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Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.

Lethbridge’s supervised consumption site was billed as the busiest site in North America, with hundreds of visits a day by drug users in the southeastern Alberta city.

The high usage reflected the toll of the opioid crisis in Lethbridge, a city of about 93,000 people with among the highest rates of overdoses in the province.

And that grim trend has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Opioid overdoses, which reached a record high in the second quarter, have killed more people in Alberta this year than the coronavirus.

The spike in fatalities was attributed in part to a decrease in visits to supervised consumption sites, which have limited their capacity to accommodate physical distancing.

The supervised consumption site in Lethbridge, which opened in early 2018 and was operated by a non-profit called ARCHES, shut down at the end of last month after allegations of financial mismanagement prompted the provincial government to pull its funding.

The province opened up a temporary mobile site not too far away, but it is considerably smaller. The old site had 13 injection booths and eight inhalation stalls. The new government-run site can serve three people at a time.

Carrie Tait travelled to Lethbridge to talk to people who used the old site and ask if the replacement was meeting demand. Some told her that the new site has meant longer waits to get in, which means using outside or alone – far more dangerous options.

The United Conservative Party government has made no secret about its skepticism of supervised consumption sites and of harm-reduction services more broadly.

The province ordered a review of those sites and the negative impacts on surrounding neighbours; the final report, which was criticized as sloppy research with questionable conclusions, agreed with that assessment. It found that the sites hurt surrounding neighbourhoods and businesses while questioning how effective they are in preventing overdoses.

Premier Jason Kenney has said harm-reduction services such as supervised consumption merely facilitate addiction, and his government has instead focused on treatment and recovery services. Still, a spokesperson for the province’s associate minister of mental health and addictions has said supervised-consumption services remain part of the long-term plan in Lethbridge.

The data about overdose deaths in Alberta also underscores how slow the province is to release that information. It only puts out overdose numbers four times a year, and typically months after the fact. Experts say Alberta’s decision to report overdose deaths quarterly contributes to the drug crisis because it keeps the issue out of the public eye.

Alberta’s approach is in stark contrast with B.C., which has also seen record-setting spikes in overdose deaths throughout the pandemic.

A report out of B.C. this week showed that the number of deaths in that province related to fentanyl or its analogues this year surpasses last year’s total. B.C. releases its overdose data every month, and Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry last week signed an order to expand the availability of safer drugs.

Under the B.C. plan, registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses can prescribe, make more medications available, and expand eligibility to people who are at risk of overdose, including those who may not necessarily be diagnosed with a substance-use disorder.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. 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. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.

Around the West:

B.C. ELECTION: British Columbia has always been the cradle of the Green Party movement, with internationally known climate scientist Andrew Weaver sitting as an MLA and with longtime leader Elizabeth May holding her federal seat on Vancouver Island. So Mr. Weaver’s endorsement of NDP Leader John Horgan as the one best suited to lead a majority BC government through the pandemic must have been a gut punch for Green supporters. It’s a special sting because Mr. Weaver and his two Green colleagues in the legislature have been supporting Mr. Horgan’s party based on an agreement – touted again as recently as May by the NDP – that neither would trigger an election.

Now, new leader Sonia Fursteneau is having to plunge into an election mere days after taking the helm, without a full slate of candidates and with her former partners in governing, the NDP, targeting their safest seat (Mr. Weaver’s) with a veteran star candidate.

For their part, the Liberals and the NDP spent Week 1 covering some of the same territory. Surrey and Maple Ridge are both battlegrounds and places where the Liberals lost seats to the NDP in the close election of 2017. Removing bridge tolls proved to be a winner for the NDP last time around. This time, with the coronavirus looming over every discussion, the debate centred on health care.

The election means some of the work that was under way is now halted. This includes an all-party legislative committee tasked with overhauling the Police Act, a 45-year-old piece of legislation that is ill-suited to modern concerns about how police do their jobs. Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart highlighted how the act has helped tie his hands in ending police checks in his city. Under the act, he is only allowed to vote to break a tie and earlier this month, the board even prevented him from speaking about the issue. The election means the opportunity to reform is lost, at least for now.

PREMIERS WEIGH IN: Premiers are ratcheting up their criticism of the federal Throne Speech, saying it’s an attack on their jurisdiction over health care and accusing Ottawa of ignoring their request for billions to fix gaps in the health system that existed long before COVID-19. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said that funding gap, and the failure to address it now, is hurting the quality of care available to people in his province and across the country. In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney predicted lawsuits from provinces seeking to fend off what he described as a “full-frontal attack” on their jurisdiction. Mr. Kenney also panned the federal government for failing to mention the fiscal-stabilization program.

SASKATCHEWAN FINES: Saskatchewan health officials have fined a person $2,000 for not self-isolating while showing symptoms of COVID-19, bringing the total amount of penalties levied in the province to more than $20,000. The Ministry of Health has not released specific details about the recent case, except to say the penalty was imposed after a contact-tracing investigation. Officials said the recent violation was of a section of the provincial public-health order that states all symptomatic people who have been directed to get a COVID-19 test, or are awaiting their results, must isolate until they are no longer deemed a risk.

MASKS IN WINNIPEG: Manitoba’s Chief Provincial Public Health Officer is making masks mandatory in indoor public spaces in Winnipeg, as cases of COVID-19 continue to surge in the capital city. Dr. Brent Roussin said Friday there are 54 new cases of the virus in the province – 44 of them are in the Winnipeg health region. Indoor and outdoor gatherings are also be restricted to 10 people.

SCHOOL EXPOSURES: Parents in Vancouver are questioning why they do not have the same access to data about coronavirus cases in schools as parents in the neighbouring city of Surrey. The health authorities overseeing each city are posting exposures to their websites, but in the case of Vancouver Coastal Health, which covers Vancouver, the name of the school is only posted when an entire class or more could have been exposed. Other health authorities are listing schools each time a single student tests positive and attended during the period they were infectious. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said parents are getting the information they need. Said Dr. Patricia Daly, health officer for VCH: “In our health authority, we will post when we feel it’s appropriate.”

IDS VANCOUVER: Vancouver’s Interior Design Show is still taking place from Oct. 1 to 8, albeit with a new, so-called hybrid format. Partly, that means all the events will be streamed online in some way. But there is also an in-person component, though for the first time in 16 years, the event won’t unfurl across the massive Vancouver Convention Centre. The centre has a capacity for 12,000 visitors and the province has limited indoor gatherings to 50 people or fewer.


Kelly Cryderman on the Throne Speech: “The Liberals could have pledged national projects or goals to get behind, even for those who are reluctant. But in the absence of words directed at the people living and working in oil-producing regions of the country, it’s more likely some voters here will see the commitment to a carbon-neutral future as another slight – and another impediment to being competitive with the United States and other major oil producers.”

The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on the opioid epidemic: “That addiction is still common speaks to how difficult it is to overcome, and the need for pragmatic policies. It’s understandable people may have a reflexive aversion to medical professionals prescribing otherwise-illicit opioids. But addicted people are dying, daily. Their deaths are preventable.”

Gary Mason on the RCMP’s response to anti-racism protests (and counter-protests) in Alberta: “It sure looks like the RCMP has a problem here. The fact that people with racist ties can disrupt a peaceful news conference and be defended by police is outrageous. No one’s voice is more important than another’s? Are you kidding me? When one of those voices is that of a bigot and white supremacist, it is not as important as someone peacefully advocating against racism.”

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