Manitoulin Votes – September 8th Question

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Each week for the past three weeks, The Expositor has posed a question to five of the candidates running for election in Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing that is of concern to the people of Manitoulin Island. The candidates’ responses follow below.

Island municipalities recently drafted Community Safety and Well-Being Plans. The highest priority risk for Manitoulin Island was identified as mental health and addictions. Local data indicated that all partnering communities (First Nations as well) have been experiencing crisis occurrences as a result of mental health and addictions to some degree. Over the last five years, OPP calls for service from the Espanola-Manitoulin detachment area indicate that approximately 43 percent of calls for service were directly associated with the Mental Health Act. Within the same five-year period, approximately 50 percent of calls were drug and alcohol related offences. 

The Expositor supplement, ‘Out of the Shadows,’ published June 23, 2021 took an in-depth look at Manitoulin’s opioid crisis: “According to coroner records, seven people died on Manitoulin Island last year from opioid related causes. That’s nearly four times higher than in 2018 and 2019. In the Sudbury and Manitoulin areas over the past year, there were nearly four times more drug-related deaths than those from COVID-19.” 

Paramedics are responding to an increasing number of suspected opioid overdoses, from five in 2018 to 48 in 2020. In the first four months of 2021, paramedics had already attended to 19 suspected opioid overdoses in the District of Manitoulin. Island paramedics have administered naloxone, the overdose reversal drug, 13 times since 2018.

While the provincial government is responsible for funding and coordinating mental health and addiction supports, all levels of government have a role to play in addressing the opioid crisis. What steps would you take to develop and implement a coordinated national response that includes all levels of government? How would you integrate this with the intertwined issues of homelessness and mental health? 

Clarence Baarda, Christian Heritage 

Thank you for raising this short but loaded question. The tragedy of the opioid crisis is of great concern to me. Early in our marriage our first son was born but then it was over for us. After a difficult birth my wife, Ann, couldn’t conceive any more. We decided to adopt our second son who was born just a few months prior to abortions becoming legal. 

Next we wanted a daughter, more difficult now because fewer children were available. The prime function of the Children’s Aid Society back then was to find adoptive parents. We received a call that a little girl was available. but she was an Indigenous child and had an older brother. We weren’t racist and didn’t want to break up the brother and sister bond so we adopted both. We’re a happy, mixed race family of four children who love each other. The problem for them began when they came to adulthood.

The stories I hear from them are heartbreaking for us. I communicate often with our daughter who lives in Victoria, BC where they experience the same or worse crisis we face. We can learn from children because they don’t look at skin colour. Racism is a huge factor leading to the opioid crisis, mental illness and the broken families we’re facing today and it’s only getting worse. Money alone won’t solve the problem and to think that getting help from any of the leading political powers is futile. Further, we have families, particularly First Nations, being torn apart through the incursion of government into family life. While residential schools no longer exist, the breaking up of families continues. There is still a disproportionate number of Indigenous children removed from their parental homes and placed into foster homes. What is different? Who can care better for their children with the love and discipline they deserve than their own parents? 

A Christian Heritage Party (CHP) government will seek to restore the family to its rightful place as part of the foundation of a healthy society. Government incursion into the home has damaged effective childrearing. This must stop! Except in cases of demonstrable abuse, the government should not interfere in the home life of any Canadian. Restoring loving discipline for childhood infractions will benefit society by restoring the right of parents to set healthy parameters for their children. Thus restoring the expectation of increasingly responsible behaviour as children mature. 

There is hope for the homeless and those who have given up all hope and turned instead to drug use to relieve the pain of suffering. Except for CHP, all parties add more to the problem by promoting deaths from abortions, euthanasia, medical assistance in dying and other acts that are totally in conflict with traditional family values. How can you expect help from any government that themself promote death as the solution to broken family relations, drug use and overdose deaths? 

A CHP government would assist communities with healing families. Help should be provided for families in crisis but healthy family units must not face the government’s stripping the family of its authority and structure. The current government has ceased functioning in its assigned role and stripped us of our freedoms. A CHP government would restore to Canadians their Charter guarantees, God-given freedoms.

I run on a platform of life, family and freedom. Restoration of a healthy society with these rights will give to us what we  all want and need, a recognition of our value, the support of strong healthy families and the freedom to live our life free of government intervention.

Carol Hughes, NDP incumbent

Opioids have ripped through communities and families across the country, and Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing is no exception. In a short time, the variety of opioids and ease of distribution have created an ever-growing problem. With all levels of government involved in the efforts to help those struggling with dependency and to keep communities safe, there is clearly a role for the federal government to play in coordination. This includes funding for issues that contribute to the opioid epidemic, and in a legal capacity. 

Because our struggle with opioids cannot be viewed in isolation from contributing factors, any solutions will reflect numerous ways people become vulnerable, such as a lack of mental health supports, and homelessness which stems from a growing lack of affordable housing. Both of those have strong correlations with opioid dependency and offer pathways to build community resilience against dependency.

New Democrats believe that there is much more we can do to save lives and support those struggling with opioids. In government, we will declare a public health emergency and commit to working with all levels of government, health experts and Canadians to end the criminalization and stigma of drug addiction, so that people struggling with addiction can get the help they need without fear of arrest. At the same time, we will get tough on the real criminals—those who traffic in and profit from illegal drugs. We’ll work with the provinces and health professionals to create a safe supply of medically regulated alternatives to toxic street drugs, support overdose prevention sites and expand access to treatment on demand for people struggling with addiction. We will also launch an investigation into the role drug companies may have played in fueling the opioid crisis and seek meaningful financial compensation from them for the public costs of this crisis.

But nothing stands in isolation and more must be done to support individuals so they can avoid well known pathways to opioid dependency. This includes the links between mental health, housing and addiction.  

A major part of the long-term solution to homelessness is to ensure that more affordable rental units are built across the country. That’s why a New Democrat government will create at least 500,000 units of quality, affordable housing in the next 10 years, with half of that done within five years. This will be achieved with the right mix of effective measures that work in partnership with provinces and municipalities, build capacity for social, community and affordable housing providers, to deliver rental support for co-ops and meet environmental energy efficiency goals. 

These measures will help address the housing crisis at the source, but we also need to make sure that families and individuals who need help, get help now, especially during the pandemic. That’s why we’ll provide immediate relief for families that are struggling to afford rent in otherwise suitable housing, while we bring forward long-term solutions to the housing affordability crisis.

In addition to housing proposals, New Democrats believe that we need to work towards health care that covers us from head to toe. The pandemic took a tremendous toll on Canadians’ mental health. This is especially true for young people who are reporting high levels of depression and anxiety. Mental health care should be available at no cost for people who need it. This is why a New Democrat government would bring in mental health care for uninsured Canadians so that people with no coverage for mental health services can gain access to these supports without worrying about the cost. Our comprehensive pharmacare plan will also mean that prescription medication for mental health care will now be available free of cost to Canadians. We will work with provinces and territories to build on these initiatives and put in place a truly comprehensive approach to mental health services. 

In terms of progress, opioids, and drug use in general, are now viewed as health issues rather than ones that can be dealt with by law enforcement alone. Now, as we better understand the nature of addiction, we must be careful that old stereotypes and opinions don’t influence our decision making and maintain a focus on those most vulnerable as the priority in our efforts.

Duke Peltier, Liberal candidate

While we have been living the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has also been and continues to be another ‘pandemic’ – increased addictions and mental health challenges.

And with this we have seen a crisis emerge with deaths caused by overdose; one of the biggest threats being opioid overdoses.

The Liberal government recognizes that the opioid overdose epidemic has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tragically, in 2020, there were 6,214 opioid overdose deaths in Canada.

It’s a reality plaguing communities across Canada and our Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing communities are not immune.

It was alarming to read in The Manitoulin Expositor’s ‘Out of the Shadows’ supplement that coroner records showed seven people died on Manitoulin Island last year from opioid related causes which was approximately four times higher than in 2018 and 2019.

Furthermore, an article published this past July in The Expositor also highlighted that these past five years have seen close to 43 percent of calls to the Ontario Provincial Police Manitoulin detachment area being associated with the Mental Health Act; with about 50 percent being drug and alcohol related offences. The article also noted that paramedics are responding to an increasing number of suspected opioid overdoses, from five in 2018 to 48 in 2020.

I am aware of the collective discussions and planning that have been ongoing on Manitoulin Island with the creation of the draft Community Safety and Well-being plan. This is a necessary and positive step forward engaging health care, social/community services, education, children/youth and police services and most importantly, citizens. 

Discussions among agencies is critical in helping identify factors that may be associated with addictions. Throughout my leadership in Northern Ontario, I have been part of planning tables that have addressed priority issues like mental health and homelessness, which are known to have links to substance abuse.

Planning, and implementation of these plans, must be a commitment of all levels of government. 

A re-elected Liberal government will continue to be a part of this process.

Our platform lays out commitments that will help ensure mental health care is treated as a full and equal part of Canada’s universal public health care system. This will be accomplished by working with provinces through strategic measures like establishing a new federal transfer to provinces and territories to assist jurisdictions in expanding the delivery of high-quality, accessible, and free mental health services. We also commit to permanent, ongoing funding for mental health services under the Canada Mental Health Transfer, with an initial investment of $4.5 billion over five years; adding on to what’s already invested. 

Furthermore, we are well aware of the challenges of affordable housing which can lead to homelessness. There are too many people suffering from lack of or unaffordable housing. We will help change that.

A re-elected Liberal government will appoint a new federal housing advocate within the first 100 days of a new mandate to ensure the federal government’s work toward eliminating chronic homelessness, as well as other housing commitments, are fulfilled.

We have a housing plan that will include the building of more than 20,000 units of new affordable rental housing and ensuring 130,000 units are revitalized from a state critical disrepair.

My years as a leader in the North has given me direct insight into how society’s challenges like mental health and housing/homelessness can lead toward the path to addictions. These are challenges that need to be tackled–and tackled together at the local, provincial and federal levels.

We’ve already seen the impacts of various agencies working together for a collective voice to create plans. These plans for better health and wellbeing need to get done.  

Government needs to listen to what our North has to say; what is right for us in AMK. 

The Liberal Party understands that more is needed and I support that mandate. 

It is high time that we have a new voice from Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing at the table for you.

I vow to be that voice. We must have a new, strong and empowered presence in Ottawa if we want to fulfill our plans for our people of AMK. 

John Sagman, Conservative candidate

Firstly, we need to recognize this crisis by accepting mental health is health. The Conservatives have compiled “Canada’s Recovery Plan” that includes a focus on a mental health initiative. 

When I’m out in the communities I’m hearing that there are many people and extended families that have been touched by the opioid crisis. This is a real problem throughout our riding, and it is multi-faceted, as The Expositor’s supplement has pointed out. 

In the Conservative’s mental health plan, we have recognized that one in five Canadians have suffered from depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, a company I have worked with noted that 500,000 people across our nation miss work every week due to mental health challenges.

We are also recognizing the reality regarding the opioid crisis. The Conservatives are proposing a more holistic wrap-around approach to the opioid crisis. The goal of the Conservative Party is to provide every person struggling with addiction the opportunity to recover. 

Federally, there are many supports we can put in place, with the provinces, to provide these opportunities and to save lives. Firstly, we recognize that many people do not have access to employment assistance programs, therefore, we would create a nationwide three-digit suicide prevention hotline as an immediate stopgap measure to address the high-rate of suicides associated with mental health and addictions. For those with health plans, we will encourage employers to add mental health coverage with a 25 percent tax credit for three years.

Secondly, we would boost federal transfer payments to the provinces by an historic six percent. Some of these additional payments would be earmarked for mental health services including an investment of $1 billion over five years for culturally appropriate Indigenous mental health and drug treatment programs. We would see these programs developed and managed by the Indigenous communities. I would champion the pilot projects by the Island’s First Nations that are offering wrap-around services of mental health support that includes family healing and traditional medicines. 

Access to services is a critical component, so we will create 50 recovery centres across the country and 1,000 residential drug treatment beds. As your Member of Parliament, I would work tirelessly to ensure our riding receives these support programs. We understand that we need programs longer than 21-30 days in order to secure a path to wellness, so I would explore opportunities to make this happen.

Further, I would encourage prevention as a key component to fighting this crisis. The Conservatives are supporting this prevention agenda by providing $150 million in grants to charities that deliver mental health and wellness programming. 

We also recognize that in many cases homelessness and mental health go hand-in-hand. So, we would re-implement the housing first approach, which has been watered down by the current federal government, to aid in the fight against Canada’s addictions crisis. 

It’s important to make sure our policies reflect our outcomes, so we would also revise the federal government’s substance abuse policy framework to make recovery its overarching goal. 

Stephen Zimmermann, Green candidate

For some communities in Northern Ontario, the opioid crisis has been a greater health crisis than COVID-19. The statistics quoted for Sudbury and Manitoulin are similar to those in the Algoma and Porcupine Health Units. It’s an epidemic that has been under way for years. COVID only made it worse. While opioids are especially destructive, I would include the wider abuse of drugs as part of the problem. 

Many readers will have been touched by addiction issues, either personally or through someone close to them. I have watched close friends struggle with addiction their entire lives; I have lost friends. As a teacher, I am aware of students who have lost family members. I check the obituaries for names of my former students. Lives are lost or destroyed. Substance abuse can often lead to anti-social behaviour and a rise in harmful crimes against others, with users committing theft to pay for drugs. Addiction issues affect everyone. The causes of this scourge are not simple, nor is the solution. 

Why are people engaging in unhealthy behaviours which are harmful to them and to those around them? Addiction, and substance abuse generally, are often difficult to separate from other issues, such as homelessness, poverty or mental health issues. It’s hard to address one without tackling the others. The best approach to this issue is to treat it as a public health crisis and a national emergency. Providing adequate treatment for addiction, and in some cases a safe supply, provision of overdose response drugs, safe housing and improved mental health supports would address some of the problems. This is a national issue, with local aspects. While a national, broad-based approach is needed to tackle it overall, it is clear that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy won’t be very successful. 

For instance, what might be effective in Algoma might not be in Vancouver. The response to the drug crisis needs to take into account local factors, be tailored to the local context and involve local agencies who know the local community. The primary responsibility for health care administration rests with provincial governments. The federal government can help coordinate the response to this emergency through funding and other resources. The Green Party proposes a model of collaborative governance, where the levels of government would work together to create solutions that would work for each community affected.