ing stock, be­cause all of these apart­ment build­ings are sold at a re­ally high price on the as­sump­tion that we don’t have va­cancy con­trol.

“It’s a re­ally bad sit­u­a­tion,” she con­tin­ued. “The province has to step up, and if it doesn’t, we need to mo­bi­lize ten­ants to get the city to.”

The NPA’S Re­becca Bligh sees po­ten­tial in cannabis as a sub­sti­tute for opi­oids.

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