Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe isn’t committing to funding the province’s first supervised drug injection site if he’s elected premier.
But NDP Leader Ryan Meili said a government under him would fund the harm reduction initiative.
Both politicians were in Saskatoon on Wednesday for the first full day of campaigning for the Oct. 26 election.
The organization Prairie Harm Reduction is planning to open the doors of Saskatchewan’s first supervised drug consumption site in Saskatoon on Thursday.
Its executive director, Jason Mercredi, said he’s disappointed by the province’s lack of funding at a time when more people are overdosing. The Saskatchewan Party government earlier declined a request for about $1 million for the site.
“We’re seeing record deaths,” Mercredi said in an interview Wednesday.
“We’re seeing them really drop the ball on this issue.”
At a campaign stop to promise a tax credit for home renovations, Moe said he wouldn’t commit to funding the consumption site if elected premier. But he didn’t rule it out either.
“There’s nothing saying that we wouldn’t look at funding that, as well as other initiatives, in the future,” he said.
“There’s a finite amount of investment that is available and we’ll continue to allocate it in what we feel is in the best interest and the best outcomes for the people of the province.”
Moe said Mercredi’s organization already benefits from provincial funding, and added his government spent millions in the last few years on mental-health and addictions services, including new treatment beds for crystal meth addiction.
“How are we supposed to get people to those treatment beds if they’re dead? Mercredi asked. “That’s a question that needs to be answered.”
Without provincial dollars, the consumption site will only be open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., he said, but users will have a chance to be connected to other services and to see medical staff.
“Addiction is not a 9-to-5 habit. That said, something’s better than nothing, which is why we’re opening 10 to 4.”
The provincial coroners service has recorded 40 confirmed and 190 suspected deaths related to drug overdoses so far this year.
At a combined total of 230, that’s already higher than 2018 – considered the deadliest year of the last decade – when there were 171 drug fatalities.
Meili, who is also a family doctor, said he would fund a supervised drug consumption site because harm reduction is an important part of tackling addictions.
“I think their approach is more informed by judgment,” he said of the Saskatchewan Party. “This is a time that governments need to set aside ideology, focus on the evidence.”
Meili also promised Wednesday to introduce a one per cent wealth tax if elected premier.
The tax would apply on people whose net worth exceeds $15 million, the NDP said, and it would bring in $120 million to provincial coffers. The party estimates that could apply to between 500 and 2,300 households in the province.
Under the Saskatchewan Party’s tax credit, homeowners would be able to claim about 11 per cent on up to $20,000 worth of renovation-related expenses between Oct. 1 and the end of 2022.
Moe said the tax credit would encourage people to spend money and support the construction industry by creating jobs.
“Some of the questions … today about investments and supports for some of those who have maybe been marginalized in our society or are challenged with mental-health addictions issues really speak to why we need to focus on the economic recovery,” he said.
“And why we need to focus on creating jobs, good-paying careers.”