The B.C. Liberals’ and the Overdose Crisis

By Jenn McDermid

In the last four years, the reliable inaction of our provincial government has caused irreversible damage. Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberal’s have denied facts, overlooked major environmental, health and social crises, made vulnerable communities suffer, and stood behind inequitable policies. Their legacy is one that is marked by significant hardship for those communities and individuals that exist outside of a particular income bracket.

To better illustrate the Liberals ineffective leadership, let’s take a moment to consider what this government has ‘accomplished’ since elected:

-In just one year Vancouver has seen a 30% increase in homelessness

-The construction of the Site C dam threatens thousands of hectares of First Nation’s land and invaluable ecosystems

-The rapid gentrification of our city and current lack of affordable housing has displaced thousands of people and forced many to live in precarious or unstable housing

-The lack of urgency in creating a safe and free mode of transportation along Highway 16 has meant that more women have been murdered or gone missing while traveling between Prince George and Prince Rupert

-The recent approval of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline poses significant environmental threats to B.C.’s coastline

-There has been virtually no meaningful reconciliation attempts with First Nation’s leaders and communities

The list goes on…

Since Christy Clark became premier, reports, calls to action, acts of resistance, protests and a number of other tactics have been used to shed light on issues affecting the province, with few tangible results. Although the Liberals like to say that they are working hard and following the demands made by British Columbian’s, I have yet to see this government meaningfully or swiftly implement any meaningful changes that would help lay the foundation in repairing some of our most broken institutions (like the electoral system itself).

Christy Clark’s apathy is made more frustrating by the fact that the concrete steps needed to create change couldn’t be clearer. We have all of the necessary information and tools to implement the revisions that the majority of advocates endorse and yet Christy Clark does nothing; rather the Liberals stand by idly as people continue to suffer.

The Liberals continued denial of the facts and deflection of responsibility, impacts more and more British Columbian’s in need of support every year. The provincial government’s failure to endorse action illuminates their ineptitude towards effectively addressing the needs of our province.

One of the Liberals hugest missteps (to say the absolute least) is their total lack of urgency in addressing the overdose crisis. To demonstrate this, let’s examine their passivity a bit further.

Last year, B.C.’s Coroners office reported that 922 people in B.C. passed away as a result of the opioid crisis. Today, those numbers have climbed to well over 1,000. To be clear, that is over 1,000 lives lost as a direct result of bad policy and a lack of concrete action.

In 2016, fentanyl was detected in more than 60% of overdose deaths. The prevalence of fentanyl and carfentanil (which is 100 times more potent than fentanyl) in street drugs has meant that the overdose death rate in British Columbia has increased more than 75% since 2015. In Vancouver, drug users, allies, grassroots organizations, activists and health professionals have sought to mitigate fentanyl’s far-reaching effects.

Despite these efforts, what has become most clear is that our current government is failing people by allowing these deaths to continue to occur through their own indifference.

This indifference is demonstrated in a number of different ways. For example, over the past three years, Christy Clark’s team have had access to data showing growing illicit overdose fatalities, and have done nothing. In fact, during the time of the growing overdose crisis, Clark actually cut youth addiction treatment spaces by 25 percent. Even after declaring a public health emergency last April, the B.C. Liberal’s continued to under-resource the opioid crisis. Accounting for everything, the total Ministry of Health allotment towards this health emergency has been approximately $15 million. In contrast, $80 million was set aside for the h1n1 response in 2009. Notably, in 2016, 857 more people died from a fentanyl overdose than the h1n1 virus in 2009.

In the most recent reveal of their election platform, the Liberals have continued to pay little attention to the fentanyl crisis. They have promised to dedicate $2 million annually for the new Vancouver-based B.C. Centre on Substance Use, $12 million for up to 28 highly specialized addiction treatment beds for youth and $10 million to reduce wait lists for substance use treatment services. They also said that they would create 250 new beds for mental health and substance uses by 2022.

What’s noticeably missing from their platform is any mention of decriminalization, harm reduction, the widespread implementation of opioid or opioid replacement therapies, such as suboxone, increasing the distribution of Narcan (an opiate antidote), alternative, traditional and holistic rehabilitation options, or any other move that has been proven to make drug use significantly safer.

It should go without saying that emergencies call for immediate and innovative resources, especially those emergencies that are threatening the security of our communities and the lives of a staggering number of people. During the ongoing overdose crisis, however, the Liberals have refused to act, which has forced thousands of people to suffer.

The opioid crisis does not only reflect how the B.C. Liberal’s have actively neglected the safety and well-being of a significant number of British Columbian’s, but it also demonstrates the worth that our government assigns to some individuals over others. While the number of preventable deaths in our province continues to increase, we see a status quo preserving, lackadaisical response from Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals.

As noted by Sarah Blyth, harm reduction advocate and co-founder of the overdose prevention society, the overdose crisis is an issue that should be at the forefront of the Liberals, and all other candidates, election agenda. “People are dying. If that’s not an election issue, then I don’t know what is,” she said during an interview with the Georgia Straight earlier this month. Despite this, very few parties have addressed this crisis head on.

To me, the overdose crisis, and the lack of attention the Liberals have paid it sums up Christy Clark’s four-year reign: the B.C. Liberal’s have consistently done very little to support vulnerable communities. This sentiment seems to run into all aspects of their political agenda.

The reality is that people are continuing to die at alarming rates. There is no reason why the provincial government couldn’t have taken immediate action to lessen the devastating effects of this ongoing crisis. Although other forces, such as greed and political pandering, often work to redirect the attention of our governments, we still certainly need a provincial government that takes urgent steps when individuals and communities are suffering. Currently, we do not.

 

 

Jenn McDermid is a settler on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) nations. As part of her own feminist and activist practice, Jenn endeavours to act as an ally in the struggle for sex workers’ rights and de-stigmatization and believes strongly in community-informed policies around healthcare access, housing, and harm reduction. Currently, Jenn is an interviewer/outreach worker at the Gender Sexuality Health Initiative and is an organizer with the Downtown Eastside Women’s Art Collective.