Vancouver’s new council will have as a first priority the hiring of 100 new police officers and 100 new psychiatric nurses that was central to its successful election campaign last month, according to mayor-elect Ken Sim’s new chief of staff.
But Kareem Allam said it will take a lot of co-ordination with the province, Vancouver Coastal Health, or VCH, and the Vancouver Police Department, or VPD. He believes there are early signs of willingness toward that end given widespread alarm about mental-health issues, homelessness and public drug use in the city, as leaders worry that public order is fraying.
The 43-year-old campaign manager has become a key part of the transition team for Mr. Sim’s ABC party, which will dominate Vancouver City Hall after the mayor and councillors take office on Nov. 7.
“There’s a desire to move fast and not take forever. And we feel in a very short amount of time, we’ve been able to get political alignment with the province,” Mr. Allam said. He added that the team has already had meetings with Premier John Horgan’s chief of staff, Geoff Meggs, and premier-designate David Eby.
Mr. Horgan, in a recent TV interview, said “the initiatives by the incoming council are positive,” a comment that has encouraged the ABC team.
The team has also met with people at VCH and VPD to work out the financial and logistical difficulties of ramping up the huge new initiative, in a climate where there are widespread labour shortages, particularly among such sectors as policing and nursing.
“With the police, we are getting strong indications that we can make quite a lot of progress,” Mr. Allam said.
The departing council voted last week to provide police with some new money to start doing that hiring.
The coming ABC council would like to see the nurses hired by Vancouver police through VCH – the same way that about a dozen nurses have been seconded from the health region to work with police on a program called Car 87, which pairs them with a police officer when going out to calls about people in mental-health distress.
That would give those nurses access to patient records and institutional support, making the expanded program more efficient. But it will require provincial help to ensure that that kind of hiring system works.
Mr. Allam could not provide information on what kinds of hiring might be able to happen by what date – only that everyone is working hard to get at least some early recruits.
“We do need to start asserting a presence on the street again, unlike the old way that wasn’t working.”
The new program will face some of the same challenges all provinces are facing in attracting nurses: Statistics Canada figures show job vacancies in health during the first quarter of this year were nearly double what they were two years ago. Nurses and nurse aides were among the top 10 occupations with the largest job-vacancy increases over that period.
In keeping with the focus on re-establishing public order, Mr. Allam also said the council will be re-establishing the city’s graffiti team. He said there will be a two-part strategy to dealing with the challenge: working to eliminate graffiti that is unsanctioned, but also identifying places where “legitimate graffiti artists can practice.”
Last month’s election result in Vancouver is being spun by the provincial Liberal Party, now led by Kevin Falcon, as a repudiation of the overly progressive policies of departing Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s council over the past four years.
But Mr. Allam, who was Mr. Falcon’s campaign manager for the Liberal leadership race last winter, said the desire to improve public order is “beyond politics.”