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Crime and disorder on city streets are shaping up to be one of the biggest issues in Canadian politics. That may not be such a bad thing. In fact, it may force us to confront issues we have been dodging for too long.

Concern about urban disorder has been rising across the country. Ken Sim rode to victory in last fall’s election for Vancouver mayor on a pledge to tame it. Pierre Poilievre of the federal Conservatives played on fears about it in his infamous “everything’s broken” video. It promises to be an issue in this June’s byelection to replace John Tory as mayor of Toronto.

Canadian cities big and small, east and west, are grappling with the problem. In Edmonton, police data shows violent crime downtown is up sharply over the past five years. The police service has set up a special operations centre to combat disorder in the city’s core. A dozen Alberta sheriffs are to join police in beefed up patrols.

In Calgary, a recent opinion poll showed that a majority of residents feel less safe than they did a few years ago. Police say they are struggling with an increase in the number of calls involving suspects with mental health problems. Residents are especially worried about violence and drug use on the city’s transit system.

Toronto has been shaken by a series of random attacks on the streets and on transit vehicles. Mr. Tory boosted the police budget by nearly $50-million to pay for more cops.

You only need to look south of the border to see the political upheavals that fears like this can cause. Chicago voters just ousted a once-popular mayor, Lori Lightfoot, the first Black woman to lead the city. The main issue in the election was the leap in the murder rate, combined with a rise in carjackings, muggings and other crimes.

In 2021 New Yorkers elected Eric Adams on a promise to clean up the streets. In 2022 San Franciscans angry over visible disorder in their city recalled a liberal district attorney, Chesa Boudin, removing him from office.

These campaigns can be overheated and divisive. The hard right blames everything on overindulgent liberals. The hard left blames everything on the police. Justifiable concern over public safety shades into hysteria, making people avoid taking transit or going downtown altogether.

Let’s hope we can avoid all that here. Though what’s happening on our streets is disturbing, it’s important to remember that Canadian cities are still safe and pleasant places for most people who inhabit them. Some of them routinely rank in international surveys as among the most livable in the world. Everything is not broken and Mr. Poilievre’s scaremongering does no one any good.

All the same, we need to have a robust debate over the causes and solutions of the disorder on our streets. That means posing some tough, uncomfortable questions.

Is the justice system letting too many people who may pose a threat to the public free on bail or probation, as some recent cases suggest? Was British Columbia Premier David Eby right when he suggested authorities should consider involuntary treatment for those with severe mental-health or addictions issues if they pose a threat to themselves or to others? Are some police unions and commanders right when they say that cops are demoralized by the years of close scrutiny of their conduct?

Despite the potential for division and futile either-or exchanges, there is already quite a bit of common ground in sight. Just about everyone agrees that we need to focus more resources on the plight of the mentally ill and those living with addictions. Just about everyone agrees we need a well-trained, well-resourced highly professional police. The calls to “defund” the police have faded over time.

At the same time, just about everyone agrees that policing is not the main answer. Several cities are sending mental-health workers into the streets to help police deal humanely and moderately with potentially threatening individuals. And let’s remember: The vast majority of homeless or mentally ill people seen on Canadian streets pose no threat to anyone.

The good thing about all this talk about urban disorder is that it is focusing attention on some of our most stubborn social problems. If we conduct this discussion with the calm, rationality and urgency it deserves, it could lead to real progress. Let the debate begin.