With no public interest broadcaster at work in Manitoba on the provincial election, important and serious aspects underpinning health, economic and safety policy were left to languish on the sidelines of mainstream media story selections.
I tried my best to carry the ball and make sure voices raising inconvenient truths in the election were heard.
Readers donated towards this work and I've been honoured to earn their trust and support. You can join the donors list too.
This column is about four election issues - discarded used needles, meth-induced property and violent crime, safe injection sites, and drug detox and recovery spending priorities - and how the mainstream media completely let the public down by ignoring or under-reporting those stories and not holding politicians to account.
As the election loomed I reported that the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority had underestimated the number of discarded sharps in Winnipeg by 400%. AT LEAST. And I reported that the year over year increase from their October 2018 estimate to June of 2012 was 1200%.
That news got the attention of PC MLA Sarah Guillemard and the Bear Clan on Twitter. who liked and retweeted my comments. I got further comments from Manitoba Liberal leader Dougald Lamont and a city councilor chimed in too:
"Needle distribution programs have also been shown to reduce the number of discarded needles in the community overall.", citing a study published in the year 2000.
"Needle return rates have very little to do with the number of needles found discarded unsafely in the community."
"Good data is very important for governments to make the right policy choices", Lamont said.
There isn't enough understanding and I see that clearly ... it's painfully obvious to us that even those within the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority making decisions actually don't know enough about it and they're making a lot of assumptions."
crime those facilities had brought to neighborhoods in Calgary, Edmonton, and Wab Kinew's favorite example, Lethbridge, where a man was stabbed in the face last weekend and where the rooms are booked solid as meth addicts smoke themselves into oblivion in a modern day, taxpayer-funded equivalent of an opium den.
But can you imagine if just one had reported what Marion Willis, whose program has a 67% success rate, with no funding from the provincial government, told the panel?
"'Harm reduction' isn't necessarily a safe injection site when it comes to meth. I beg you to start talking to people who have overcome the addiction, take it from them, they're the true experts sitting here."
Early in the campaign Marion Willis identified a vacated building in the west end that is already designed for exactly what is needed - drug detox and stabilization. It's actually two buildings, with the modern medical treatment side with secure bed units to the west connected to an old nun's residence converted to an administration and residential treatment building at 800 Adele Avenue at Arlington St.
She sees it as a potential centre of excellence, with drug treatment and education programs aligned with long term supports for recovery.
The problem is, that the Pallister government felt an existing lease was too profitable for the landlords and intend to legislate their way out of a 20 year contract between a child-welfare agency and the building owners. The First Nations children in care were relocated (to where, no one seems to want to say) and in the process government officials, committed to paying $36,000 a month in rent for an empty building through the new year, said some negative things about the facility that resulted in a lawsuit over souring potential new renters. Messy messy, and a lot of hard feelings on both sides.
At the St. Boniface town hall, Willis beseeched the candidates to look beyond the legal dispute the government has provoked with the building's owners and take a big step to handle the meth crisis.
"What this city needs most has been sitting since February empty, locked up, within walking distance of Health Sciences Centre."
* All 3 candidates agreed their parties would look into it being part of their drug treatment program expansion.
* Member of Parliament for the riding, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, is very familiar with the success of Morberg House and told us he'd go to bat with Ottawa for funding.
* Area councilor Cindy Gilroy wrote "I have treatment facilities in my ward and have supported the need for treatment centers so am not opposed."
So, the MP and councilor are interested in the building being restored to public health care use, as are the leaders of the Liberal Party, Green Party, and a mental health support worker running for the NDP. And guess what?
Even two of Pallisters' Progresive Conservative candidates - both MLA's seeking to return to the Legislature - agreed that if 800 Adele is already designed to handle drug detox, then it should be considered for a potential new site.
Watch the response of Jon Reyes, seeking election in the new constituency of Waverley, about using the existing facilty at 800 Adele instead of the PC commitment to spend millions to build a similar 12 bed unit at HSC.
Shannon Martin is the Tory candidate in McPhillips, another MLA relocating to a new electoral division:
"I think Marty, we have to look at every opportunity to use existing facilities ... we shouldn't be in a position to rule anything out, everything should be on the table."
So, two Party leaders in Manitoba, the area MP who was on the House of Commons Health Committee, the area city councilor, an NDP rep, and two Progressive Conservative MLA's running for re-election - all agree with the concept Marion Willis brought forward this summer, for the province to make use of the drug stabilization unit at 800 Adele instead of taxpayers paying $36,000 a month to keep it empty.
Dane Bourget, Director of JibStop, told me he could have the detox beds and the residential treatment beds at 800 Adele "filled in 24 hours!"
That ain't fake news.
PS. A reader pointed out that readers should be pointed at the stories I broke about election laws not requiring candidates, like 3 from the NDP including Wab Kinew, to reveal they failed to pay court-ordered fines and had their paycheques garnisheed at additional taxpayer expense.
And my story about Kinew refusing to be interviewed by two local women political journalists:
Independent journalism like this is how the public interest is protected.
That's what I have tried to do with my 2019 Manitoba Election Coverage as a one man bureau.
Regardless of the election results, it would be nice if the mainstream media finally paid attention to these four issues - discarded used needles, meth-induced property and violent crime, safe injection sites, and drug detoxand recovery spending priorities - and asked the next class of MLA's and the next cabinet the kinds of questions I have raised from the angles I have explored, even if it challenges their own views in the newsroom.
NOW GO OUT AND VOTE.