For months now, conservative pundits and politicians have heralded the so-called “Alberta model” as the best way to address Canada’s ongoing opioid crisis and its devastating impact on families and communities across the country. Safe supply, they argued, had simply made the problem worse; Alberta’s decision to prioritize recovery over harm reduction was a better way forward. And leading that charge, of course, was Pierre Poilievre, who went out of his way to insist the growing volume of overdose deaths and drug-related crime was mostly of Justin Trudeau’s making, and that he would solve it in due course.

Well, about that. A few days ago, the government of Alberta released data showing its much-ballyhooed model wasn’t working very well. The province recorded a record-high 179 drug overdose deaths in April, a total 46 per cent higher than the year before. British Columbia, by comparison, saw a 17 per cent year-over-year increase in drug poisoning deaths. Both figures speak to the fact that the drugs circulating on our streets right now are unlike anything we’ve ever encountered before in Canada. They’re dangerous, often deadly and defy almost every attempt to control their flow and manage their impact.

One thing that should be abundantly clear by now, though, is you can’t solve this crisis with ideology. That’s certainly the lesson that Ben Perrin, a longtime conservative political insider and former adviser to prime minister Stephen Harper, has learned over the last few years. “I thought supervised consumption sites enabled drug use, and that giving people who were addicted a safe supply of free drugs was an insane policy,” said Perrin, who’s now a University of British Columbia law professor specializing in criminal justice and international law. “I deeply regret that I let my political ideology take the place of evidence.”

He’s not the only conservative willing to follow the evidence here. “Regardless of which party has been in government, Alberta hasn’t made a very good poster boy for Canadian drug-policy successes,” Postmedia pundit Chris Selley wrote recently. “Not for the first time, I implore those convinced by the ‘harm reduction increases harm’ narrative to think about it just a bit longer.”

Fat chance of that happening, though. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith doubled down on her approach, telling CTV’s Vassy Kapelos in a recent interview that “we’re not doing safe supply in Alberta.” Poilievre was even less willing to give any ground, repeatedly tweeting about B.C.’s ongoing challenges with addictions and homelessness and boosting op-eds that criticize the merits of safe supply and continue to tout Alberta’s abstinence-based approach. “Only treatment will bring our loved ones home drug-free.”

If only that were true. As Perrin has noted, the issues at play here are far too complex to be resolved by a single solution or strategy. “Today it’s fentanyl, tomorrow it will be something else. Unless we change our approach to how we deal with substances in society, we are going to continue to put people's safety at risk and have lives be lost.”

Giving users access to non-poisonous drugs is one surefire way to prevent overdose and keep them alive, just as treatment is a key part of helping them return to their families, their communities and their former lives. But there’s clearly no silver bullet here, and anyone professing to have one should be treated with tremendous skepticism.

What’s needed, more than anything, is a sense of humility and a spirit of co-operation among our leaders. They need to be guided by the data, wherever it might take them, not just their own ideological convictions. They need to be willing to admit when they’re wrong and when someone else is right. And they would do well to spend less time focusing on British Columbia and Alberta, where overdose fatalities are consistently among the highest in the country, and spend more looking at why the numbers have traditionally been much lower in Quebec. What are they doing differently and what can we learn from their experience?

Canadians, for their part, should pay especially close attention to this issue. In Poilievre, they have someone who’s applying to lead their country and whose job interview will continue to unfold over the coming months and years. Can he start treating this issue and the people it impacts most directly with the empathy and intelligence they deserve? Or will he continue weaponizing their misery for his own political purposes?

Pierre Poilievre and other prominent conservatives spent months talking up Alberta's approach to drug addiction and treatment. Now that the data has turned against them, will they put their ideological approach aside or just double down?

The answer to those questions will speak volumes about Poilievre’s character and competency, and they should weigh on the judgments of many Canadians when it comes time to cast a federal ballot again. We live in an age where politicians too often get away with offering simplistic solutions to complicated problems, and where social media algorithms actively punish things like nuance and deliberation in favour of contributions that inflame or provoke. But to make progress on an issue as thorny as addictions and mental health, we need leaders who are willing and able to rise above those temptations — not fall prey to them.

Keep reading

Yeah, I saw Smith with her puppy dog eyes intimating that we CARE about these people more than all you libtards who just want to keep poisoning them so we offer actual "treatment." As a woman, that default nurturing stance automatically kicks in; it's a big part of why she's been allowed to be the ameliorating frontman for the TBA fanatics, to soft-pedal their "movement", their mission. What they want to take Alberta back from is secularism.
In keeping with that and the defining religiosity of these guys, their idea of treatment is AA-based and promotes abstinence, accomplished by turning yourself over to a "higher power." As with the pandemic, the cons are newbies to this business of having to look like you actually care about "the public" i.e. people, so they're fairly challenged here. Enter their all-purpose crutch of religion to present a humane facade, it's the gift that keeps on giving because it also renders statistics meaningless.
Knowing that Kenney being forced to start showing up on the reality-based, science side of things during the pandemic is also what finished him off means religion might finally start showing up on the ballot here as it so rightly should. Way past due.

I didn't know what to think about the "Portuguese Model" touted by Tasha Kheridden the other day. Portugal has earned a lot of respect around the world for its approach to drugs. On the other hand, I don't trust Tasha Kheridden, or her paper, for that matter. A second opinion would be welcome.

No, agreed, she's a conservative, and unless she has made a point to announce a change, she's just another one who's trying to cash in on the novelty of being an anomaly, i.e. one of the few remaining reasonable ones. No, at this juncture anyone who still lines up with anything or anyone on the right can't possibly value the truth sufficiently to matter.
I think the Portuguese model has enough longevity and significantly improved statistics to be a model because it's health-centred and on a par with the group "Moms Stop the Harm," so the most humane approach with suffering human beings.
If you've read any Gabor Mate he stresses that most addicts have "psychic wounds." Don't we all one could say, but clearly there are degrees, and you obviously can't assume that just because someone is a certain age that means they have somehow "grown up" and/or been somewhat "parented." But many have not and with the truth of the residential schools horror still unfolding, most of us are dedicated to reconciliation.
The fact that the conservatives refuse to consider even doing land acknowledgements says all you need to know about them and their ilk.

Tight griped Liberals and tight griped Conservatives are not planning to change their colours. And from what I see we have a shrinking swing voter group that is between NDP and Green. I feel we are going to be in a minority government system for a few more election.