OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has failed to persuade the House of Commons to condemn the Liberal government's approach to fighting drug addiction.
In a vote of 209-113 Monday, MPs defeated a motion presented by Poilievre.
The motion took aim at the federal government's harm-reduction policies for drug users, but focused mainly on its decision to fund the supply of pharmaceutical alternatives as a replacement for certain illicit drugs to combat the opioid crisis.
Such programs are commonly referred to as "safe supply," or "safer supply," although the federal Conservatives and other critics dispute that term, given the risks associated with drug use.
The federal government has pointed to experts who say that a poisoned drug supply is one of the main reasons so many Canadians are dying from unintentional overdoses, and that providing access to other drugs as a substitute saves lives.
The Public Health Agency of Canada says nearly 35,000 people died from opioid toxicity between 2016 and 2022.
Since becoming Conservative leader last fall, Poilievre has pointed to the alarming number of people who have died from opioid overdoses as evidence of a failed approach. He has criticized the option of offering an alternative supply of drugs, which his motion referred to as the "tax-funded drug supply," as fuelling addiction rather than recovery.
He argues such policies have led to wider access to dangerous drugs by users who, instead of taking them, turn around and sell them. Poilievre has proposed diverting money used to fund safe supply towards treatment.
His motion specifically called on the House to "immediately reverse its deadly policies and redirect all funds from taxpayer-funded, hard drug programs to addiction, treatment and recovery programs."
Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett has told MPs that Poilievre's criticism of a replacement drug supply is not based on evidence, with her office adding in a statement Monday that Health Canada is not aware of substitute drugs "flooding the streets."
"For Pierre Poilievre to state untrue information about safer supply, and try to create barriers to accessing harm reduction services that are saving lives amid this ongoing crisis is incredibly irresponsible and dehumanizing to people who use drugs," a spokeswoman said in a statement from Bennett's office.
It said the government takes reports of diversion "very seriously." Bennett's office also pointed out that the British Columbia coroners service, which studied deaths from drug toxicity from 2012 to 2022 in the province, concluded there was "no indication that prescribed safe supply is contributing to illicit drug deaths."
"The Conservatives want to take us back to the failed ideology of Harper-era drug policy, and the war on drugs that was proven to be ineffective, costly, deadly, and deeply stigmatizing," said Bennett's office.
A coalition of groups that advocate on behalf of drug users in B.C. and those whose loved ones have died from opioid-related overdoses released a statement Monday, voicing concern about hydromorphone, one of the drug alternatives Poilievre has singled out as problematic.
The joint statement from organizations, including the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, says such prescriptions "help many of us reduce or eliminate our reliance on street drugs."
"If we get cut off, our risks will go up."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2023.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press