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Manitoba Tories pledge millions for First Nations-run drug treatment centre

WINNIPEG — Manitoba's Progressive Conservatives are promising millions in capital funding to go toward the development of a new First Nations-operated addiction centre if re-elected in next month's provincial election, as all three parties said they

WINNIPEG — Manitoba's Progressive Conservatives are promising millions in capital funding to go toward the development of a new First Nations-operated addiction centre if re-elected in next month's provincial election, as all three parties said they would be opposed to forcing those with severe substance use problems into treatment. 

The Tories committed to providing up to $10 million for the construction of the Winnipeg-based Quest Health Recovery Centre if re-elected on Oct. 3. 

"We know that recovery happens when individuals struggling with addictions feel that they're supported," Progressive Conservative Leader Heather Stefanson said at an announcement on Monday. 

"Now more than ever, we must focus on collaborative relationships to move us forward and to help people get their lives back when it comes to addictions."

The facility would be an extension of the Quest Health Centre in downtown Winnipeg, which provides accommodations and other medical services to First Nations people who are sent to the city to receive treatment. Operations at the centre and a nearby medical clinic are led by four northern First Nations in the province. 

The new facility is set to include 180 mixed-gender addictions treatment beds for both on- and off-reserve clients. 

The centre will be home to a 12-week program that will integrate evidence-based western treatment options as well as traditional wisdom and cultural protocols from First Nation communities, said Chief Clarence Easter of Chemawawin Cree Nation, one of the First Nations involved with the project. 

"We developed this solution in order to be effective and produce sustainable long-term health outcomes. First Nations of Manitoba require a model that's trauma-informed," he said.  

Easter added, when questioned by reporters, that he is supporting the Progressive Conservatives in this election.  

Earlier in the day, Stefanson, along with the leaders of the Liberals and New Democrats, took part in a 90-minute radio debate on CJOB, where they were questioned about each party's stance on mandatory addiction treatment. 

Each leader said they're not in favour of forcing people with severe drug addiction into treatment -- a move that has garnered attention in other parts of Canada. 

Alberta's United Conservative government has been considering introducing a law that would allow a family member, doctor, psychologist or police officer to petition a judge to issue a treatment order, which advocates in the field have pushed against.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont and NDP Leader Wab Kinew acknowledged there is a drug crisis in the province that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, while Stefanson stopped short calling it "significant challenge."

Stefanson said her party is looking at a preventive model and doesn't support sending drug users to treatment without their consent. She also said the party has not changed its stance on supervised consumption sites -- something they have long opposed. 

"The other parties are talking about keeping them on their addictions. We don't think that that's right."

Manitoba is the only province west of the Maritimes without a supervised consumption site. 

Kinew said the focus should be on ensuring job security for those who leave treatment instead of forcing them to go.

He added supervised consumption sites should be considered.

"When you don't have a supervised consumption site in Manitoba, what ends up happening is that the bathroom at Tim Hortons ends up becoming an unsupervised consumption site," he said. 

"It should be part of our provincial-wide strategy to respond to addictions ... along with a commitment to treat this issue for what it is -- a health-care issue."

Lamont said the drug epidemic in the province is the worst he's seen, but that involuntary drug treatment doesn't work in the long run. 

"We fully support overdose prevention centres, and that's what they are. It's about keeping people alive and giving them a chance at another date that they might be able to recover."

The Tories also made a promise to address health-care staffing shortages on Monday after having focused much of their campaign so far on highlighting a string of tax-cut promises. 

The party promised $120 million over the next four years to meet present staffing needs and to fill future positions at new facilities. 

Heath care has been a centre point of the NDP's election campaign. 

The NDP made a new announcement promising to reduce emergency room wait times by adding 12 more beds at the Grace Hospital in Winnipeg if elected.

They have previously promised to build three new emergency departments to replaces ones closed by the Progressive Conservatives.  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2023.

Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press