Two debate-filled weeks after Lethbridge Coun. Blaine Hyggen announced an Aug. 19 motion regarding the city’s supervised consumption site, the resolution was voted down by his colleagues 6-3.
A similar motion was defeated last July by a vote of 5-4, but Hyggen felt the issues worsened over the past year, motivating him to bring it forward once again.
“I thought with the different research and stuff that’s been coming into council… maybe there would be another look at it,” said Hyggen, “so I thought I’d bring it that forward.”
With hundreds showing up before the meeting for counter-protests, security was at an all-time high at city hall, with a heavy police presence and citizens being searched at the doors.
Mayor Chris Spearman announced at the beginning of the meeting that there were to be no reactions allowed from the gallery and that if there were multiple occurrences of poor decorum, he would have council chambers emptied.
Hyggen’s motion was two-fold; if passed, the motion would first ask the provincial government to direct ARCHES to prohibit distributed needles from leaving the site, and second, it would have asked Alberta’s new UCP government to halt funding to the site until the province’s review was complete.
It was clear to those in the packed gallery that Hyggen was going to be hard-pressed to find the two votes needed — as councillors Ryan Parker and Joe Mauro were co-sponsors on the motion — especially after news earlier in the day from the provincial government.
On Monday morning, Jason Luan, the associate minister of Mental Health and Addictions, announced that during the government’s review process there would be no changes to services throughout Alberta.
The timing was unfortunate for Hyggen, whose colleagues questioned why council wouldn’t wait until the review was complete.
“It’s certainly a very concerning issue,” said Spearman. “The challenge for the province is are they going to put the resources into this? How do they help us?”
The mayor made his position clear last week, saying that he believed supporting the motion would undermine the city’s bargaining position with the province.
Lethbridge has remained in a state of uncertainty since December, when Alberta’s former NDP government committed more than $12 million to the city for supported housing and intoxication spaces.
“We were always told that funding was near, and we finally got some last December,” said Spearman.
“Now we need to know whether that funding is going to come through, and whether or not the services are going to be ones that people want to access.”
During the debate, Spearman pointed to “root causes for the drug issue.”
“Because of poverty, because of homelessness, it’s affected our city more than most,” he said.
The 90 minutes of debate by council got heated at points, especially between Hyggen and Spearman.
While questioning Hyggen, Spearman said, “you have cried wolf too many times, Coun. Hyggen.”
During his opening statement, Hyggen compared the safe consumption site to a “party,” saying, “I’ve heard that the supervised consumption site is pumping with music and fun. Drug users come around and are warmly greeted by their fellow users — it’s like a big party. At times, they are even supplied with chocolate bars, pizza, chips, take-out food, etc.”
The comparison raised some eyebrows, especially from ARCHES representatives.
“To suggest that a health care facility is a party because we provide food security to people who are impoverished in our community is absurd,” said ARCHES executive director Stacey Bourque.
Spearman also didn’t like the reference.
“I take offence to that, I really do,” he said. “It is a health option. It’s a health facility.”
Bourque said ARCHES was satisfied with what she called the “right decision,” but Hyggen too was content even after his motion was defeated.
“With everybody that came out, and it doesn’t matter what side you’re on, the province heard about that,” said Hyggen. “They heard the voices of both sides.”