British Columbia

John Horgan announces more money to combat B.C.'s overdose crisis

Premier John Horgan made a number of funding commitments in the province's ongoing effort to curb drug overdoses at a speech to B.C. municipalities.

Announcement came at the end of the annual conference for B.C. municipalities

John Horgan speaks to the media following his address at the 2017 UBCM on Sept. 29, 2017. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

Premier John Horgan made a number of funding commitments in the province's ongoing effort to curb drug overdoses at a speech to B.C. municipalities. 

"This is a difficult and complex problem. Local governments are working around the clock to respond. You shouldn't have to face it alone. The province is stepping up to help," said Horgan, in the closing speech at the Union of B.C. Municipalities annual convention. 

The province made the following new announcements:

  • $15 million in the next three years for a "community crisis innovation fund" to support community-based programs.
  • Expanded hours and new addiction clinics in Vancouver, Burnaby, Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Mission and Langley.
  • $6 million in the next three years for naloxone kits and new distribution centres.
  • $3.4 million for a Mobile Response Team that gives training and education to community groups responding to overdoses.
  • $6.74 million for a public awareness campaign.

The money comes from the $322 million the government committed to the overdose crisis in this month's budget update

The province declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency in April 2016, in response to a rapid increase in fentanyl-related deaths. Since that time, over 1,400 British Columbians have died as a result of an overdose.

"The overdose epidemic is a public health emergency, and like a wildfire, it deserves an urgent response."

Liberals say 'lack of detail' on other issues

Speaking for the B.C. Liberal party, Todd Stone said his party had no complaints with the funding announcements.

"Any additional assistance that could be brought to bear ... to deal with this crisis is welcome," he said.

However, he said the rest of Horgan's address was short on policy specifics.

"This speech is notable more for the lack of detail," he said, mentioning the lack of specifics on cannabis regulation, housing affordability and wildfire relief efforts as areas where he had hoped to hear more concrete announcements from the government this week.

"Folks here will be looking for a little bit more assurance ... we're quite underwhelmed. British Columbians will be quite underwhelmed."

Horgan acknowledged that turning his party's promises on housing affordability into policies was taking longer than expected.

"Housing is a critical component of many people's equity and their retirement prospect, and we want to make sure we don't adversely affect the marketplace," he said. 

"I'm personally frustrated, but not disappointed that we haven't been able to move as quickly as I had hoped."

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson holds an umbrella for Premier John Horgan as he announces the funding for 600 modular homes in Vancouver on Sept. 29, 2017. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

600 modular homes for Vancouver

However, later on Friday the province was able to make one housing announcement: 600 modular housing units in Vancouver for the homeless. 

Horgan said the province has committed $66 million to the buildings alone, where residents will also be able to access support services to help them rebuild their lives.

The buildings are designed to contain about 50 units, each with an individual kitchen and bathroom, while laundry and other amenity spaces are shared.

The funding comes as part of the money the province committed in this month's budget update, and the City of Vancouver made bylaw changes last week to allow quick building of modular homes.

In total, the province is planning to build 2,000 units over the next two years, and B.C. Housing is focusing on several communities, including Smithers and Surrey, that have an immediate need for housing.

"We have not seen the political will until today for the province to step in and play a much greater role in solving homelessness," said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. 

"We've got a lot of work to be done on this front ... now it's about doing this as quickly as possible."

With files from The Canadian Press