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The Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Québécois joined forces Monday in voting down a Conservative motion calling on the government to immediately reverse a number of its hard-drug policies outlined in the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy, namely its safe-supply drug programs.
The motion, which Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre introduced on May 18, was voted down 209-113, with the three members of the Green Party and two independent MPs also voting against it.
Poilievre’s motion on Canada’s “opioid crisis” specifically called on the Liberal government to “immediately reverse its deadly policies and redirect all funds from taxpayer-funded, hard drug programs to addiction, treatment and recovery programs.”
The motion said the ongoing opioid crisis “has killed over 35,000 people since 2016,” while adding that yearly drug overdose deaths in B.C. “increased by 330% between 2015 and 2022.”
It states that a Global News reporter in East Vancouver was recently “able to buy 26 hits for $30 in just 30 minutes of a dangerous and highly addictive opioid that is distributed in tax-funded drug supply programs and flooding our streets with cheap opioids.”
While introducing the motion on May 18, Poilievre particularly criticized Ottawa’s decision to grant the B.C. government authorization in January to temporarily decriminalize possession of small amounts of certain hard drugs.
In April, the B.C. Coroners Service said that nearly 600 people died in the province from January through March due to drug overdoses, while also saying there is no evidence that “prescribed safe supply is contributing to illicit drug deaths.”
During debate by MPs on the motion after it was introduced on May 18, there was cross-party agreement on some points between the Tories and NDP and heated disagreement from the Liberals.
NDP MP Gord Johns said rising overdose death rates across Canada are not due to an “opioid crisis,” but a “a toxic, unregulated drug supply,” noting that fentanyl has dominated the illicit drug market since 2016.
Johns also said that Canadians are “frustrated by the lack of action by the government to respond to this crisis,” but cutting off “safe supply” programs to stop overdose deaths would “not make sense.”
The Liberal government’s “safer supply” policy includes providing individuals it deems to be at “high risk of overdose” with “prescribed medications as a safer alternative to the toxic illegal drug supply,” such as fentanyl.
Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett defended the program on May 18, while adding that “people are dying but not for the reasons they [Conservatives] are giving.”
“Canada is facing a twofold epidemic: a toxic and illegal drug supply and an overdose crisis,” she said in the House.
Meanwhile, Poilievre said the Liberals’ drug decriminalization program was based on evidence gathered by “pie-in-the-sky theorists with no experience getting people off drugs.”
“This is a radical and out-of-touch approach, which is not aligned with that of any other successful jurisdiction in the world,” he said.
Marnie Cathcart contributed to this report.