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How a two alarm fire became a five alarm fire - the tragic story of the Pallister government's failure to act to stop the meth epidemic from becoming today's crisis.

We have a crisis today in Manitoba with the increase in methamphetamine use leading to increased syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases, increased violence in our streets and in our hospitals, increased meth-related suicides and homicides and increased vandalism.   The meth epidemic started its dramatic increase in the summer of 2017.  It was the equivalent of a two alarm fire. There was an opportunity for the provincial government to act vigorously to prevent its further expansion.  But the Pallister government failed to act.  Today, in response to my question in Question Period they revealed why - they did not believe they could do anything which would have an impact.   They did  not even try to prevent further spread of the epidemic.   It is no wonder we are where we are now in the middle of a full blown crisis - equivalent to a five alarm fire.   My questions and the Minister's response are below: 
Methamphetamine Addiction - Request for Government Action

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): In the summer of 2017 there was a dramatic upswing in methamphetamine use in Winnipeg. It was a time to act. There were federal funds from mental health and addictions. It was an opportunity to launch a major campaign to reduce meth use and meth addiction.
      But instead of listening to people on the front lines and in non-profit organizations acting, this government dragged its feet. The result has been a province-wide meth crisis and dramatic upswings in sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis.  Why did this government delay acting as the crisis got worse and instead spent two years hunting for a pen to sign a funding agreement with the federal government?  
Hon. Cameron Friesen (Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living): Madam Speaker, that member knows that what this government has done is spend two years fighting for a fairer arrangement with the federal government in respect of a sustainable Canada Health Act  - when it comes to sustainable funding for all provinces. The federal government used to fund it 50 per cent. Then they funded it 25 per cent, and I can tell you that in the next 10 years that differential, what we will lose in this province because of that member's party in Ottawa, will be $2 billion of funding.    We fought, we will continue to fight, for a fair arrangement for health care for all Manitobans.
Madam Speaker: The honourable member for River Heights, on a supplementary question.
Mr. Gerrard: Thanks, Madam Speaker. 
 In 2017 we had the equivalent of a two-alarm fire with a big spike in the use of meth. Instead of listening to people and acting to decrease meth use and reduce the size of the epidemic, the government procrastinated while there's been an increase in syphilis, an increase in violence in our hospitals, an increase in violence in our streets, including homicides and suicides and increased vandalism. It's now the equivalent of a five-alarm fire.  When he reduced the PST, the Premier (Mr. Pallister) whipped out his pen and spent $180,000 in ads. 
Why has this government refused, for two years, to run meth-prevention ads? Because they're afraid to admit Manitoba has a meth problem.
Mr. Friesen: Madam Speaker, that member knows it's the worst-kept secret that Manitoba has a problem when it comes to illicit drugs; everyone is acknowledging that.
What no one is doing is pretending that any of this were simple; otherwise, we would not have had a parliamentary committee from Ottawa yesterday here spending their time listening, a broad coalition of members of that assembly who came to learn about methamphetamines and what can be done. And one thing was made clear yesterday, expert after expert: none of this is easy. All of this will take time and engagement and collaboration is important. Will that member also collaborate and engage, or does he just want to point fingers? 
Madam Speaker: The honourable member for River Heights, on a final supplementary.
Mr. Gerrard: Two years ago when meth use and the meth epidemic took off, vigorous action could have reduced or stopped the epidemic before it became the major problem it is today. In its government, the budget–the government increased spending to help for the Premier's (Mr. Pallister) Executive Council and on government advertising, but reduced funding to the alcohol foundation of Manitoba, refused to fund non-profits like Morberg House and virtually froze education funding. Indeed, we hear the alcohol foundation has had to cut back severely on counsellors and youth outreach, the very areas where there could have been prevention. Why, at a time when meth use is spreading, is this government making access to AFM's education in schools even harder? 

Mr. Friesen: The member is wrong in his preamble. There is no jurisdiction in Canada or abroad that has seen that through any effective means of policy implementation that somehow this could have been avoided.  [You can see from this statement that the Pallister government never even tried.  Few other governments the world over faced an emerging crisis and never tried to prevent it]
We are dealing with the same things that western Australia is seeing. We're dealing with the same things with–the Midwest states are seeing. It doesn't mean that inaction is the–is a path forward, and that's why this Province and this government has taken strong action. As a matter of fact, just today we indicated as well that we're making it easier to access two drugs to fight alcohol addiction. This was a specific recommendation of the VIRGO report. Today when people go to a RAAM clinic it will be easier to get the medications that they need. This is only one of the ways in which our government continues to take action.




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