Chretien braves protesters at homelessness funding announcement
VANCOUVER (CP) - Demonstrators screamed at Prime Minister Jean Chretien to clean up the city's poverty-stricken Downtown Eastside before spending money on the Olympics, but he said it's the Liberal way to support both causes.
"It's very much liberalism, what we are," said Chretien. "At the same time we take care of the people who are poor and at the same time the Olympic Games will be a fantastic thing for Canada." Chretien made his comments while taking time away from promoting Vancouver's bid for the 2010 Winter Games to the International Olympic Committee to visit a shelter for street youth and announce funding to combat the problem.
In the budget delivered last month, the federal government committed $405 million over three years to reduce homelessness.
On Monday, the provincial government stepped up to the plate, promising to match the federal funding.
George Abbott, minister of community services, said that will work out to about $16 million each year for three years - "in total about $50 million."
About 100 protesters who marched from a rooming house chanting "Social! Housing!" shouted obscenities at Chretien as he walked into Vancouver's Covenant House shelter.
"Stop spending money on sporting events and worry about the kids dying in the streets, addicted to drugs, starving all across Canada," said Evelyn Crowe, a demonstrator.
Inside, Chretien admitted that the Liberals didn't spend a lot of money fighting homelessness in their first years in office.
"But now we don't have a deficit and we can work on this problem," he said.
He said it was just a "lucky coincidence" that he was able to announce the commitment from the province and flag the federal government's push to clean up the Downtown Eastside when the IOC was in town.
The area, a long corridor filled with homeless drug addicts and prostitutes often called the poorest postal code in Canada, has been somewhat of an embarrassment for the city's bid committee.
Money announced Monday will be spent on transitional housing, training and counselling programs.
Federal Labour Minister Claudette Bradshaw said all levels of government need to work together to cure homelessness.
"Then you won't have to deal with that 'not in my backyard' syndrome and everybody trying to pass the buck," she said.
Bradshaw said that under the model of co-operation that Canada is developing, the country will soon close its first prison because it has eased the problems faced by the poor.
"We are well on our way," she said. "We are no longer building shelters, we are building transitional homes and we will be with these people every step of the way through counselling and schooling."
The Downtown Eastside will again be known as a nice place to hang out, said Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal, who was also on hand for the announcement.
"I remember my grandfather taking me there for walks as a kid, and it will again be the place to go," said Dhaliwal.