A Mayor Whose Past Informs His Approach to Homelessness and Addiction

In Dan Carter, whom I profiled this week, Oshawa, Ontario, has a mayor with an unusual background. But the city faces a situation that is confronting many, perhaps most, Canadian municipalities: a growing population of homeless people, many with addiction 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 (the link can be opened without a New York Times subscription), Mr. Carter was a homeless addict from his teenage years before turning around his life, which has included an exceptional number of setbacks, at the age of 31.

I’ll leave it to the profile to tell his story and chronicle his major actions in office. Not surprisingly, if atypically, Mr. Carter, who is now in his second term, has made dealing with homeless people, addictions and mental health issues top priorities during his time as mayor.

The political debate around homelessness often falls 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 gone from the streets. The other camp argues that they 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 homeless people in downtown Oshawa, a city of 175,000, if Mr. Carter had changed perceptions in the city.

“He has championed the population since he’s come into office — he’s always, always geared his messaging towards helping this population,” Mr. Gardner told me. “In the political sphere, it isn’t always the case. But since the beginning, he has portrayed a message of: This is a very complex, very tough population to help and we have to try to do our best as a community.”

But Mr. Gardner said the combination of the pandemic, increased homelessness and the housing and opioid crises had probably shifted public opinion in the city “more towards the negative” over the last two or three years.

Nevertheless, he credited Mr. Carter with limiting the effects of that shift.

The mayor, he added, took a “potentially volatile situation that could have boiled over into real vitriol and a kind of chaos, and he’s really been able to contain it and champion a middle ground for this population.”

Among other things, Mr. Gardner said he believed that the city might have yielded to calls to shut down his center if Mr. Carter had not been in office.

Mr. Carter talked about the many frustrations he has encountered. As mayor, he lacks the power to order action directly. Instead, he has served as more of a deal maker. Oshawa is within a regional government — in its case, Durham — that controls the funding for social services programs. Addictions and mental health largely fall under the provincial government. And housing is a blend of those two levels, with the federal government joining the mix.

Among Mr. Carter’s biggest successes, in Mr. Gardner’s view, has been convincing provincial departments and ministries to focus on issues in Oshawa.

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

But Mr. Carter is not a typical conservative. Among other things, he is a strong believer in a 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 a wall was dominated by photos of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of his heroes. “I could never run for federal election because I don’t know where I’d stand.”

But Mr. Carter also said that the time had come to stop dealing with issues involving homeless people in a piecemeal way, fractured by layers of government and agencies.

“I need the federal government to actually lead,” he said. “Not just put out a check and say, ‘Here’s $30 billion.’ But also bring us together and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’”

He added: “I truly believe that we can actually solve this issue. It’s going to take us the next 25 years to be able to address it. What I do know as an addict is if we keep on doing what we’re doing, it’s going to get a lot worse.”

  • Cameron Ortis, the former civilian head of an intelligence unit in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, testified that he had passed on secrets to members of organized crime as part of a project so confidential he could not disclose it to anyone else in the force. But a jury has convicted him on four charges under secrecy laws and two criminal charges. Prosecutors will ask in January 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, N.Y., brought widespread disruption and panic to a busy section of the U.S.-Canada border. Investigators are still uncertain about what caused the explosion, which killed a couple who were headed to a concert in Toronto.

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

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

  • India is facing questions about its involvement in an assassination plot in the United States after American officials said they had expressed concerns to New Delhi about a thwarted plan to kill a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen, Mujib Mashal reports. This follows Canada’s accusation that the Indian government was involved in a killing in Surrey, British Columbia.

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

  • An exhibition by the Toronto artist Shary Boyle that uses ceramics, performances and animations, film, painting and textiles is now open at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. The critic Jillian Steinhauer writes that the exhibition “considers how we create our identities and present them to others — and in turn, how those performances feed back into who we are.”

  • Works by the Canadian authors John Vaillant and Naomi Klein are among The New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books of 2023.

    A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for over two decades.

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