The leader of the Conservative Party of Canada is adding more context to a recent tweet of his which focused on people experiencing homelessness in Kelowna.
Pierre Poilievre tweeted a video of Kelowna’s designated homeless encampment on May 30, and compared the people experiencing unsheltered homelessness to a third world country that has grown “after eight years of Trudeau and the NDP.”
The tweet has since garnered nearly 800,000 views.
@PierrePoilievre I am a reporter in Kelowna. @TracyGrayKLC has been our conservative MP since 2019. How would you better engage our representatives take action and address homelessness in Kelowna? https://t.co/61P1lFpQKo— Jacqueline Gelineau (@Rangers_mom) May 30, 2023
Poilievre responded to an interview request by Capital News regarding how he would better engage local leadership to combat the national housing crisis, given his recent tweet.
If elected, he plans to “incentivize city governments to speed up development permitting, free up land and lower the cost to build homes.”
He said that Canada has the fewest homes per capita when compared to other G7 nations. A Scotiabank report from 2021 found that Canada had the lowest number of housing units per 1,000 people of all G7 nations.
“That’s because it takes forever to get plans built. Government gatekeepers stand in the way of construction.”
To encourage municipal governments to increase permits, Poilievre plans to link federal infrastructure dollars to the number of homes that get built.
“I will require every major city to permit a 15 per cent increase in home building, or they will lose some of its federal infrastructure money.”
Conversely, cities that increase home building will receive additional money from the federal government.
Earlier this year, Kelowna City Councillor Luke Stack told council that the processing of applications by city staff is not the problem, rather the consultation and review at the provincial government level is the barrier to providing affordable housing.
The video that Poilievre tweeted has been criticized as exploiting vulnerable people for political gain. When asked why he shared the video, Poilievre said that while Kelowna is a beautiful city, people are “spilling out into the streets” and living in tents.
“We need to remove gatekeepers to build homes that everyone can afford. We need to stop giving out tax-funded narcotics,” said Poilievre.
He also blames the government-funded safe supply of opioids for the surge in people experiencing unsheltered homelessness, substance use disorder and the rise in deaths from accidental overdoses.
Nearly 12,000 B.C. residents have died from toxic drug deaths since the federal government declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency in 2016.
The Government of Canada implemented safer supply services across the country to provide an alternative to the toxic illegal drug supply as a way to help prevent accidental overdoses and drug poisoning. The prescribed medications allow people who use drugs to be seen by a health care practitioner with the goal of mitigating the harm of street drugs and helping people reach their individual treatment goals, which may include reducing or stopping drug consumption.
Kelowna City Council has advocated for an increased investment in ‘on demand’ mental health treatment, withdrawal management and substance use programs.
He said that his government would focus on treatment, recovery, mental health services and rehabilitation rather than providing a safe supply of drugs.
The Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse published a clinical practice guideline in 2019, which states that providing a safe supply of opioids to people who do not wish to stop using drugs and do not want to access treatments including opioid agonist therapies, is beneficial for the individual and society as a whole.
Poilievre said that B.C. has “most embraced” the federal policy of decriminalization and safe supply and as a result has experienced “the most overdose increases.”
Experts on the toxic drug crisis, including Sana Shahram, PhD, assistant professor at the College of Nursing at UBCO, advocate for a combined approach of decriminalization, safe supply and improved access to community mental health resources.
Federally, Kelowna is represented by Conservative Members of Parliament Tracy Gray, who has been in office since 2019 and Dan Albas who has been a Member of Parliament in the Okanagan since 2011. During their time as elected officials, the population of people experiencing homelessness within the city has grown. Gray said that she hears about the issues facing Kelowna residents including inflation, mental illness and addiction every day.