Civic Aboriginal Leader First to Run for City Hall

By Staff Writers

A new grass-roots civic political party is fielding Vancouver’s first aboriginal leader to run for a seat on the Vancouver city council, long-time civic activist, Lou Demerais, the current head of the Vancouver Native Health Society.

The Vancouver Civic Action Team or vcaTEAM, is fielding a slate of ten candidates for city council and three park board positions in the November 19, 2002 civic election based on a platform of fiscal responsibility and social responsibility, that reaches out to the “disaffected” and “disenfranchised,” the very people who don’t normally vote.

The vcaTeam was created last spring from an array of urban professionals disenchanted with the current polarized climate of city hall politics between the right-wing Non Partisan Association (NPA) and the left-wing Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE).

The turfing of current and outgoing mayor Philip Owen by the NPA over his controversial “Four Pillars” strategy for dealing with the Downtown Eastside’s notorious drug and alcohol has opened a rift that the new party hopes to exploit.

Announced in 2000, the Four Pillars strategy included an emphasis on increased enforcement through policing, treatment and prevention and “harm reduction sites.”

Harm reduction sites or legalized injection sites for heroin addicts was the issue that divided the NPA.

Mayor Owen is stepping down in favour of the NPA mayoral candidacy of Councilor Jennifer Clarke.

Eastside commitment
In addition to the overall policies of vcaTEAM, Demarais is committed to the involvement of aboriginal peoples in improving the social and economic health of the city.

“I will work with any one who wants to work with me to improve, not only the economic, but social conditions on the downtown eastside,” said Demarais.

Demarais will tackle the Vancouver east end and infamous drug and alcohol problem through the creation of a “Four Pillars Plus” strategy for the Downtown Eastside.

“Right now, there aren’t enough resources put into some of the pillars including policing. There’s certainly not enough happening in terms of prevention and there is definitely too much weight behind the idea of safe injection sites, particularly at a time when the federal government hasn’t done anything around changing the laws to even allow these things to happen,” said Demarais

Demarais said that he would like to see further work on the implementation of the Vancouver Agreement, a five-year, three-party agreement among the federal, provincial and municipal governments, aimed at improving the social and economic conditions in all Vancouver communities, with the first focus on the Downtown Eastside.

Demarais said that it’s critical that the outlying municipal governments to incept programs to alleviate problems in their areas so all of the drug and alcohol problems are not of the lower mainland are not concentrated in a four or six block radius.

Demarais, a long-time advocate of Vancouver’s east end aboriginal population, has over 35 years experience in active involvement in community and public affairs.

He has held the position of executive director of the Vancouver Native Health Society since 1991, and has extensive experience in program management and policy analysis.

“What we’re saying is that there’s an alternative to the polarized politics which really doesn’t help the overall situation of social problems. I think people are tired of all that nonsense and, based on our sampling of the public mood, it’s time for a change.”