Although Greater Sudbury city council has pushed forward with a supervised consumption site and supported transitional housing complex, they did so without the provincial funds required.
Prior to the writ dropping for the June 2 provincial election, the incumbent Progressive Conservatives had yet to commit any funding for these facilities, including the medical staff that fall under provincial jurisdictions and typically funded as such.
Sudbury.com reached out to Sudbury’s main provincial candidates earlier this week, and received confirmation that the Green, NDP and Liberal parties would provide funding if elected.
Progressive Conservative candidate Marc Despatie has yet to return Sudbury.com’s request for comment. Neither he nor Nickel Belt Progressive Conservative candidate Randy Hazlett have returned any interview requests thus far in the election season.
Despite the two facilities aimed at targeting the city’s homelessness/opioid crisis falling under provincial jurisdiction, the city’s elected officials determined last year that the efforts were too important to wait on the province to make a reality.
“In the hope of not burning any bridges with our provincial counterparts, I will just say that they have left us in the lurch,” Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer said while joining the balance of city council in voting to push forward on the transitional housing project during 2022 budget deliberations.
“It’s all about the people,” Mayor Brian Bigger told Sudbury.com this week, noting that there are many people in Sudbury who, “without essential provincially funded support services, have already lost or are losing in their battles with mental health and addictions.”
“It is clear that reliable and predictable provincial funding for supervised consumption and supported transitional housing services is needed,” he added. “It’s also the right thing to do.”
Bigger sent a letter to Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott last November highlighting Sudbury’s opioid crisis and requesting the funds needed to operate the two municipal facilities.
The supported transitional housing complex on Lorraine Street is slated to include 28 to 60 units and a wide swath of medical and social work professionals to help ease the chronically homeless into permanent community housing, at an annual operating cost of approximately $2.24 million. Of this cost, $1.74 million is comprised of staffing.
The supervised consumption site, which recently received federal approval, will have an annual operating cost of $1.1 million. It’s a harm-reduction effort that allows drug-users a place to inject substances while under the supervision of medical professionals.
Although city council approved one-time funding for these facilities’ operations in 2022, Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan said it remains to be seen whether the city council elected on Oct. 24 will approve the tax levy increase required to make the operational funding permanent.
“I don’t see how the next council is going to approve that kind of expenditure on health care,” said Kirwan, whose ward includes the Lorraine Street property the transitional housing complex is slated to be located on.
“I’m all for the program, as long as the province is paying for it because it’s health care,” he said, also clarifying that he remains opposed to the Lorraine Street location following neighbours’ opposition.
“Wherever it is, I’m not supportive of the city having to pay that kind of money.”
Sudbury’s Green party candidate David Robinson said that it’s “outrageous” the province hasn’t already picked up the tab.
“We’re just absolutely disgusted by the delays,” he said of his party, pledging 50-per-cent funding if elected to the transitional housing project.
The supervised injection site would also receive funding under the Green party, he said, referring to both projects as obvious greenlights.
“For almost 40 years, the evidence has been in for injection sites and things like this,” he said. “They’ve been in Europe, they’ve been across Canada, they’ve been out in B.C. Ontario is not just reactionary, it’s heartless on this question.”
It’s also smacks of financial incompetence to not fund such facilities, he said, which save money in the long run as a result of fewer people suffering worse outcomes in the end.
Sudbury Liberal candidate David Farrow offered a similar sentiment, in that the province has “dropped the ball for any funding for the crisis here in Sudbury.”
“We are going to reverse Ford’s cuts to any of these services, whether they be mental health or addictions services, immediately,” he said. “We should be, as a community, be embarrassed about what’s happening in our community. … We’ve abandoned our most vulnerable citizens.”
Farrow pledged to form a local task force within his first 100 days in office to bring together various people who are working on the ground to pick up some low-hanging fruit to make some immediate change and then look at longer-term solutions.
“Absolutely on board” with the municipality’s transitional housing complex and supervised consumption site, Farrow said the Liberals would ensure the consumption site is staffed 24/7 alongside sites in other key locations throughout the province.
With Greater Sudbury suffering the highest number of opioid-related deaths in Ontario, NDP candidate Jamie West said both municipal facilities are important parts of the solution.
“There are more and more people struggling with addictions with nowhere to go, with no supports,” he said. “The number of overdose deaths keeps climbing.”
While his pledge to support the municipality’s efforts is similar to that of the Green and Liberal candidates, West said that his take is unique due to his established record in pushing for action. In 2019, he introduced his first private member’s motion, which would have declared the opioid crisis a public-health emergency and spurred funding if it were to have proceeded.
“You’re in the middle of an election season, so people will tell you what you want to hear,” he said. “This is the same thing I’ve been saying for four years.”
As for the Despatie not responding to Sudbury.com’s inquiry about what he and his party would do regarding this and various other political subjects, West offered a hypothetical question.
“If you won’t answer questions as a candidate, what’s the accountability you’re going to have if you’re elected?”
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.