After reading Mr. Wurban’s response to MLA Hinkley’s column this past week, I feel compelled to respond. By no means would I diminish what Mr. Wurban feels. However, I do think it is necessary to address some of the misconceptions that he has brought forward.
Before I begin, I do believe it is important to identify that I live permanently in Calgary, though I was born and raised in Wetaskiwin and am working and living in Wetaskiwin for the summer. I have also worked in the social services sector for over six years and am currently enrolled at the U of C taking a Bachelor of Social Work. I acknowledge that because of my employment history and education, I see social issues through an inclusion-based framework based on the principals of dignity and respect, equality, comprehensiveness, and belief in the importance of social dialogue. This lens is non-partisan and focuses on the individual or the group who are affected rather than a political orientation.
With this, I think it is important to discuss the facts regarding addiction, opioid overdose and supervised safe injection sites so that Mr. Wurban’s personal opinion is not assumed to be truth. Mr. Wurban states that he would like a government who “cares about our healthcare”. However, Mr. Wurban contradicts this statement in the same sentence as he continues “not a government that’s enabling drug addicts by spending millions of taxpayer dollars for Naloxone to revive drug addicts who want to get high”. This statement is problematic for various reasons. Perhaps the most obvious is that engaging in a strategy to combat opioid addiction and overdose deaths is, in fact, part of a government’s healthcare portfolio – both in offering quality healthcare to all citizens (including those with mental health and addictions) as well as doing so in a cost-effective manner. Certainly, the government is spending healthcare dollars on providing Naloxone kits to the public, but if the concern is about the cost-effectiveness of this policy, there have been several academic studies that indicate that spending on both the Naloxone itself as well as the training for service professionals will save taxpayer dollars in the long run (Coffin et. All, 2013).
I am not writing this letter to shame Mr. Wurban or others who hold views similar to his, but instead, I am doing so to correct misinformation and remind rural Albertans that a government can have both your interests in mind and those of vulnerable populations when creating policy. I think it is important to note that until the recent government change, not only did highest-income earners in Alberta pay the lowest taxes in the nation, but that social spending was tremendously underfunded seeing only 13.4 per cent (combined provincial and municipal spending) of the GDP in the social services sector. To put this in perspective, the average expenditure for other OECD countries in the same period was 21 per cent (ACSW, 2010).
I understand that Albertans would like to continue to live with low-taxes with high services/rewards, but we are no longer living in a world where $100 a barrel of oil exists. The harsh reality is that if the government of the day were looking to the future, there would have been policy and systems in place to protect Albertans from the economic downturn that the 2008 recession produced. They would have been investing in clean energy technologies, investing in programming for the most vulnerable populations including addiction treatment and prevention programs, and investing in post-secondary education in hopes of preventing the collapse of the economy that has given so many of us a privileged lifestyle for so long. Before we condemn our current government’s response to the opioid crisis and erroneously correlate it to a spike in crime, we ought to consider how the neglect of this funding by previous governments for decades facilitated the crisis that we are experiencing today.