Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he wants the federal government to focus more on drug-addiction recovery as overdose deaths in B.C. reach record levels.

He's also distancing himself from harm reduction services such as Vancouver's supervised injection clinic, Insite.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been a vocal proponent of the Downtown Eastside initiative. 

"I don't believe that should be the focus," Scheer said.  

"There's nothing there that breaks that cycle of addiction. I think that's what more and more Canadians want to see."

Scheer, who was elected leader of the Conservative Party of Canada in May, is touring B.C. this week as part of a cross-country tour to boost his profile with voters.

He spoke Tuesday with Early Edition guest host Stephen Quinn about B.C.'s drug overdose crisis.

Listen to the full interview. 

Since the beginning of last year, an estimated 1,600 people have died in B.C. of illicit drug overdoses. We've been under a provincial state of emergency for 16 months.

What would you like to see from the federal government when it comes to addressing this crisis?

I'd like to see a greater emphasis on recovery. There's a two-pronged approach, and one is raising awareness with young people and first-time users. I've been told those are who are most vulnerable because they haven't built up a tolerance to opioids. The first or second time they take a drug that contains fentanyl in it, they're in grave danger.

I really do think we need to move beyond this kind of supervised injection, where government makes it quote unquote safer to inject illicit drugs, and to focus more on recovery and helping those who are addicted to get off drugs.  

Recovery is one thing. But the person that you'd like to recover has to be alive. The immediate concern is the number of people dying of overdoses. So you would not be in favour then of a prescription heroin program, for instance?

It's awareness for young people that's a big part of it. I think there are many, many young people who aren't aware of the dangers and don't realize how deadly this is. I think we need to put a greater emphasis on that for people who are trapped in that dangerous and vicious cycle.

So you're not in favour of harm reduction, then? You don't approve of supervised injection sites?

I don't believe that should be the focus, especially if you look at how these facilities affect communities and the community engagement that often doesn't go on.

The prime minister talks about making sure communities have a say in all kinds of different things. But it seems like with this situation, the Liberals opposed the previous Conservative government when it tried to ensure local communities had a say in when and where these things are operated.

I guess that would be a line of demarcation between the prime minister and myself.

But the Conservative government made the criteria so onerous that the sites wouldn't be allowed to open period. Vancouver's Insite, for instance, is lauded worldwide as a model of success when it comes to harm reduction.

I just think that if that is the focus of a government, there's nothing there that breaks that cycle of addiction. I think that's what more and more Canadians want to see. Not just maintaining people on a path with addictions, but something that moves beyond that. Even if some feel that they're injecting in a safer way, that shouldn't be the goal.

For the people who are going to take drugs anyway, should the goal not be to keep them alive and prevent the 1,600 deaths we've seen so far this year in B.C.?

If a government is going to have a truly compassionate approach to these types of issues, there's a whole spectrum that needs to be looked at to make sure we are treating the individual with compassion. A huge part of that has to be recovery. it can't just be a focus on maintaining that cycle of addiction.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity. With files from CBC's The Early Edition.