A Surrey Liberal MP says more data is required before the federal government will declare a public welfare emergency in B.C., something the opposition Conservatives and NDP are calling for. 

Under federal law a public welfare emergency can be called when a natural disaster, disease, or accident endangers life, property, social disruption or a breakdown in the flow of essential goods, services or resources, so seriously as to be a national emergency. It allows the government to take special measures including setting up emergency shelters and hospitals.

Fleetwood-Port Kells MP Ken Hardie says invoking such a state is almost akin to the War Measures Act, but it remains on the table as the crisis develops.

"We need to find out if it's the appropriate tool, the one that's actually going to create a difference and work," he told On The Coast guest host Laura Lynch. "Or, are we in a situation where the tools we have at our disposal now, applied the right way, can get the results we want?"

For example, Hardie says it's not known how many overdose victims are recreational drug users, regular users of other drugs or those specifically seeking fentanyl.

'People are dying'

Vancouver-Kingsway MP Don Davies, the NDP's health critic, has been asking for the declaration since November and reiterated his call Thursday.

"This is for a health issue, for instance if we had SARS or some other contagion," he said. "This would allow the federal government to, for instance, immediately establish mobile health units or supervised consumption sites in every city in Canada, whereas now you have to go through a tortuous process."

South Surrey-White Rock MP Dianne Watts, of the Conservatives, says Health Minister Jane Philpott doesn't need to wait for more data.

"People are dying.... We need a strategy, and for the minister to not declare this a public health emergency, is astonishing, frankly," she said.

'Tools are there'

Hardie defended his government's response to the crisis, saying they had started to do away with many of the conditions the previous Conservative government put on supervised injection sites.

"The tools are there, the progress is being made, the data's being collected," Hardie said.

"If, though, we run into a stumbling block where we cannot get results with the tools we have at our disposal now, yes, the public welfare emergency is definitely something we would use."

But that wasn't enough for Davies.

"Other policy issues perhaps we can wait on, we can collect data, but this is one where I'd rather see action first that we know save lives," he said.

"If six Canadians were dying a day from a contagion like SARS or some other epidemic, there would be a national public health emergency."

Overdoses claimed the lives of 914 people in B.C. in 2016, an increase of nearly 80 per cent from the year before.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast


To here the full interview, click the audio labelled: Liberals say more data needed before public welfare emergency declared on overdoses