A mayor whose past informs his approach to homelessness and addiction

In Dan Carter, who I talked about this week, Oshawa, Ontario, has a mayor with an unusual background. But the city faces a situation that faces many, perhaps most, Canadian municipalities: a growing population of homeless people, many of whom suffer from addictions and mental health issues.

[Read the Saturday Profile: Once a Homeless Addict, a Mayor Takes On Housing and Drug Crises]

As I describe in the profile (link can be opened without a New York Times subscription), Mr. Carter had been a homeless drug addict since adolescence before turning his life around, which included an exceptional number of one-liners arrest, at the age of 31.

I’ll let the profile tell his story and his major actions in office. It is not surprising, if anything, that Mr. Carter, now in his second term, has made addressing homelessness, addiction and mental health issues top priorities during his tenure as mayor.

The political debate on homelessness often divides into two camps. Some Canadians feel threatened by homeless people, believing they are a source of crime, and some business owners think they keep customers away. People in that camp mostly just want them off the streets. The other camp argues that these are citizens in desperate need rather than a nuisance.

I asked Nathan Gardner, the executive director of the Back Door Mission, which provides a variety of services to the homeless in downtown Oshawa, a city of 175,000, whether Mr. Carter had changed perceptions of the city.

“He has stood up for the population since he took office — he has always, always geared his messaging toward helping this population,” Gardner told me. «In the political sphere this is not always the case. But from the beginning he sent a message like: this is a very complex population, very difficult to help and we must try to do our best as a community ”.

But Gardner said the combination of the pandemic, increased homelessness and the housing and opioid crises has likely shifted public opinion in the city “more toward the negative” over the past two or three years.

However, he credited Carter with limiting the effects of that change.

The mayor, he added, took a “potentially volatile situation that could have resulted in real vitriol and a kind of chaos, and was really able to contain it and advocate for a middle ground for this population.”

Among other things, Gardner said he believed the city might have given in to demands to close its center if Mr. Carter had not been in office.

Mr. Carter spoke of the many frustrations he encountered. As mayor, he has no power to directly order action. Instead, he served more as a dealmaker. Oshawa is part of a regional government – ​​in his case, Durham – that controls funding for social services programs. Addictions and mental health largely fall under the control of the provincial government. And housing is a mix of those two levels, with the federal government joining the mix.

One of Carter’s greatest successes, according to Gardner, was getting provincial departments and ministries to focus on Oshawa’s problems.

The mayor has twice been asked to run as a Progressive Conservative candidate for the Ontario legislature. And he remains close to some members of the province’s current Conservative government.

But Mr. Carter is not a typical conservative. Among other things, he is a firm believer in guaranteed annual income, an idea that has a limited following among Canadian conservatives.

“I say I have a socialist heart because I really do,” Mr. Carter told me in his office, where one wall was dominated by photos of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of his heroes. “I could never run in federal elections because I don’t know where I would stand.”

But Carter also said it’s time to stop addressing issues involving homelessness in a piecemeal manner, fragmented by layers of government and agencies.

“I need the federal government to really lead,” he said. “You don’t just write a check and say, ‘Here’s $30 billion.’ But let’s also come together and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’”

He added: “I really believe we can actually solve this problem. It will take the next 25 years to be able to deal with it. What I know as an addict is that if we keep doing what we’re doing, things will get a lot worse.


  • Cameron Ortis, the former civilian head of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police intelligence unit, testified that he passed secrets to members of organized crime as part of a project so confidential that he could not reveal it to anyone else in law enforcement. But a jury convicted him on four counts under secrecy laws and two criminal charges. In January the prosecutor’s office will ask that he be sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.

  • The explosion of a luxury car at the entrance to the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, New York, has caused widespread disruption and panic in a busy area of ​​the US-Canada border. Investigators are still unsure what caused the explosion, which killed a couple who were headed to a concert in Toronto.

  • In the Opinion section of the Times, Montreal filmmaker Raquel Sancinetti uses video and animation to document her relationship with her friend Madeleine, who is 107.

  • “Nanalan,” a Canadian children’s show that debuted in 1999, has found a new audience on TikTok.

  • India is facing doubts over its involvement in an assassination plot in the United States after American officials said they had raised concerns in New Delhi over a foiled plot to kill a dual US-Canadian citizen, reports Mujib Mashal . This follows Canada’s accusation that the Indian government was involved in a murder in Surrey, British Columbia.

  • Peter Tarnoff, an American diplomat who helped organize the escape of six U.S. Embassy officials from sheltering with Canadian diplomats in Iran, has died at age 86.

  • An exhibition by Toronto artist Shary Boyle using ceramics, performance and animation, film, painting and textiles is now open at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. Critic Jillian Steinhauer writes that the exhibition “considers how we create our identities and present them to others – and, in turn, how those performances impact who we are.”

  • The works of Canadian authors John Vaillant and Naomi Klein are among the New York Times Book Review’s 100 Noteworthy Books of 2023.

    Born in Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has written about Canada for the New York Times for more than two decades.


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