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Chipman calls on biz leaders to join addictions fight

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/9/2019 (397 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As the province grapples with a severe addictions crisis, one of Manitoba's most prominent business leaders threw down the gauntlet Friday, calling on the private sector to step up efforts to quell addictions and improve public safety in downtown Winnipeg.

"I just think we can do better. And we're not laying it at the feet of government either: this is something that the private sector has a huge stake in," Mark Chipman, chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd., told a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon crowd.

"You can even look at it in two ways... I learned a long time ago that your city's reputation is often determined by that 10-block radius at the centre. And so you could look at it practically, if you wanted to," he said.

True North Sports and Entertainment's executive chairman Mark Chipman is interviewed by TSN's Dennis Beyak during a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the RBC Convention Centre, Friday afternoon.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

True North Sports and Entertainment's executive chairman Mark Chipman is interviewed by TSN's Dennis Beyak during a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the RBC Convention Centre, Friday afternoon.

"But you've got to just look at this from a human perspective. Like it's just not acceptable at that level. And if we keep our focus on that, and pull people together like the city is hoping to do like none other, then I think this will be something that we'll be talking about in a couple years where (we) can move on and make significant progress."

Chipman helped pull together a group of like-minded public- and private-sector individuals to form the Community Wellness and Public Safety Alliance in 2015. The group, which boasts members from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg, among others, has put together a business plan to build a $40-million addictions facility in the Point Douglas neighbourhood.

"I just think we can do better. And we're not laying it at the feet of government either: this is something that the private sector has a huge stake in." — Mark Chipman, chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

As the Free Press first reported in March, the Alliance offered a blueprint for a more cohesive, cost-efficient method of delivering services with a drop-in facility at a suggested location of 190 Disraeli Freeway.

The centre would hold many services under one roof, including a medical unit, intoxicated persons intake, a harm-reduction centre and other community programs. It would also include a community court focused on resolutions for people dealing with significant mental health and addictions issues, and a continuum of services for people seeking legal, housing and employment advice.

Chipman talked about how his time spent working downtown has offered an up-close glimpse at the struggles of people living with addiction.

Chipman's group put together a business plan to build a $40-million addictions facility in the Point Douglas neighbourhood.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chipman's group put together a business plan to build a $40-million addictions facility in the Point Douglas neighbourhood.

"It's one of the most heartbreaking set of circumstances I've ever personally experienced," he said. "I had the benefit of doing ridearounds with the police and seeing how they're trying to cope with all of this. And so it's heartbreaking and disheartening on one hand. But on the other hand, when we step back and see the possibilities that exist ahead, we can do something far better than what we're doing right now."

Loren Remillard, president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, said Chipman's message echoed longstanding concerns in the business community.

"(Chipman) also gave voice to the fact that business wants to be part of the solution. Everything that we've done in our community that's been successful has been a true community effort," he said.

"It's not just on government. It's not just on the private sector. But it's something we all have to come together around, and I believe that's the message we heard here today and one that I think will resonate with the community at large."

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

Health Minister Cameron Friesen

Though Health Minister Cameron Friesen and Justice Minister Cliff Cullen have praised the Alliance's efforts in past interviews, the Manitoba government isn't ready to commit any funding.

Friesen wasn't available for an interview Friday, but in an emailed statement he noted the similarities between the Alliance plan and the PC party's Safer Streets, Safer Lives program announced during the provincial election campaign last month.


Though Health Minister Cameron Friesen and Justice Minister Cliff Cullen have praised the Alliance's efforts in past interviews, the Manitoba government isn't ready to commit any funding.

Friesen wasn't available for an interview Friday, but in an emailed statement he noted the similarities between the Alliance plan and the PC party's Safer Streets, Safer Lives program announced during the provincial election campaign last month.

"For instance, our plan moves various Alliance ideas forward, including the establishment of an acute medical sobering unit and a drop-in centre, the expansion of flexible-length withdrawal services, and enhanced support for street outreach programs," Friesen said.

Government also plan to focus on enhanced anti-addictions curriculum for students and "a variety of enforcement initiatives that target drug dealers and improves public safety, particularly in Winnipeg’s downtown," he noted.

"We recognize that time is of the essence when it comes to this issue. There is no time to wait," Friesen said. "We will be updating Manitobans shortly on the rollout of these significant investments."

According to the PC election platform, Safer Streets, Safer Lives initiatives would have about a $20-million price tag.

— Jessica Botelho-Urbanski

Chipman alluded to trying to secure government support for the Alliance's project during a roughly hour-long talk with TSN broadcaster Dennis Beyak.

Main Street Project is in the same boat, and recently got confirmation it will receive an additional $722,000 annually from the Manitoba government to operate its expanded shelter, once renovations are complete. The funding will help Main Street transition from using mats to supplying up to 120 beds for clients.

Main Street executive director Rick Lees said he's been in talks with the Alliance and doesn't see duplication between their projects so far. He's hoping enough community members rally to sustain both.

"There's just not enough resources and we need to get ahead of this," Lees said. "We're really pleased that a well-known business leader has really almost thrown down the gauntlet to business and the community saying, 'We have to do something.'"

Main Street Project is currently collecting through a capital campaign, having collected about $700,000 of its $2.5-million fundraising target, according to Lees.

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

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