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The government and the Conservatives have clashed repeatedly over the Liberals’ harm-reduction policy.Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

MPs are expected to return to an intense discussion on the opioid crisis Thursday as the Conservatives use their opposition day in the House of Commons to debate a motion asking the government to change course on its safe-supply policies.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has put forward a motion for debate that calls on the federal government to “immediately reverse its deadly policies and redirect all funds from taxpayer-funded, hard drug programs to addiction, treatment and recovery programs.”

Mr. Poilievre is disputing the government’s approach to dealing with the opioid crisis, including providing a safe supply of illicit drugs to people who are at high risk of overdose.

Thursday’s opposition day is one of a handful of days throughout the year in which an opposition party can put forward a motion for a day of debate on the floor of the House of Commons. The Conservative motion will be put to a vote next week.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett said she welcomed the motion, adding “it is really important that Canadians understand how difficult it is to save lives in the face of the toxic drug supply and how important it is that we use all the tools at our disposal.”

She called the Conservatives’ policies on the subject “misguided.”

The opioid crisis comes to Ottawa

The government and the Conservatives have clashed repeatedly over the Liberals’ harm-reduction policy, with intense exchanges taking place recently between Mr. Poilievre and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and, this week, between Mr. Poilievre and Ms. Bennett and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Mr. Poilievre this week called for an end to the “dollars for drugs” program of providing drugs to the addicted, saying funding should be diverted to treatment for addicts. “People are dying because the policies of the Prime Minister are killing them,” the Conservative Leader said at one point in Question Period.

In the text of his motion, Mr. Poilievre cites a media report involving a journalist in Vancouver who was able to buy “a dangerous and highly addictive opioid that is distributed in tax-funded drug supply programs.”

Ms. Bennett said such instances of what she calls “diversion uses” are a small, manageable problem compared to the lives being saved by a safe supply. She said the government is tracking the issue.

Vancouver Police, asked by The Globe and Mail about the possible sale of such narcotics, said in a recent statement that “there’s always a potential” for safe-supply medication to be sold on the illicit market.

However, the force added they are not aware of any incidents in Vancouver in which safe supply has been trafficked to youth, responding to an assertion Mr. Poilievre, citing media reports, has made in the Commons.

Ms. Bennett said Wednesday that 46,000 overdoses have been reversed by safe-consumption sites, and there need to be efforts to keep people alive long enough to be treated. She did not provide more details.

“The member says that he will stop that. I want him to speak to the parents of the people who would have been lost if there were no safe-consumption sites and no safe supply,” she said.

Ms. Freeland came to Ms. Bennett’s defence earlier this week, noting the minister is a physician. “Unlike the Leader of the Opposition, who is a career politician and has done nothing else, she is a doctor,” she said.

Opinion: Tackling the toxic drug crisis requires a multifront response, not simplistic solutions

NDP MP Gord Johns said the Conservative rhetoric on drugs is irresponsible, but he also criticized the Liberals for failing to take the crisis seriously enough.

“I would say the Liberals have been dragging their feet in terms of responding to the toxic drug crisis.” he said.

Mr. Johns said the safe-supply policy is sound and should be expanded. “The Chief Coroner of B.C. made it very clear that it isn’t safe supply that’s killing people. It’s the toxic, unregulated drugs that are killing people.”

With a report from Bill Curry

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