Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears “open” and “encouraging” to the city’s request for federal funding towards a safe opioid supply.
Vancouver Coastal Health recently applied for $6 million from Health Canada to allow for a safe supply and distribution of heroin in order to curb fatal overdoses, a majority of which have been tied to drugs laced with deadly fentanyl or carfentanyl.
Following his first meeting with Trudeau since the October federal election on Thursday, Stewart said he was encouraged the prime minister didn’t immediately shut down the idea.
“So I’m very encouraged by that and grateful.”
Stewart said Vancouver is still seeing an average of one overdose-related death every day, making the need for new solutions critical.
The Downtown Eastside remains the epicentre of B.C.’s overdose epidemic. Vancouver Coastal Health says the area saw more than 100 deaths by residence per 100,000 population between 2017 and 2018.
Those premature deaths have created a nearly 15-year discrepancy between the average life expectancy for men in the DTES and men living in Vancouver’s West Side, according to a July report from chief medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly.
Daly has also recommended the creation of a safe drug supply, a suggestion echoed by B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and the BC Centre for Disease Control.
In July, Vancouver city council approved recommendations from Stewart’s overdose crisis task force that called for a safe drug supply and more federal funding to help those at risk.
Trudeau, for his part, has previously said his government would not take that step.
While campaigning earlier this year, Trudeau said the Liberals would focus on treatment, harm reduction, safe consumption sites, and new money for the provinces and territories to expand local programs.
Stewart said he is also pleased that Patty Hajdu has been named the new health minister, as she has experience with harm-reduction strategies.
The mayor said he hopes to sit down with Hajdu about the safe drug supply proposal soon.
Global News has reached out to Health Canada for comment.
At their meeting, Trudeau and Stewart also discussed the importance of federal funding to help expand transit infrastructure and affordable housing in Vancouver.
Stewart said he was “very encouraged” by those discussions, appearing hopeful more money could soon be flowing towards those issues.
Before meeting with Stewart, Trudeau sat down with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and discussed the discontent with Ottawa that’s growing in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Stewart pushed back against the idea of “western alienation,” suggesting that idea is getting in the way of working towards solutions to the overdose crisis and housing.
“I feel like we’re being a little bit hijacked by Alberta’s agenda, and in British Columbia we want to get these things rolling,” he said.