Good morning. It’s Wendy Cox in Vancouver.
After 22 years at the helm of the agency that provides housing for British Columbia’s most disadvantaged, Shayne Ramsay knows exactly the date when he started questioning his ability to drive change.
“On Saturday morning, May 7th, something shifted,” Mr. Ramsay wrote in a remarkable resignation letter.
“I watched out my window as police descended on Crab Park. I had just returned, minutes earlier, from taking our dog Fred for our regular morning walk. On the beach, a man lay fatally stabbed. My neighbour, who lingered a bit longer than Fred and me, was bowled over by the two young men accused of his murder as they ran across the park to get to him.”
His resignation letter goes on to list several other incidents over the last number of weeks, some of which have left him disturbed and questioning his effectiveness at the helm of BC Housing. They include a string of murders in Langley, apparently targeting homeless people, last week. A woman was set on fire while sitting on a sidewalk on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Nearby, a sleeping structure was also set alight.
Mr. Ramsey referenced this week’s heat wave and noted the growing tent encampment on a Downtown Eastside Street, just the latest that has been stymying policy makers in the city for years as tents pop up each summer in various locations.
Mr. Ramsay was confronted last week by a group of angry Kitsilano residents over his presentation to city council about a social-housing project in that area. They were angry at him for denouncing NIMBYs and misinformation as he pleaded with council to approve the project. (It was eventually approved, with conditions, in an 8-3 vote.)
Also last week, a police officer was assaulted with a weapon while sitting in a police cruiser with another officer. The alleged attacker was shot and both the officer and the attacker were taken to hospital. Later that day, another officer working at the scene of the incident was attacked by a bystander.
“I think the shooting on Hastings Street, surrounded by the encampment and during another heat wave, finally did it for me. I no longer have confidence I can solve the complex problems facing us at BC Housing,” Mr. Ramsay wrote.
BC Housing has been under a microscope. The agency saw its budget balloon from $785-million in 2017/18 to $2.247-billion for 2022-2023 as the provincial NDP government made housing a priority.
A provincial review done by the accounting firm of Ernst & Young identified a number of problems in the agency, some as unremarkable as having inadequate information-technology systems, some more serious, involving contracts that were signed with various non-profit housing groups where there was no documentation about how and why decisions were made.
Shortly after that review was made public, then-housing minister David Eby announced he was replacing the entire board at BC Housing. The replacements were largely former deputy ministers and bureaucrats with financial expertise, as compared to the previous board appointed by the NDP’s Selina Robinson, who had more of a background in housing advocacy.
The agency has seen a lot of resignations of senior managers in the last couple of years, some frustrated by increasing controls on their work by the Treasury Board, which was making it hard to get real-estate purchases done. Others were frustrated by internal tensions.
So there were many reasons why Mr. Ramsay may have thought his time at the agency was at an end. But the challenges he laid out in his resignation letter are not easily solved by his replacement. Mr. Ramsay’s last day is Sept. 6. The agency will then be in the hands of an interim leader or a newly appointed one. Whoever that person is will be taking the helm of BC Housing just as the October municipal elections loom, a time when concerns about lawlessness and the housing crisis will form stark battle lines for candidates.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.