It's the most urgent health crisis this province has faced since AIDS and the B.C. Liberals refuse to talk about it.
Since Premier Christy Clark was elected in May 2013, 2,368 people in B.C. have died of a drug overdose (up to the end of March). It’s a crisis that developed entirely on the Liberal government's watch. And yet ahead of the May 9 election, the party is refusing to allow candidates to do interviews on the topic.
Meanwhile, the intensity of the crisis grows worse.
Since November, there have been more than 100 deaths every month. That compares to an annual average of 212 for the years 2001 to 2010.
In recent weeks, Mayor Gregor Robertson has repeatedly called for provincial candidates to make the crisis an election issue. Now, just one week until the vote, no politician has.
Not only are few politicians proactively talking about overdose deaths, but the incumbent Liberal party won’t even allow its candidates to field questions on the issue.
Over a period of three weeks, the Straight made three separate rounds of repeated requests for an interview on the subject of overdose deaths. Media handlers were told they could select any candidate of their choosing for the interview. All the Straight asked for was five to 10 minutes on the phone.
Twice the B.C. Liberal party refused multiple requests. Once it ignored the request.
Other Vancouver reporters have similarly noted the Liberal party has denied their requests to discuss fentanyl and overdose deaths.
Meanwhile, both the NDP and the Green party have made their candidates available, even on short notice. What’s more, they paid the topic enough attention to put forth candidates for those interviews who held personal connections to the issue of addiction. The Straight has spoken with the NDP’s Selina Robinson, for example, who has worked as a family therapist and addictions counsellor, and the Greens’ Jonina Campbell, who lost her brother to alcoholism.
Retiring Liberal health minister Terry Lake has given the Straight several interviews on the subject of overdose deaths. He’s also regularly answered reporters’ questions about the government’s response to fentanyl at news conferences convened on related issues.
But now that campaigns are underway, the Liberal party—and perhaps Christy Clark herself—has apparently said that questions about the overdose crisis must be avoided.
More than 930 deaths in 2016 is nearly triple the number of fatal overdoses that occurred just a few years earlier. It's also nearly triple the number of annual deaths attributed to HIV/AIDS during the worst years of that crisis, in the mid-1990s. This makes drug overdoses an election issue. The public has a right to learn more about one of the leading party’s plans for dealing with crisis that is only getting worse.