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MCALLISTER: Drug overdoses fill our ER spaces needed for COVID-19

Our emergency rooms have become the detox room for drug users.

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Walk through an Alberta hospital emergency department these days and you might be surprised. It is not the Covid-19 virus that is taxing our system and its resources. We have another problem on our hands, one that has been brewing for a long time.

 Our emergency rooms have become the detox room for drug users.

You name the drug and you will meet it there: meth, crack, alcohol, and more. Drugs and alcohol are wreaking havoc in people’s lives, and as they turn to a substance to turn off the noise and voices, they are turning up in droves at Alberta emergency rooms.

Drugs are brutal. Drugs take over and come out in rage.  People are out of control, incomprehensible, and it is our health care workers – not professional drug addiction counsellors and police officers -who are first in line to take the brunt of the black out.

On any given night, many of the patients who show up to the hospital for treatment have overdosed. They are real problems and real people and they need help, but there must be a better way. They are taking up valuable space and capacity when our ER’s and staff have precious little to spare.

One nurse I know works on those front lines. She and her colleagues are no strangers to being kicked, punched, spit at, sworn at, and threatened by drug users, and that’s only this week. ER nurses and doctors are miracle workers, keeping truly sick people alive. Yet they are often stuck baby-sitting high or drunk entitled teenagers screaming and demanding care after their latest drug experiment.

Drugs make people unpredictable, and it is our ER nurses and doctors who face that unpredictability. Nurses have the bruises to show for it. In fact, nurses face among the highest workplace violence rates in Canada, and that’s not including the viruses and diseases.

This drug-use epidemic has been taxing our ER system for too long. Our emergency rooms and hospitals have become the default catch-all for those using drugs and alcohol to the detriment of themselves and others. While our nurses and doctors are doubling up and prepping for an onslaught from a virus to which we have no cure and expect to impact the lives of millions, drug abuse is a costly drain on our system. If we want to save a few dollars and save lives, we need to get creative and do something about it.

While some drug users do need acute care and psychiatric interventions, help perhaps as they choke on their own vomit, or emergency NARCAN injections for opioid overdoses, most do not.

A kicking and swearing teenager who got high after a fight with her boyfriend is not an emergency. Under current laws, the ER cannot turn anyone away. The drunk teen can take up a bed any day of the week until they sleep it off, and they know it. Despite their belligerence, they are even provided a warm blanket and ice water. Sleep tight little angel while others wait in line. Some have even made these cozy ER stays a regular part of their week. It’s downright selfish.

Alberta has something to learn from this crisis, something we should have done long ago. We should have designated places for drug users to turn to when they have overdosed – places where they could recover and seek the mental health care that their disease requires. Social workers and other services have long been in place to help addicts and troubled people in our society, but ER rooms should no longer be the primary place where they seek help. As we face something much bigger, it might be time we make the changes that make sense for our emergency health services. Let’s create a place where this problem can truly be addressed and these addicts can be helped to get off the substances wreaking havoc on their lives.

We are on the verge of a major health care crisis. We need our health care workers, every doctor, and nurse to be at the ready for whatever Covid-19 brings our way. These are the best our province has and while most of us shelter in place, these workers don’t. They will not only be fighting a virus that they don’t have immunity over, but many this week will be spat on by drug users who simply don’t care.

These are some of Alberta’s heroes and as Albertans it is time we stand in their corner and give them the advantage in this fight for our lives.

Bruce McAllister is Executive Director Rocky View 2020 & is the former Wildrose and PC MLA for Chestermere-Rockyview

Bruce McAllister is a columnist for the Western Standard, Executive Director Rocky View 2020 & is the former Wildrose and PC MLA for Chestermere-Rockyview

Opinion

BARNES: Albertans deserve the right to make the big decisions in referenda law

Guest column from Drew Barnes says that Alberta’s referendum law should be expanded to allow votes on big constitutional issues.

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Guest opinion column from Alberta MLA Drew Barnes

“I am and I will remain a populist, because those who listen to the people are doing their job.” Matteo Salvini.

At its core the word populism is the action that government policies should be determined by the will of the people, not the will of the elite. Direct democracy is the institutional populism in action.

There is debate over whether populism should be termed as a movement or an ideology. Since the actions of populist engagement can transcend the ideological spectrum, I believe it should be viewed as a movement, that can sometimes manifest itself ideologically. As a movement, populist participation can take place on all points of the spectrum. Ultimately, that is what is wanted from a democratic society – engagement from all points of the spectrum.

Now more than ever, we need a new grassroots-populist approach to politics. Grassroots politics by its nature suggests that it is a movement that is sparked from the bottom-up. Politicians who came from grassroots movements must never forget where they came from, or lose sight of what they came to do. We need more of the bottom-up approach to politics, and make listening to the people that elected us a priority.

This is taking place in some measure here in Alberta. Political party policy processes allow for constituency associations to generate policy proposals for conventions, where they are voted on by the membership. Every party in Alberta – with the exception of the NDP – uses a ‘one member, one vote’ system.

Another grassroots/populist tool is referenda, that when used the right way are a valuable democratic tool. Referendums however, must stay true to their purpose, and the process for bringing them forward must allow for citizens to craft their own – fair – wording on a question. This is not to say that any question – however subjectively worded – that anyone wants to ask should be put to a referendum. Therefore, the rules on the use of referendums must not be overly onerous, nor overly temperate.

Switzerland is a prime example of a country that takes full advantage of referendums, including citizens’ initiative. In their democratic system, referendums can occur up to four times annually. All citizens registered to vote can cast their ballot on issues affecting decisions within both their federal government and their cantons (autonomous provinces). Before each vote, all registered voters receive a package of booklets in the mail which provide details on the coming referendums. Since these referendums began in 1848, just under half of the referendum proposals have passed. Even if they don’t always pass, the process is crucial to starting conversations and keeping citizens involved in debate. Referendums also force political parties to reach beyond partisan lines to reach consensus.

Alberta’s legislature recently passed a bill that guides referendums on non-constitutional matters. While this is a positive step forward, there are issues in this bill that need improvement. 

For example, Albertans initiating a referendum might go through the process of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures, only to have the cabinet alter the wording the question. While fair wording of the question is critical to the integrity of direct democracy, that issue is not best dealt with by politicians who may have a stake in the result. Instead, clear guidelines should be established in law on question wording, and left to non-partisan officials at Elections Alberta. 

And while the new referendum legislation is a big step forward over the status quo (that is, nothing), it deliberately bans citizens-initiated referendums on constitutional questions. This means that if Albertans wished to force a vote on adding property rights to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that they would not be allowed. Similarly, Albertans are barred from forcing a vote on reforming the Senate, equalization, or internal free trade. Ominously, Albertans have no right to force a vote over the heads of the legislature on independence or other forms of sovereignty. 

I believe that Albertans can be trusted with the right of citizens’ initiative on all questions, both constitutional and non-constitutional. 

We trust the people to elect a government to run our systems, so why can’t we trust them to bring their own questions forward? 

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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Opinion

LETTER: Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East

A reader says that Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East.

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In this ‘Era of Wokeness” along with the ascension of Black Lives Matter into the public consciousness, I believe that it would be detrimental to the Conservative Party of Canada to have Erin O’Toole as
it’s leader.

Mr O’Toole recently refused to use the word ‘racism’ and did not answer clearly when pressed on whether he believes it even exists. Erin O’Toole will hand the Trudeau Liberals an easy victory during the next election, should he become Tory leader. Canada cannot afford another four years of Justin Trudeau. 

Like it or not, most people in Ontario and Quebec (where all federal elections are ultimately decided owing to their number of allotted seats), are very much ‘woke’ on the issue of racism, as well as
sexism, homophobia, ect. In my experience, this also includes most Conservative Party of Canada voters in Eastern Canada.

Right-wing populism and social conservatism does well in Western Canada – but centrist Red Toryism is all they are prepared to accept in most of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. CPC members in Western Canada need to keep this in mind when voting for their next leader. 

CPC members need to be sensible and realistic if they want to win the next federal election. 

Gila Kibner 
Edmonton, Alberta

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Opinion

LETTER: While Trudeau mislabels regular guns “military-style”, he is handing real assault weapons to the police

A reader says that Trudeau is militarizing the police while disarming Canadians.

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RE: Canada’s cops worried Liberal gun ban will hamper training

I enjoyed your article on the gun ban and how it will affect cops. A point of view the CBC would never share.

Perhaps another topic should be brought to the public is this: Although Justin Trudeau said there is no place for these weapons in Canada and Bill Blair said these  weapons have only one purpose – and that is for one soldier to kill another soldier – they gifted more deadly weapons to our local police forces through the Canadian Armed Forces., as was done recently in my hometown of St Thomas, Ontario.

What is the government’s agenda in giving true military assault weapons to the police and banning “military-style” (no legal definition) weapons from civilians. 

John Siberry
St. Thomas, ON

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