I have lived in Vancouver for fifteen years now, and although I’m no jet-setter, I have spent enough time in other cities across the country to confirm that I would no longer consider moving to any other place in Canada. For me, that means no other place in the world can measure up to Vancouver. Simply put, Vancouver has too much to offer such as: hiking in the forests and skiing moonlit cross-country runs twenty-minutes away from downtown; miles of long stretches of beach on the west side of the city, many of the miles all but deserted on rainy winter days; a cornucopia of fresh and delicious seafood and vegetables locally available; fabulous restaurants, many of them serving very affordable Asian and uniquely West Coast dishes, accessible; and spectacular holiday destinations within only a few hours drive of the city.
As far as most of our tourists are concerned, Vancouver is a shining city of gleaming skyscrapers with snow-topped mountains off in the distance. What is often missed by these tourists on their way to Stanley Park, as they are hustled down the corridor of gleaming skyscrapers with snow-topped mountains in the background, is the hidden side of Vancouver. This is the Vancouver in which a lack of provincial funding for mental health patients ensures that many of the mentally ill and others of the most vulnerable among us lead an existence of extreme poverty and life-crippling alcohol and drug abuse. Rather than treating these citizens of Vancouver with the dignity and respect that all citizens should be entitled to, our provincial government has responded by cutting back or completely eliminating funding for a variety of social programs that attempted to provide safe shelter, food, counselling and medical treatment for these people. To boot, the province has been attempting to enact something called the Safe Streets Act, which effectively puts the boots to panhandlers.
Nor is it only the poor, the ill and the weak who are suffering behind the shiny advertising-projected holographic walls of our city. Soaring local real estate prices have ensured that Vancouver is by far the most expensive city in Canada to live in. In disregard of this, provincial legislation has enacted inadequate minimum wage legislation, including an absurdly low so-called training wage, supposedly to make it affordable for employers to hire and train inexperienced workers. What has happened in effect, though, is that some unscrupulous employers have hired workers and then fired them once they have reached the limits of their legislated training period.
As the flagship city on Canada’s Wet Coast gears itself up to host the 2010 Winter Olympics, there is much chatter from our local politicians, business leaders and other civic types about the fact that Vancouver is now a World Class City. Let us hope that we also strive to become a city known for its conscience and its heart. To achieve this goal, we need to take some proactive measures to lend a helping hand to those amongst us who need it the most.