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Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver today.

British Columbia’s efforts to combat the toxic-drug crisis have proved an easy target for Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre as he pushes his Canada-is-broken narrative. His party’s motion calling on the federal Liberal government to quit supporting safer-supply programs and instead, divert money into treatment, went down to predictable defeat earlier this week, 209 to 113.

That was beside the point. In raising the motion, the Conservative leader was aiming to frame the policy of providing pharmaceutical alternatives to contaminated street drugs as a simple choice of priorities. As Andrea Woo and Ian Bailey wrote earlier this week, the toxic-drug crisis has stymied simple answers.

They spoke to addictions physicians who said safer supply is showing promising benefits, but also comes with potential risks that must be carefully observed.

Paxton Bach, an addiction medicine specialist at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver and co-medical director at the BC Centre on Substance Use, said prescribers have been put in the distressing position of acting as gate-keepers to a safer supply when he believes it should come from government regulation.

“I’m trying to weigh benefits to an individual versus potential public-safety implications,” he said. “We don’t have a great assessment of either of those ... but we have increasing evidence from qualitative work and quantitative studies, from program evaluations, consistently suggesting that, at least in some people, access to a safe supply does result in significant health benefits.”

Municipal governments, too, are having to weigh provincial health policies aimed at vulnerable patients with mental health and addiction issues with complaints from businesses and residents about public disorder and drug use.

British Columbia became the first jurisdiction in Canada to decriminalize small amounts of some street drugs for personal use. Police can no longer lay possession charges in those cases, nor can officers confiscate someone’s personal supply.

As Cassie MacDonell writes today, several municipalities are proposing bylaws to restrict public drug use, driven by concerns that parks and beaches will become busier with children, families and tourists as summer approaches. In response, some have proposed bylaws to restrict where drugs can be consumed, but health officials say this could lead to an increase in overdose risk.

Premier David Eby has promised to do “something” to address concerns from the municipalities, telling the legislature he will ensure they have the “tools” necessary to tackle these issues.

What those tools are is unclear. At least one city council has been told by health officials that bylaws to restrict drug use infringe on public health measures.

Last month, the council in Campbell River proposed a bylaw to restrict drug use in locations where children frequent, such as playgrounds and parks.

Elle Brovold, city manager of Campbell River, said the municipality is proposing the bylaw because of concerns about public drug use. She said these incidents deter people from using parks and other public spaces for leisure activities.

But in an April letter to Campbell River council, Dr. Charmaine Enns, Medical Health Officer with Island Health, recommended that Campbell River not proceed with the bylaw and instead gather, review and consider the available evidence before moving forward.

“It is especially concerning that a key rationale for the proposed bylaw appears to be the discomfort of people in shared public places, while generally discounting the distress of and demonstrated harm suffered by those who use substances,” Dr. Enns wrote.

The Ministry of Health declined to make anyone available to speak to the issue on the record.

Jen Ford, president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, said municipalities are looking forward to working with the province to come to a resolution, but so far, those talks have not begun.

“We’ve heard from the province that they’re keen to work with us. Municipalities are ready to do that.”

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief Mark Iype. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.

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