Kevin Falcon said a provincial government under his leadership would spend about $1.5 billion and open recovery centres across B.C. — not just the Lower Mainland — to help those needing treatment and recovery from drug use.
“We are talking about a very significant investment here, operating dollars over three years of almost $1 billion and capital investments of over half a billion,” the official opposition leader said during a news conference in New Westminster today.
“This is not a small amount of money. It won’t happen overnight. You’ve got to make the investments, you’ve got to build the system and make sure it’s in place quickly.”
Falcon announced those numbers during a visit to the Westminster Housing Society as part of a “no-cost recovery-oriented system” that would complement existing harm reduction measures with treatment and recovery.
“My concern with this government is that it is entirely focused on going down the harm-reduction path and frankly minimizing or dismissing treatment and recovery,” Falcon said. “If the entire goal of this NDP government is to help people maintain an addiction lifestyle, that is not a good thing.
“Just breathing and being alive should not be our measure of success.”
Central to Falcon’s proposal is creating what he later called a “modernized form of Riverview (Hospital),” the former mental health facility that closed in 2012 after operating for nearly a century in the Lower Mainland. During its existence, it became a short-hand to some for a heavy-handed approach toward dealing with mental health issues.
While past governments dismantled institutions like Riverview for the right reasons, they failed to help former patients, Falcon said.
“It’s misplaced compassion to have society’s most vulnerable be abused and exploited on the streets, while we pretend to care about their welfare.”
Falcon added that his government would triple the 105 beds at the Red Fish Healing Centre for Mental Health and Addiction that opened on the former Riverview Hospital site under the last B.C. Liberal government. Centres like Red Fish would also open elsewhere.
“I want to open up regional locations in the North, in the Thompson-Okanagan, in the Kootenays, on Vancouver Island, to make sure that…those who are dealing with really complex challenges of mental health and addictions can go into a facility with compassion and love and the proper care and attention that they need and deserve,” he said.
Falcon said a government under his leadership would start making changes right away, but added some of the proposed measures would take time.
“But people need to understand that we are already spending today literally billions of dollars in the criminal justice, in the policing system, in the health care system…and many actually are not getting better.”
Falcon’s announcement comes after a three-year-long trial to decriminalize certain types of drugs for personal use started Monday (Jan. 31) and after B.C. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe had criticized the government for failing to follow recommendations dating back to 2017 and 2022 to improve treatment and recovery options for drug users.
Hours earlier, the BC Coroners’ Service announced that 2022 was the second deadliest year of B.C.’s toxic drug crisis on record. Preliminary results show 2,272 people died from poisoned drugs last year — 34 deaths short of 2021’s record total.
Falcon said these figures make it clear that the current approach is not working in calling for a radical shift.
Elenore Sturko, opposition MLA for Surrey South and Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Addiction, Recovery and Education, said her party supports decriminalization, but accused the government of being irresponsible for not pairing it with additional resources for treatment and recovery.