The Green Party of Canada is calling for the decriminalization of all illicit drugs, citing a need to "do things differently" in tackling the countrywide fentanyl crisis, as well as the local methamphetamine crisis.
While in Winnipeg Saturday afternoon, party leader Elizabeth May promised the Greens would declare a national health emergency surrounding the drug crises if she is elected as Canada’s next prime minister Oct. 21.
"If (drugs are) decriminalized, people won’t be afraid to get help," May told reporters at a press conference at the Fairmont Hotel. "If (drugs are) decriminalized, we can ensure safe supply, screen for drugs in the safe-supply sources, so that people are not risking their lives because of their addiction."
May said decriminalization would be a temporary measure put in place immediately and in effect until the fentanyl crisis improves. Lifting the measure would be done in consultation with public health officials, she said.
The party also promised to increase supports for mental health and addiction, invest in harm-reduction programs including supervised consumption sites and develop a national strategy on suicide prevention.
The Greens have pledged "hundreds of millions of dollars" for the cause, May said. The fully costed platform is expected in the coming weeks.
At the downtown hotel, May spoke about the toll fatal opioid overdoses, many of which are the result of a deadly dose of fentanyl cut into the drug, have had on Canadians — including her own family. Actress Margot Kidder, her sister-in-law, died after battling drug addiction in 2018.
There have been upwards of 9,000 apparent opioid-related deaths across the country since 2016, according to Health Canada. The government agency states 94 per cent of the overdose deaths happen by accident.
May also cited Danny Smyth, chief of the Winnipeg Police Service, on the severity of the local meth crisis — one of the reasons she decided to make her announcement in the city.
Smyth has repeatedly sounded the alarm on the meth crisis, citing the drug’s infiltration in Winnipeg as the reason for an unprecedented backlog of crime calls.
Police officers in Winnipeg should not be held up waiting in emergency rooms or responding to reports of property crime related to meth, she said.
“It is not a problem for criminal justice, it’s a problem for our health system to accommodate, prepare and save lives.” — federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May
"It is not a problem for criminal justice, it’s a problem for our health system to accommodate, prepare and save lives," May told a crowd of reporters and Green candidates in Manitoba.
The Green Party of Manitoba leader, James Beddome was among the candidates present Saturday. Beddome is back on the campaign trail after an unsuccessful run for MLA in the Fort Rouge constituency, coming in third behind Progressive Conservative candidate Edna Nabess and the New Democrat winner, leader Wab Kinew.
The Greens have yet to win a seat at any level of government in Manitoba.
"I get another kick at the can," an optimistic Beddome said.
When asked whether the provincial results in Manitoba had dampened federal campaign spirits, May said the Greens have brought issues to the table in Manitoba "just as we do across Canada." She acknowledged David Nickarz’ close provincial campaign in Wolseley and that Greens have been elected to parliament in four provinces across Canada.
"We certainly hope to see more Greens elected in this campaign and I think the extent to which we’re being attacked with, I have to say, quite outrageous lies from other parties, shows the extent to which we’re making progress and they’re worried," she said, followed by a clarification that her party is pro-choice despite rumours the Greens don’t support a woman’s right to have an abortion.
May also addressed Green candidates coming forward about racist actions including East Coast candidate Greg Malone doing blackface while acting on CBC Television show CODCO, which ran in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Days after photos and a video of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in blackface and brownface surfaced, May said she applauds Green candidates for coming forward and starting a conversation about systemic racism in Canada.
Pollster Curtis Brown isn’t as optimistic about the party’s chances in the federal election.
Brown, a principal with Probe Research, told the Free Press he would be "very, very surprised" if the party wins a single seat.
"The Greens just don’t have the volunteer support, the money, the organization that the other parties have," Brown said, adding the party is challenged by votes being dispersed across the province, rather than being concentrated.
Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.