In a recent interview with The Globe And Mail published on March 14th, former BC Premier and Vancouver Mayor Mike Harcourt expressed his sympathy for the protesters at Pidgin Restaurant. It’s entertaining to read Harcourt’s statements as he puts down the neighbourhood of Yaletown, addresses poverty issues in the area as part of “the essential nature of the Downtown Eastside” and then concludes by stating “I don’t have a strong position one way or the other.” Such wish-washy statements are not the sort of leadership we need on the issues facing our community.
The Gazette earlier pointed out that the protesters at Pidgin are led by a group that conducts its business out of the Carnegie Center. They have chosen to make their stand against gentrification by targeting a small independent business and a doughnut shop.
This is a clear case of bullying and picking on a weaker adversary whose only “crime” is to make an investment in the neighbourhood and produce some excellent reasonably priced food. (The menu at Pidgin is of a very high quality and is priced well below larger established chains such as Earl’s, The Keg and Cactus Club.) The economics of the restaurant business are not easy, taxes are high, failure rates are high, and the risks infinite.
Pidgin has now had pickets in front of its place of business for over a month. The mayor has done nothing and the owners have been refused entry to “town hall” meetings held at Carnegie Center. The owners have had to cover the restaurant’s front windows to protect guests against harassment. This is not the time for a provincial leader, even a former leader, to come forward and makes wishy-washy statements.
The “overloading” of the Downtown Eastside with homeless Mr. Harcourt talks about existed when he was mayor and later premier. He fought against Expo 86, and he allowed the massive investments made in Gastown during the 1970’s to slowly decline and wither for over 20 years.
Mr. Harcourt talks about keeping the “original character” of the Downtown Eastside. But the original character of Gastown is that of the downtown area. To suggest that the epidemic of drug use and poverty we have witnessed since the 1960’s is part of the original character of Gastown is unacceptable, historically incorrect, and irresponsible.
The original character of Gastown is that of the heart of Vancouver. Economically, culturally and spiritually. Gastown is where the frontier of the Pacific and the Klondike met main street North America. The poverty and homelessness of the last 40 years is not something we want institutionalized. We are not willing to accept that it has become the status quo.
The problems we face in Gastown are being met head-on by the young entrepreneurs and community organizations that want to change this neighbourhood for the better in a real sense. We want those who need help to receive help so they can achieve their dreams. They deserve our support. We don’t want another 40 years of revolving door poverty policies.