For better or worse, Pierre Poilievre has turned the YouTube video into a key piece of his political brand. He’s used them to do everything from launch his leadership campaign to opine on subjects like inflation and cryptocurrencies, and they’ve allowed him to largely bypass the mainstream media and get his message directly to voters. That message is a simple but seductive one: it’s all their fault.
They, of course, are his political enemies in Ottawa, who are responsible for everything from global inflation to Europe’s energy crisis to, yes, the opioid addiction crisis. But his latest video, shot in front of a makeshift tent city near the Port of Vancouver, might be his most cynical and depraved yet. It begins, as so many of Poilievre’s interventions do, with some creative math and a spurious correlation. He says there’s been a “300 per cent increase” in drug overdose deaths in British Columbia since Justin Trudeau took office in 2015. In reality, the number of opioid-related overdose deaths has gone from 806 in 2016 to 2,291 in 2021 — a horrifying increase, but one that is 184 per cent, much smaller than Poilievre asserts.
That’s a minor quibble, though. The much bigger and more important one is Poilievre’s pattern of identifying a real problem, briefly empathizing with the people who are suffering from it and then framing the solution in purely partisan terms. When it comes to the addiction and drug abuse problems plaguing Vancouver, as well as other parts of the country, he suggests it can all be traced back to the policies of — you guessed it — Trudeau’s Liberal government. “The addictions that we see, that have terrorized these people and our communities, they are the result of a failed experiment,” he says. “This is a deliberate policy by woke Liberal and NDP governments to provide taxpayer-funded drugs, [and] flood our streets with easy access to these poisons.”
If only it were that simple.
The supervised injection sites that he describes as a “failed experiment” have already saved thousands of lives and helped thousands of other people who use dangerous drugs access social supports and services that can help them break their addictions. According to an analysis by the BC Coroners Service that looked at illicit drug toxicity deaths between Jan. 1, 2012, and Sept. 30, 2022, not one person has died of an overdose at a supervised consumption site. More importantly, there was “no indication” the sites were contributing to the rise in drug-related deaths.
The biggest contributor there, as Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason noted in a recent column, is the potency of the drugs themselves. “There were roughly 200 deaths per year before fentanyl became a common ingredient of street drugs,” he wrote. In 2021, illicit drugs led to more than 2,000 deaths in B.C., “and, again, none of them occurred at a safe consumption site. Fentanyl or analogues were detected in less than five per cent of illicit drug deaths in 2012. It’s almost 86 per cent now.”
Poilievre tries to suggest that Alberta’s United Conservative Party government is taking a radically different approach, one that focuses more on recovery and personal responsibility and that this somehow offers a model for the rest of the country. But as former Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells pointed out in a long piece on his Substack, the data — drawn from Alberta’s own information portal — suggests it’s not nearly as different as Poilievre would like to pretend.
Methadone and buprenorphine — the “taxpayer-funded” drugs Poilievre rails against — have all seen substantial increases in usage in Alberta since 2020. Sublocade, an injectable form of buprenorphine that’s designed to reduce opioid cravings in longer-term drug users who haven’t been helped by other treatments, has gone from being used with one patient to 891 in Alberta in just a year and half. Then there’s hydromorphone, another injectable “taxpayer-funded” drug, which will be part of pilot programs soon in Edmonton and Calgary.
Is that the fault of the UCP government? Of course not. It’s a reflection of the reality that all governments have to face: these drugs and the problems they cause defy simple solutions or partisan prescriptions. Oh, and about those safe consumption sites in Vancouver? Alberta has five of them, too, whether Poilievre realizes it or not. “Why does Alberta run all these harm-reduction services?” Wells asks. “For the same reason B.C. and other Canadian jurisdictions do: because they save lives.”
If there’s a failed experiment afoot here, it’s our continued insistence on using the institutions and apparatuses of law enforcement to treat a medical issue. That’s not an issue that Poilievre is likely to broach, given he can’t use it to blame “woke” politicians or otherwise confirm existing biases of his base. It’s much easier for him to create false binaries and paint the political landscape in exclusively partisan colours, and he shows no sign of deviating from this well-worn path.
The latest video from the Conservative Party of Canada leader, shot in front of a makeshift tent city near the Port of Vancouver, might be his most cynical and depraved yet, writes columnist @maxfawcett for @NatObserver. #opinion #PierrePoilievre
But that won’t do a damn thing to actually help the people he claimed to care about in his most recent video. It’s easy to say, as he did, that “everything feels broken.” It’s much harder to actually offer up real solutions that involve more than just blaming your political opponents.
Social media platforms that mediate our lives make it easy to get people addicted to the potent political narcotics of partisanship and anger. The last thing we need right now are leaders who insist on trafficking in those things.