NDP members resign from Alberta safe drug supply committee, calling it a ‘political stunt’

Newly-elected speaker of the house Nathan Cooper speaks after being voted in, in Edmonton on Tuesday May 21, 2019. The Speaker of Alberta's legislature is telling both the government and opposition members to be better in the wake of an angry confrontation over earplugs in the house. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Opposition NDP members resigned Friday from a committee tasked to examine a safe drug supply, saying it’s a “political stunt” by the Alberta government instead of meaningful work to address spiking overdose deaths.

Lori Sigurdson, the NDP critic for mental health and addictions, said she believes this is the first time the Opposition has refused to sit on a legislative committee.

“It’s warranted because of the rigged process before us,” she said.

The committee was struck in December to look at the benefits and consequences of safer alternatives to street-level drugs. Four of its 12 members were NDP members of the legislature.

In a letter sent to Speaker Nathan Cooper, the NDP caucus said United Conservative committee members are not studying safe supply in good faith.

“Instead of studying this important question of public health policy in good faith, UCP members are clearly intent on staging an extended political stunt. This is unconscionable,” said the letter.

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“We refuse to take any further part in it.”

The letter referenced UCP members’ conduct during committee meetings, previous statements made against harm reduction, and what the NDP considers to be biased speakers on the topic put forward by the government.

NDP resignations come one day after the province released a list of the more than 20 people it asked to present to committee members.

It includes author Michael Shellenberger, who wrote a book called “San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities” and Stanford professor Dr. Keith Humphreys, who served in the Office of National Drug Control Policy under former U.S. presidents George Bush and Barack Obama.

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Alberta Dr. Rob Tanguay is also on the list. He previously served on the UCP-appointed panel to review supervised consumption sites. The panel’s final report has been dismissed by academics, harm reduction advocates and scientists from across Canada.

“The intent of the committee is not to study safe supply, it is to discredit it,” said Sigurdson, who was part of the committee with NDP members Kathleen Ganley, Janis Irwin and David Shepherd.

“The usual practice of committees is to ask the legislature’s non-partisan research staff to draft a list of relevant stakeholders to be invited. But in this case, UCP members of this committee created a list of people who oppose safe supply.”

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The NDP is asking the committee chair, UCP legislative assembly member Jeremy Nixon, to withdraw suggested stakeholders put forward by the NDP.

“We just don’t want to waste their time. These are busy people helping in the middle of this poisoning crisis in our province,” said Sigurdson.

Premier Jason Kenney has been outspoken in his views against safe supply programs. He previously said: “We don’t believe giving people coping with addictions free drugs is a solution to the problem of drug addiction.”

Alberta’s ministry of mental health and addictions declined to comment, referring questions to the United Conservative Party caucus.

The UCP caucus released a statement late Friday that said the committee will continue its work and listen to stakeholders put forward by the NDP, should they want to present.

“The NDP have clearly shown they are not interested in taking an impartial look at potential benefits and consequences of their own party’s policy,” said UCP MLA Mickey Amery, a member of the committee.

“United Conservatives remain steadfast in our commitment to thoroughly examining this issue and hearing from a range of experts.”

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The next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 15.

Brock Harrison, executive director of communications and planning for Kenney, slammed the Opposition on social media.

“The NDP can’t even bear to listen to expert advice that contradicts their extreme ideology,” Harrison said on Twitter. “It’s important to examine this issue from all sides. What a sad world they live in.”

About four Albertans are dying from drug poisonings daily, and almost 1,400 deaths were recorded between January and October of last year.


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