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.

Evolve together.  


  1. I just wanted to correct a few factual errors in your piece: 1) The rent arrangement for Pidgen is supported by deal with massive developer Robert Fung, 2) corporate taxes in Vancouver are the lowest in the world (KPMG statistic), 3) Pidgen is not "reasonably priced," especially not for the neighborhood, 4) homelessness has doubled in the past ten years (i.e. not the same as under Harcourt as you falsely claim). Thanks

  2. "dinner for two was $114 before tax and tip." -the georgia straight.

  3. RichBoy Dollar says:

    Somewhere over the E.Hastings, way up high.
    There's a land that I've heard of once in a lullaby.
    Somewhere over E.Hastings, skies are blue.
    And the dreams that you dare to dream,
    Really do come true.

  4. Sasha Wiley says:

    From 2002-8, homelessness in Vancouver increases 373%! Way to go, Gordo…

  5. Wes Regan says:

    To Nathan Crompton, yes Corporate Tax may be some of the lowest but SMEs get hammered with a higher proportion of overall taxes relative to residential in Vancouver. In most other cities in the region businesses pay around 32% but in Vancouver it's nearly 50% as a share. Add to this incredible bureaucratic burdens for permits, approved uses etc. and it's no wonder that only those with a lot of money seem to be able to open your average business in this town. For your average local entrepreneur the risks are big, the margins thin. In regards to Pidgin, this restaurant was not set up to cater to low-income residents and its "affordable" menu is relative for sure. But they're trying to connect in meaningful ways with the low-income community where they can. Supporting women at the Ranier, buying from local social enterprises, bringing food out for free to the Pigeon Park Street Market etc. But even those who do try to find ways to cater to low-income residents (say another example….like Mark Brand) they get demonized by a handful of vitriolic idealogues regardless. It seems anyone who opens any kind of business, except a government funded social housing project, is going to get it from this same handful of people, because simply put they have no other game. While CCAP is out condoning broken windows and slandering business owners, PHS, Central City Foundation, Raincity Housing and others are out there hustling to create badly needed housing. Meanwhile the Local Area Planning Committee (DTES Neighbourhood Council, aboriginal organizations, low-income residents at large, childhood and family development orgs, BIAs and employment and CED non-profits) have important work to do, collaborating with the City to create a plan that can shape development in the area to meet the needs of the area and people who live, and yes, own businesses here (of which there are thousands). Why we aren't reading more about the dozens and dozens of local orgs and individuals that are actually working together across class and cultural barriers to create a better situation here? Not a sexy enough story I guess.

  6. Christine Vivier says:

    To be fair, I had a beer and wings there a few days ago and it was only like 14 dollars. Admittedly not the cheapest place, but I won't need to find a second job to eat there once in a blue moon.