The apparent frontrunner in the race to become the next leader of the B.C. Liberals is accusing the governing New Democrats of falling short on confronting the opioid crisis and homelessness in the province.
"We have to acknowledge that everything we're doing right now is not working because the results are just getting worse and worse and worse," Kevin Falcon said in an interview with the Citizen this week.
Falcon announced his candidacy for the party's top spot this week. Skeena MLA Ellis Ross and Gavin Dew, who ran and lost to Melanie Mark in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant in a 2016 byelection, are also in the running and Vancouver-Langara MLA Michael Lee has said on social media that he's "ready to run."
Roughly 1,700 people died from opioid overdoses last year, Falcon said, "more than we've lost through COVID."
"Virtually nothing is being done by the current government except that they'll say 'we're spending more money and we're studying things more,' but we're getting worse outcomes in every community across the province," he continued.
"Homelessness is worse, streets are less safe, mental health and addiction is worse, and yet their answer is to keep doing more of the same."
Falcon, who played a key role in establishing the Baldy Hughes residential treatment centre southwest of Prince George, said his response would be "completely different" if he became the next premier of the province. He outlined a plan of assertive action that would start with getting people with mental health and addiction issues off the streets.
"I can tell you that many of those folks are totally incapable of making sane, rational decisions that are in their own best interests...and yet we allow them to wander the streets, to be abused, to be exploited, sexually assaulted sometimes and that's not right. What kind of society allows this to go on."
"And so my approach is we need to take those folks, with compassion, care, tenderness and loving, off of the streets and put them into 24-7 care, being looked after so they can be stabilized, put on proper medications, and control their mental health issues, help them get off their drug addictions and then hopefully we can stream them back into society with proper supports."
Falcon is on record as saying he believes a safe supply of prescription opioids has a role to play but also that some people would benefit from abstinence-based recovery programs.
"The approach of just saying 'well, let's just give them a safe drug supply,' that may be one approach, it's not the only approach but it's the only approach this current government is focussed on," he said.
In June 2020, the NDP introduced legislation to force youth who've had a serious overdose to stay in hospital against their will. A month later, it was “paused” after the children’s watchdog, chief coroner and others criticized it and the B.C. Greens refused to support it.
With the NDP now in a majority position, a revamped version reportedly could be before the legislature by the fall session in October. In the interim, the children’s advocate issued a report in which she said involuntary detention must be "complemented by a robust array of voluntary services, supports and treatment and used sparingly and as a ‘last resort’ given the implications."'
Falcon expressed support for the legislation.
"I was quite pleased with it, but they panicked in the face of some opposition and you know, this is what leadership comes down to," he said. "Leadership is about making tough decisions and there was never a decision that I was involved with that had unanimity, it just never happens in government."