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The other public health crisis

BC's out-of-control overdose epidemic not only isn't new, it's getting worse. As Jordan Bateman notes, the NDP promised to move heaven and earth to put a stop to it - but whatever they're doing, it's not working.
(EJ Nickerson /

As the pandemic drags on, I’ve been rewatching the 2000s version of Battlestar Galactica - which is why an iconic quote from the show came to mind as I read the fallout from Premier John Horgan’s tone-deaf comments on the opioid overdose crisis:

All of this has happened before. And all of this will happen again.

The number of overdose deaths in BC this year is growing at an alarming – and heartbreaking – rate. In June, 175 deaths, a monthly record. The previous record was the month before, when 171 people died in May. If that trend continues this month, there will have been more overdose deaths in the first seven months of 2020 than in all of 2019.

This surge has happened despite the Horgan NDP creating Canada’s only Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions three years ago. And it’s happening despite more awareness than ever on mental health, beseeching from beloved provincial health officials on not taking drugs alone, and easier access to life-saving naloxone kits.

Whatever the NDP government is doing, it’s not working. We are headed back to 2017-18 levels of overdose deaths. In 2017, some 1,226 people lost their lives. A year later, that number was 1,335. The downturn in the 2019 numbers – 981 deaths – now seems like the outlier, not the norm.

Whatever the NDP government is doing, it’s not working.

It’s worth looking back at the NDP’s record on this, after three full years in government.

In the NDP’s 2017 election platform, Horgan is quoted: “We lost 914 people to overdoses last year. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends and partners were stolen away from those they loved. We need to work together on this issue. Think of wildfires. We never wait to check the budget before putting the fires out. We get at it right away.”

One can be forgiven for inferring that the Horgan NDP would be pouring whatever money it takes into their Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions. But it hasn’t. This “wildfire”-like emergency gets about $10 million a year, making it BC's lowest-funded ministry. The Premier’s Office gets more: $11 million annually. The Ministry of Labour, now in total thrall to the NDP’s union donors, gets $16 million. If money talks, the Horgan NDP are saying this is their lowest priority.

The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions is BC's lowest-funded ministry.

Looking deeper into the 2017 Horgan platform, other things were promised:

First, more naloxone training and distribution. This was already happening under the BC Liberals – to the point where Clark-era Health Minister Terry Lake won a national award. It’s clear from recent overdose numbers that naloxone alone won’t be enough to stop the crisis.

Horgan also promised “more support to police efforts to disrupt the supply chain through measures to break up the major drug rings and send the perpetrators to trial.” Anyone remember the last time we had a high-profile major bust? Are they happening any more frequently under this government than the one before?

Third, Horgan promised “increased penalties for drug dealers who knowingly distribute death-dealing drugs.” This appears to have been morphed into a call for the federal government to increase penalties.

This one is especially hypocritical. Back when they sat in opposition, the NDP hammered the Christy Clark BC Liberals for what they perceived as a lack of response to the growing crisis. They would point to overdose numbers and condemn the government.

When the Clark Liberals asked the federal government to deal with pill presses, the NDP opposition howled in anger, claiming the BC Liberals were just shoving this on to the feds.

“We see an overdose and addiction crisis in this province that is costing lives and that this government refused to deal with,” howled Nanaimo-North Cowichan NDP MLA Doug Routley in a typical screed in the House. “The BC NDP offered a private member’s bill to ban pill presses. This government refused to even debate it, said it wasn’t a problem and then, a year later, criticized and identified the job to be the job of the federal government. ‘The federal government should do that.’ Well, we’re glad the federal government is going to ban pill presses — a step that this government refused to do a year earlier. We see children dying on the streets. We see people who are recreational users and long-term addicts dying because of the fentanyl crisis. And what have we seen? We’ve seen from a slow to no reaction from the BC Liberal government.”

Again, it’s worth noting that BC Liberal Health Minister Terry Lake won a national award for his work on this file less than six months later.

Back then, getting the feds involved was a terrible plan, according to the NDP. Now, it’s hunky dory, even when the NDP platform promised otherwise. And this punting to the feds is not limited to increased penalties for dealers.

Last week, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry called on the BC NDP government to decriminalize drug possession as part of the fight to save lives. Within hours, NDP Solicitor General Mike Farnworth claimed it was up to the federal government to take such a step.

Back then, getting the feds involved was a terrible plan. Now, it’s hunky dory, even when the NDP platform promised otherwise.

Not true, saith Dr. Bonnie, sounding more like the opposition version of the NDP than the government edition. “In the context of the continuing overdose crisis that is affecting families and communities across B.C., the province cannot wait for action at the federal level,” she said.

“Immediate provincial action is warranted.”

The NDP has broken their platform promises. Their vaunted Ministry set up to fight the crisis receives roughly 0.016% of the provincial budget and is the smallest ministry in government. They’ve become the very blame-shifting scourge they used to rail against, punting issues to the feds. And overdose deaths are out of control.

All of this has happened before. And all of this will happen again.

We have to break that cycle, somehow, and soon.

Jordan Bateman has a long history of public policy work, championing small business and fiscal responsibility. Currently the Vice President, Communications & Marketing for the Independent Contractors and Business Association (ICBA), Jordan also served six years as the B.C. Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and was a two-term Langley Township Councillor.