UCP leader says he’s opposed to more safe-drug-consumption clinics – but what does he favour to address opioid crisis?

Posted on March 04, 2018, 1:20 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney in a typical pose. He said in Lethbridge last week he’s opposed to harm-reduction efforts like supervised injection sites to deal with the opioid crisis. But what does he support? Below: Mr. Kenney’s brother David Kenney (Photo: Once posted on LinkedIn); NDP Banff-Cochrane MLA Cameron Westhead; and former Tory health minister Stephen Mandel, who is today the leader of the Alberta Party.

It wouldn’t be fair to ask Jason Kenney to be his brother’s keeper, but it’s reasonable to wonder if the Alberta Opposition leader’s brother has influenced his thinking about harm-reduction as a response to the opioid crisis, and in what ways.

Mr. Kenney was widely criticized for statements he made on Wednesday in Lethbridge, to the effect that if his United Conservative Party formed government on his watch, he would oppose expanding safe consumption sites in Alberta communities.

“Helping addicts inject poison into their bodies is not a solution to the problem of addiction,” the UCP leader said, a statement that was widely interpreted on social media as indicating either his ignorance and hostility to scientific evidence, or a cynical desire to pander to his party’s social conservative base.

Despite its brevity, the small story Thursday in the Lethbridge Herald about Mr. Kenney’s observations did note that his position runs counter to the recommendations of local government officials, health groups and police. It did not, however, provide much information about why so many health care professionals advocate harm-reduction strategies such as safe-injection clinics as part of a co-ordinated response to North America’s continuing opioid overdose crisis.

Experts seem to agree the only strategy that will save lives – as opposed to winning votes, presumably – includes harm-reduction techniques such as supervised-injection clinics where overdoses can be treated and drugs that will kill can be detected before use. The logic of this is that even though using powerful and dangerous drugs is not a good idea, the supply is plentiful, demand is strong, and users will die if they hide when they’re using.

As a market fundamentalist missionary, this is something one would think Mr. Kenney would understand.

However, harm reduction goes against the harsh religious fundamentalist view, which Mr. Kenney also endorses, that drug abuse is sin, and therefore that reducing its impact somehow encourages sinning. Given his track record on a number of issues, it’s not hard to believe Mr. Kenney’s commentary was designed to appeal to members of his party’s base who harbour such opinions

It’s also possible, however, Mr. Kenney was influenced by the views of his brother, David Kenney, who with his wife once operated an unlicensed youth treatment centre in British Columbia that, in the words of the Toronto Sun, “purports to help kids with drug addiction, depression and psychological issues.”

According to the Feb. 13, 2014, story in the Sun, Kelowna operations of NeurVana Innovative Recovery and Wellness Inc., which the paper said billed itself online as “officially recognized by the province of British Columbia,” were shut down by the B.C. Government and young people in the company’s care sent home.

Media reports said the government closed two treatment centres in the Okanagan Valley city for operating without a licence in 2013. But news stories also indicated reports young people in the facility were “bullied and mistreated” brought the company to the government’s attention. Reports of “abuse and neglect” resulted in a lawsuit by the families of children at the centre.

According to the 2014 Sun story, “NeurVana says it uses a technique called ‘Brainwave Optimization’ which it says can cure ‘addiction, depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, self-destructive behaviour, rage and anger, eating disorders, and more.’”

Regardless, given the advocacy of the UCP and its predecessor political parties for private heath care delivery it would be reasonable for mainstream news reporters with regular access to Mr. Kenney to ask him if he has been influenced by the views of his family members on techniques such as use of “brainwave optimization” to treat addictions.

Physicians consulted about brainwave optimization by the CBC in another context were skeptical about the technique.

One thing was very clear from Mr. Kenney’s Lethbridge commentary, and that is he has not given up on the “war on drugs” strategy as the best way to reduce harmful drug use.

Well, as Premier Rachel Notley observed in her speech to the Alberta NDP’s Provincial Council in Edmonton yesterday, “Jason, the 1990s are calling, and they want their ridiculous ideas back!”

According to the Herald, Mr. Kenney asked: “Why aren’t we giving the police adequate resources to chase down every source in the criminal to world (sic) to find out who is dealing poison on the streets of Lethbridge right now?”

He went on, not without unintended irony, to wonder, “Why aren’t we massively increasing funding for the Canada’s Border Service Agency to interdict the importation of deadly drugs from China and elsewhere?”

The CBSA is a federal agency. So one answer to that question may be that back in 2012, when Mr. Kenney was sitting at the cabinet table in Ottawa, the government of then-prime minister Stephen Harper cut the CBSA’s budget by 10 per cent, resulting in the immediate loss of 250 front-line Border Services officers and more in subsequent years.

By 2015, days before the federal election that saw the Conservatives swept from power, about 1,300 positions had been eliminated at the CSBA and $143 million cut from the agency’s budget. Front-line border officers, sniffer-dog teams and CBSA intelligence officers all lost their jobs in the Conservative cuts, media reported.

In addition to saving the lives of drug users who overdose, supervised consumption clinics prevent the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C, bacterial infections and other medical conditions to drug users as well as people with whom they come in contact.

“Kenney’s hypocrisy is unfathomable,” observed Cam Westhead, NDP MLA for Banff-Cochrane in a Facebook response to the UCP leader’s comments.

“Let’s not also forget that when it comes to solutions that require increased funding, that in 2015 the former PC government rejected a $1.4 million grant that would have helped fund drug treatment programs during a time when fentanyl was killing a person a day in Alberta,” noted Mr. Westhead, who is a Registered Nurse. “Alberta was the only province to decline this funding.”

He noted that the minister responsible at the time for refusing that funding “now occupies a leadership position in Alberta’s political scene” – a reference to Stephen Mandel, chosen as the leader of the Alberta Party on Feb. 27.

12 Comments to: UCP leader says he’s opposed to more safe-drug-consumption clinics – but what does he favour to address opioid crisis?

  1. March 4th, 2018

    The former operator of a now-closed treatment centre for troubled youth in Kelowna has had his lawsuit against B.C. child protection and health authorities thrown out of court.

    B.C. Supreme Court Anthony Saunders said the finding by a team of social workers — who concluded that the well-being of the youths was at risk — was within their authority.

    “It was a decision informed by the team members’ expertise and by the knowledge they obtained from the site visit,” said the judge.

    “It is not pleaded that the team acted in bad faith or out of an improper motive; clearly, to the contrary, they were motivated to protect the youths against the risk perceived…”



    • Murphy

      March 7th, 2018

      Reforma-kons love unlicensed “youth drug treatment”. It’s been nine years since the Alberta Adolescent Reovery Centre began suing their former subjects who spoke out on CBC’s Fifth Estate. The $16 million suit against CBC is ongoing as well, and there has been nary a peep from Post-Media about the entire affair despite the nationally-aired program winning a Gemini. Calgary’s leading lights from “la bizanessa”, politics and law enforcement continue to attend the annual AARC beg-a-thon, and AARC is in it’s third decade of unlicensed faith-healing, despite it’s US progenitors being closed down entirely, even in Florida. Superstition, hipocrisy and greed, the new Calgary motto.

  2. J.E. Molnar

    March 4th, 2018

    “…if his United Conservative Party formed government on his watch, he would oppose expanding safe consumption sites in Alberta communities.”

    Jason Kenney is dead wrong and even off-base with his own party on this issue. Conservatives Mike Ellis, Brian Jean and Rick Fraser (now with the Alberta Party) have all said in the past that they don’t oppose consumption sites.

    The UCP is currently experiencing a major credibility problem with a loose cannon leader making top-down policy decisions on the fly. Kenney is not in any way sharing proposals as promised with his “Grassroots Guarantee.” Jason Kenney just stepped on a political cow pie trying to defend this latest bozo eruption.


  3. Expat Albertan

    March 4th, 2018

    I’m guessing it is largely the rural voters in Alberta that are against harm reduction measures for addicts who are, by and large, in urban areas. It’s either lack of understanding (via personal exposure) or pure malice for urban dwellers (although, to be fair, I’m sure a good chunk of suburban voters are also against harm reduction).

  4. Brett

    March 4th, 2018

    This is my issue with Jason Kenney and the UCP.

    How am I expected to vote for them if I do not know what their policy is. I know what they are not in favour of but that is not policy..

    I chameleon to the same conclusion in the last election snd reluctantly voted NDP.. My vote was not an accident. It was based on track record of the party and policy platform, or rather lack thereof.

    So far, in my eyes, Kenney has been a gist windbag tossing in about in the storm. I am hoping that this improves before the next election so that I will have a real choice.

  5. Doug

    March 4th, 2018

    David, you are being disingenuous with the bringing of religion into this discussion. While some UCP & non UCP citizens of Alberta may feel the reason for not having injection sites is due to sinning. You lose integrity by saying the UCP base doesn’t support it for that reason. How do you know how that base feels about it? Did you do research or is that strictly your opinion? How many UCP members think it is sinning? Could there be a possibility that there are other valid reasons for having concerns about safe-injection sites. Namely, who is liable if anything happens on the sites? Who operates them and what is their responsibility & liability? Where should they be located, in downtown, residential, or industrial areas? How does the site affect the crime rate in the area? What prevents dealers from frequenting the sites? What laws have to be changed to not make it a criminal offence to have those drugs on site? What other drugs are allowed on the site? Since drug and opioid abuse are at epidemic levels, what is being done to discourage that usage or rehabilitation for both the well-being of the individual and the cost to the medical & social support system. These are all valid and reasonable questions to be asked. Rather than trying to paint reasonable citizens with a fanatical label, if you hope to be credible, please seek to understand all perspectives rather than only presenting one dogmatic viewpoint. That being said, if that is the only point you want to make, you will be considered as such with no ability to understand differing perspectives.But you seem more reasonable than that, but time will tell I suppose.

    • Bob Raynard

      March 5th, 2018

      Doug, you have a valid point about David trying to look into the minds of the voters of Lethbridge to imagine what their motivation is for opposing harm reduction sites, and you have listed several practical factors that can prevent an idea that is great in theory from actually working. Arguments such as yours are points that.Jason Kenney could have used to give his position much more credibility.

      That said, had Kenney raised your points it would have implied that he would consider safe injection sites if the problems you listed could be overcome, and I suspect that is not the message he wanted to send.

      Your points, incidentally, would have had considerably more credibility a few years ago, before safe injection sites in other cities showed they can work with the issues you raised.

    • Tiddo

      March 5th, 2018

      These questions have all been asked and answered multiple times. There is a tremendous body of research on the effects of harm reduction strategies, both for the addicts themselves and the communities they reside in, if one is willing to look for it, read it, and think about it.

      And Mr. Kenney knows this. But he’s not interested in policy, just votes. So while it might have been a little too on the nose for DJC to make that claim around religion, Mr. Kenney is playing the same tune and he knows who’s listening.

  6. Brett

    March 5th, 2018

    Kenney is doing a ‘Ralph Klein’.

    Saying one thing to the rural voters and quite another to the urban voters. It does not appear to matter what party policy i might be.

    Just tell em what they want to hear, get their vote, and worry about it four years later. Repeat and rinse again.

  7. jerrymacgp

    March 5th, 2018

    We clearly can’t incarcerate our way to “victory” in the seemingly endless “War on Drugs”. If we could, then the US, which incarcerates more of its citizens than any other democracy, would be virtually drug free. We need a different approach, and harm reduction initiatives are an important component of that different approach. Addiction is a mental health issue, and people living with it need care and treatment, not jail.

  8. Colino

    March 5th, 2018

    Jason Kenney is a little frog who has jumped into a small pond to make himself look bigger.

  9. David

    March 5th, 2018

    I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised Mr. Kenney is taking a social conservative position here. He is after all still one, despite some initial tepid attempts to portray himself as moderate.

    So with Kenney we are back to that old solution “the war on drugs”. Ask the US how that is going and who won. The answer was it wasn’t Nancy Reagan, although to be fair the war on drugs continued on in the US some time after she famously said just say no.

    So, Kenney is now the current poster boy for just say no – no sex before marriage, no drugs and a few more cops and that will solve all the problems. Maybe is was a good thing Kenney and the UPC were mostly policy free or very ambiguous about policy up until now, if the best they can do is trot out the tired failed policies of the past.

    If Kenney keeps this up, it may be Albertans that eventually end up just saying no to him.


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