Pubdate: Fri, 18 Mar 2016
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Chris Selley
Page: 9


On Monday, Toronto's medical officer of health, David McKeown,
released a report advocating three safe injection sites be opened in
pre-existing medical clinics. In response, federal Conservative health
critic Kellie Leitch sent out an interesting press release.

"The drugs that are used at these sites, mostly heroin, are dangerous
and addictive," it read. It insisted that "public consultations (be)
held =C2=85 and that everyone (get) a say regarding what happens in their

community" - as required by the Conservative-era Respecting
Communities Act. And it argued "every effort should be made to help
people get off of drugs and live healthy and productive lives."

Its vituperative tone aside, it's difficult to argue with most of it:
addiction treatment should obviously be available to those who want
it; no one is going to argue against community consultations. Heroin
is certainly addictive. And heroin - or what passes for it on the
streets - is certainly dangerous in certain circumstances in which it
is often used. Clean needles and a nurse in the room reduce the danger
enormously, which is the whole point of safe injection sits.

Despite its stern tone, the press release didn't actually oppose safe
injection sites. "We are very concerned about what (McKeown's) report
might mean for the law-abiding residents of Toronto," it read. But it
conspicuously failed to elaborate.

If the reinventing Conservatives are rethinking this issue, it
wouldn't be surprising. The principle of safe injection sites has
enjoyed majority support in polls for many years. By the time the
Conservatives next take power, national public opinion on the matter
may be utterly sanguine - as it might be on marijuana, prostitution or
(less likely, I suspect) assisted dying.

Local opinion, of course, may vary. So perhaps there's a lesson for
the Conservatives in Leitch's press release.

Under the Respecting Communities Act, a safe injection site requires
an evidence-based case for an exemption from the Controlled Substances
Act, and extensive consultations with municipal and provincial
governments, police and local communities. That's a perfectly
defensible compassionate conservative position. But it was adopted
only grudgingly, after the Supreme Court of Canada kiboshed the
previous one.

Under Stephen Harper, the Conservatives had no trouble keeping out of
the provinces' business when it came to health-care delivery in
general. Keeping out of their premiers might doubt the wisdom of
selling pot alongside it, inasmuch as it might glamorize consumption
or suggest combining drugs. Quebec's government sounds very much as if
it doesn't want marijuana sold legally at all.

Interim Tory leader Rona Ambrose has already come off the party's
hard-line prohibitionist position. Perhaps "legalize it, then let the
provinces sort it out - or not" might work as a replacement.

When it comes to prostitution, Conservatives and their supporters are
likely less divided than the Liberals and New Democrats. But if the
Liberals don't amend the Conservatives' much-derided new prostitution
law, the courts might. If the Conservatives wanted to come off their
obviously futile hard-line prohibitionist stance, the basic idea of
their Respect for Communities Act might work well for the sex trade:
if communities want to experiment with another model, let them make a
case and apply for an exemption.

And when it comes to assisted dying, trying to arrive at a position
per se - yes or no - is a nightmare, as the Liberals discovered when
they mystifyingly tried to whip the vote on an as-yet-undrafted law.
There are far too many emotional individual experiences tied up in
this for black-and-white positions: this MP watched her father waste
away in agony; that MP has a severely disabled child. What if a
Catholic doctor can't abide referring someone for the service? What if
a Catholic doctor can abide that, but works for a Catholic hospital
that can't?

Again, we're talking about health care - a provincial jurisdiction.
Why not set the table in Ottawa and let the provinces serve what they

Strictly respecting the division of powers is out of fashion right
now, but it certainly has its merits: it can encourage policy
innovation; it keeps Quebec relatively happy; it allows decisions to
be made by governments closer to the people. For a conservative party
rebuilding in a diverse and rapidly changing world, it's a principle
worth clinging to.
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MAP posted-by: Matt