Councillor Tim Stevenson argued nothing immoral or illegal was happening at DERA
Last week we learned the Province of BC had filed an unprecedented lawsuit against the Downtown Residents Association (DERA) located in Vancouver. They allege that DERA conducted a number of inappropriate activities including "Renting to tenants, including past or current DERA employees or board members, without a housing application or appearing on a wait-list, and writing off their rental arrears."
The lawsuit reminded me of a debate that took place at Vancouver Council back in 2007 when the NPA majority decided they wanted to cut funding to DERA for a program they ran in one of their social housing sites. Then Councillor Peter Ladner put forward a motion asking staff to set aside the $31,000 staff had earmarked for DERA and work to see if any other agencies could provide the service instead. Ladner's motion set off a nasty political and legal storm that lasted for months. Both the Vision and COPE officials immediately went on the attack accusing both him and his NPA colleagues of being on a "witch hunt".
Given the recent revelations of the lawsuit against DERA, I thought it might be useful to go back into the video archives to listen to the old debates that took place regarding DERA's funding. In summary...it was nasty, personal and downright vicious - and that was just the first 15 minutes of video I reviewed. One after another, the Vision and COPE elected officials stood up and attacked the NPA while they sat quietly in their chairs and took the pounding.
DERA has been the incubator for a number of well known politicians such as MP Libby Davies and former city councillor Jim Green. It is very high profile and has faced many challenges over its history. Back in 2006 The Province newspaper reported that it was under investigation by BC Housing:
An article in The Province on Dec. 11, 2006 reported B.C. Housing was investigating claims members of an anti-government protest group called the Anti-Poverty Committee had unfairly secured subsidized social housing for its members.
And Jamie Lee Hamilton, a Downtown Eastside activist who used to live in DERA housing, said she wrote a letter three years ago to B.C.’s housing minister detailing a litany of complaints, most reflected in the writ.
When I reviewed the archival tape I was also reminded that it was Hamilton who attended a council meeting on May 3, 2007, whereby she pleaded with the elected officials to take her concerns regarding DERA seriously. At one point during the discussion she turned to Vision Councillor Tim Stevenson and stated:
I am going on the record saying that I allege there is a misuse of funds.
Hamilton's bold accusation was met by a whole lot of cynicism from the Vision/COPE officials who proceeded to grill Jamie Lee like she was on trial. In the end, as The Province points out today, many of Hamilton's allegations were reflected in the writ.
As for the tenor of the debate back in the spring of 2007 when the NPA attempted to cut funding to DERA, here is what former Mayor Sam Sullivan and his team had to endure. Let's first start with Tim Stevenson, one of the more prolific pontificators from the last council:
I can see no reason. I have no reason to deny this [funding] to DERA. From what I know they are doing a good job.
He also hurled a pointed attack at Councillor Kim Capri for her unwillingness to support DERA:
As far as I can see Councillor Capri you may have lost faith with this organization [DERA]. But I don’t think that most people in the Downtown Eastside have lost faith with this extremely important organization. And from what I can see so far this organization has done nothing illegal, nothing immoral, nothing unethical whatsoever.
Vision's Heather Deal, no shrinking violet, piled on with some of her own indignation:
This is being slipped through very quickly with no input from the very people affected by the decision. I find that very troubling. I find it undemocratic. I find it unreasonable. I think it’s as close to backroom as you can get in this room is to slip something in like this that pulls the funding from one of our organizations. An organization that may have issues, but that have been providing a service. And we have heard nothing about that service not being well provided by this organization. Did they know they are getting this yanked? Did they have any opportunity to come speak to us about the service they provide? And to tell us about the good work that they do?
Raymond Louie even accused the NPA of a witch hunt:
DERA provides a service to the community and has been doing so for a period of time. Perhaps just to enlighten the public slightly, there are perhaps some issues, but perhaps they are not currently as I understand it formalized in terms of what the challenge is. So I’ll leave it to Councillor Ladner to say exactly what it is and what motivates his motion. Absent proof I’m fearful that we are going down a witch hunt’s path that perhaps won’t yield something substantive. It’s truly a matter of making sure that people are in fact guilty before you take away their funding or throw them in jail. Whichever that be the case. I still don’t see Councillor Ladner coming on stream here. So it concerns me that perhaps now we’re having a trial absent the opportunity for the defendant to actually be able to defend themselves against whatever charges are perhaps being levied.
Even the normally reserved George Chow couldn't resist throwing a jab or two and he leapt to DERA's defence:
I would also like to ask Councillor Ladner regarding his reason for not having any confidence in DERA being able to deliver this service. He certainly hasn’t said anything that to my satisfaction that why he would think DERA is not suitable to deliver this senior’s service which they have done in past years.
How's this quote from Stevenson who clearly wanted to everyone to know how he voted:
I do not want to see my name in the records going down in the future as one of those that voted in favour of the termination of this [DERA] grant.
Stevenson even lectured the NPA officials and warned them not to let their own personal feelings or political points of view "pollute the process":
Have you had any sense of anything illegal, immoral or unethical going on with this organization [DERA]? I want to know if there is any hint of any problem at all of any kind that would warrant this?...
I just hope that the press is hearing this. I really hope the press is hearing this. Because we may not like particular organizations. We may find them repugnant even, but we have a staff that vets all of these things for us so that our own personal feelings and our own personal political points of view don’t pollute the process.
The two meetings where all these humdinger quotes came from took place on April 3 and May 3, 2007. During the May meeting, Stevenson proposed the following motion:
THAT Council approve a six-month grant of $15,600 to the Downtown Eastside Residents’ Association. Source of funding is the 2007 Community Services Grants budget; and
FURTHER THAT Council request staff to review and report back on the success of the program over the six-month period with a view of continuation into the future.
There was simply no way that Vision/COPE wanted council to cut off funding to DERA. In fact, COPE's David Cadman didn't think that Vision went far enough and he proposed the following motion instead:
THAT the Motion be amended by striking out the words “approve a six-month grant of $15,600 to the Downtown Eastside Residents’ Association” and replacing with the words “grant the Downtown Eastside Residents’ Association the full $31,200, as recommended by staff.
So there you have it, a little travel back in time during a debate that helped to define all three political parties and what they believed in.
- post by Daniel