Just one in five Manitobans believes the Progressive Conservatives have handled the province’s methamphetamine-related issues well while in government, according to a new poll from Probe Research.
The survey, commissioned by the Free Press and CTV News Winnipeg, was conducted Aug. 13-24 and elicited responses from 1,200 Manitobans online.
Fifty-three per cent of respondents rated the provincial government’s response to the meth crisis as "poor," while 27 per cent said it was "fair," 16 per cent said "good," and four per cent said "excellent."
Winnipeg residents, women and university graduates were more likely to rate the PCs’ response as "poor," as were opposition party supporters. Eighty per cent of NDP voters, 67 per cent of Liberal, 72 per cent of Green, and 21 per cent of PC supporters gave the Tories a failing grade.
“I think it’s been one of those issues where even somebody who might not know somebody with an addiction, they do see kind of on-the-street evidence of this real shift in the meth crisis in the city." — Mary Agnes Welch, a principal with Probe Research
The polling firm also asked respondents to rank their preferred approaches to curbing the crisis, in order of effectiveness. Eighty per cent voted for more detox programs and long-term treatment beds among their top three picks, followed by more street outreach (71 per cent), expanded drug treatment court (62 per cent), tougher enforcement of drug laws (41 per cent), and installation of a safe consumption site for drugs (37 per cent).
Mary Agnes Welch, a principal with Probe Research, said the responses highlighted the overwhelming effects of meth use provincewide, as they didn’t vary much between city and rural dwellers.
"I think it’s been one of those issues where even somebody who might not know somebody with an addiction, they do see kind of on-the-street evidence of this real shift in the meth crisis in the city. I know there’s a lot of talk about petty crime and street safety that people really see up front, up close and personal," she said.
Regardless of its pervasiveness, talk of meth use and treatment options was largely relegated to the beginning of the election campaign with the Tories, NDP and Liberals announcing their addictions platforms early on. (The Greens are scheduled to release their mental health and addictions platform Friday.)
Conversations on primary health care have dominated the campaign cycle, stealing some focus from mental health and addictions treatment.
"I’m not really sure the meth crisis is a ballot issue for most people, but it does kind of capture in some ways the ideological differences among parties in which approach you might favour," Welch said.
For example, Tory voters were more likely to support tougher enforcement of drug laws than any other party’s supporters, with 65 per cent listing enforcement among their top three priority approaches.
Poll respondents were fairly split on which other political party may do a better job dealing with the meth crisis than the Progressive Conservatives. About 44 per cent vouched for the NDP, while 41 per cent of respondents favoured the Liberals.
“Both parties are avoiding that Band-Aid approach of more law enforcement, more detox, more treatment. All of those are necessary, but it’s downstream thinking. It’s like, ‘Let’s have people in crisis before we really offer anything resembling support.’” — Sheri Fandrey
From what she’s seen so far of all the party’s platforms, Sheri Fandrey, a retired educator with the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, said the NDP and Grits appear to have a "broader, much more nuanced understanding of drugs and addiction."
"If you could kind of mash up the Liberal and NDP platforms together, you’d have something that might have a fairly strong possibility of success," she said.
"Both parties are avoiding that Band-Aid approach of more law enforcement, more detox, more treatment. All of those are necessary, but it’s downstream thinking. It’s like, ‘Let’s have people in crisis before we really offer anything resembling support.’"
Fandrey hopes the parties — and the next government — think beyond election cycles when it comes to combating addictions.
"We keep falling into the trap of the political time frame of four years. You know, ‘What can we say and promise? What flashy thing can we do that will get a lot of attention?’ But may actually not function very well," she said, singling out the Tories’ proposed sobering facility as an idea that may do more harm than good if it’s not connected to immediate housing supports.
Fandrey said any successful plan to combat addictions will have to address multiple pillars, including increased access to treatment, focus on prevention and health promotion, harm reduction, law enforcement, and outreach.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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