Gentrification may be the answer to Vancouver’s drugs crisis
Programmes providing free treatment and heroin to users will only draw addicts from other parts of Canada, says Peter Guy
Canada used to be the land of frontier pioneers forged by brave immigrants like my forefathers four generations ago – all self-sufficient and self-sacrificing in the pursuit of a better life. Today, the country’s self-entitlement is the ruling principle.
No city demonstrates this more than Vancouver, where relaxed attitudes towards drug addiction and usage are translating themselves into risky economic policies and unpredictable outcomes.
Already in the grip of a chronic homelessness crisis, Vancouver is now suffering from an opioid epidemic driven by fentanyl-laced narcotics. During the first two months of 2017, there were 219 illicit drug overdose deaths in British Columbia. That exceeds the annual average of 212 from 2001 to 2010.
Last year, there were 922 overdose deaths in BC, up from 512 in 2015 and 366 in 2014. For comparison, the number of traffic fatalities in the province in 2015 was 200.
The government and drug advocates have declared a public health crisis. Other sections of the population, especially Asians, are deeply sceptical of this progressive liberal sleight of hand and say that the fentanyl opioid problem is only a crisis among drug users and addicts.
“Vancouver East is notorious for rampant drug use, poor law and order and moral collapse,” according to an election advertisement that appeared in local editions of Chinese language dailies Ming Pao and Sing Tao last month. It represents a rare and open attack from the Chinese community on the city’s drug policies and laments Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where addicts roam the streets like zombies from the show The Walking Dead.
According to a 2011 census, in Richmond, a Vancouver suburb, 47 per cent of the 189,000 residents identify their ethnicity as Chinese, with that figure rising to about 50 per cent of residents who identify their family origins as Chinese or Taiwanese. The rising numbers of Chinese voters and their limited tolerance towards subsidising the consequences of drug abuse sets the stage for political and economic conflict.
Most Asian voters – comprising mainly Chinese, south and southeast Asians – come from countries that not only stigmatise addicts, but execute drug smugglers and dealers.
Advocates push for the decriminalisation of all drugs, pointing to the examples of Portugal or Switzerland, which legalised drugs in 2001 and offers free, prescribed, clean heroin dispensed through clinics. The war against drugs has failed, and no one knows if decriminalisation of all narcotics is going to work.
Vancouver and British Columbia’s greatest challenge is determining how much unlimited treatment options and free heroin is going to cost – especially if, unlike Portugal and Switzerland, the rest of Canada does not also offer such programs. Effectively, addicts from the rest of the country would flock to Vancouver in greater numbers.
Perhaps there is no economic solution to the pernicious problem of addiction other than more property development and gentrification. According to a recent report from Colliers International, 2016 represented a record-breaking year for the Canadian hotel real estate market. “Canada’s stable economic and political environment is an ideal destination for capital flight from China,” it said. “And the industry continually exhibits strong operating performance with demand outpacing new supply over the past decades.”
2017 is poised for robust hotel growth and acquisition. In fact, foreign capital accounted for 67 per cent of total transaction volume in the sector last year. The demand for more hotels as well as condominiums may just simply drive the drug problem out of greater Vancouver.