Mental health advocate doublespeak

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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Is another Vision Vancouver promise about to make it into the waste bin?

So which is it? Is Vision going to hire a new mental health advocate in Vancouver or aren't they?

If you read the front page headlines in today's Vancouver'd be forgiven if you thought Vision had bailed on their plan to hire a new mental health advocate. A promise that featured prominently in all of their campaign literature.

Councillor Kerry Jang, Vancouver's lacklustre "Minister of Community and Social Services" was pretty clear in his interview with intrepid city hall reporter Mike Howell:

In terms of campaign promises, I think we went one better. An individual becomes a political object, as well. When I leave council, [a future council] may fire that person. So we want to build institutional change so that it's part of our daily work.

Howell then wrote:

MacPherson arrived at the figure after conducting a financial analysis of each city department. Of that $28 million, the city's housing centre spent about $10.3 million to service homeless shelters, acquire land for social housing and devote staff to deal with people with mental illness. "So a lot of work is already being done by our staff and we didn't know this during the campaign," Jang said.

I was pretty convinced by Jang's repeated statements to Howell that the idea of hiring an advocate was now off the table. That is until I heard an interview Mayor Gregor Robertson did with John McComb from CKNW's The World Today. McComb posed a series of tough questions to Robertson (a rarity these days as the Mayor still basks in his honeymoon phase) about the hiring (or lack thereof) of a mental health advocate. 

Rather than back up his beleaguered minister, the Mayor appears to have dropped him like a hot potato. Here is what Robertson stated on NW:

It's premature to say that we won't be hiring a mental health advocate.

So who are we to believe? Did councillor Jang give Howell the straight goods when he said the advocate idea was dead? Or did Robertson fold like a bad deck of cards when he read the negative headlines in today's Courier?

I'm advised that Penny Ballem, Robertson's hand-picked city manager, never warmed up to the idea of hiring a mental health advocate. As a former deputy minister of health, she probably could see better than most what the pitfalls might be. Her biggest fear likely rested with the fact that Vancouver would be taking on added costs in an area it didn't have any jurisdiction over.

If Jang did goof up on this one (and that's entirely possible given his mishandling of the HEAT shelter file) then I repeat my call to have him removed from this sensitive portfolio. If Jang was correct, then what we heard on CKNW by Mayor Robertson was nothing short of political doublespeak, yet again.

UPDATE: Note page 30 in this City of Vancouver presentation. If refers to the priorities of the Finance Chair Councillor Raymond Louie. Included in his list of priorities was setting aside $150K for a new mental health advocate.

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