All MLAs fail Judge Orr’s challenge
In every way the mother of two was living a normal life. But somewhere along the line normalcy took a devastating turn for Tina Burke when the 36-year-old became addicted to prescription drugs. It led the former RCMP employee down a path of crime that ultimately landed her in front of Judge Nancy Orr.
For the frank talking Provincial Court Judge, Burke must have represented a boiling point. In her frustration at the growing epidemic of addicted Islanders appearing before her, she took the rare step of urging provincial MLAs to spend a day – pick a day, any day - in her court for a real world view of the impact drugs have on Islanders.
“Until we have the services and the resources we need to help people there will be more people like Burke in our courts … and more victims,” the judge said.
Sadly, the governing Liberals could barely hide their disdain at any suggestion they don’t already know everything there is to know about addiction.
“We know it’s a major issue, we know there’s no simple solutions. If she has the solutions, give them to us,” the premier acerbically told the Legislature.
Maybe Robert Ghiz missed Democracy 101, but the judicial branch is not intended to create solutions. That role falls to our elected officials.
And on Prince Edward Island the Ghiz government is failing to deal decisively with the growing epidemic of addiction and mental health issues.
A legislative committee recently patted itself on the back for delivering six recommendations that include the earth shattering ideas of a brochure to outline available addiction services and proclaiming Sunday September 7, 2014 as Recovery Day.
So, Liberal MLAs who dominate the committee think a day that allows them to wear some type of ribbon and issue press releases will actually do anything to reduce addiction, or improve treatment options on PEI?
That’s not leadership; it’s pathetic.
Like the premier, Health Minister Doug Currie scorned Judge Orr’s suggestion. Speaking to reporters the minister said he does not need to sit in a courtroom to understand the issue. “We’ve clearly embraced the conversation and the challenging realities of addiction,” he is quoted as saying.
There is no doubt Island MLAs hear horror stories of addiction. But that does not mean government’s ‘plan’ will make a dent in the issue. Currie is investing modest amounts in frontline treatment.
His primary response thus far has been to delay action and create more bureaucracy. His plan will only waste precious dollars and time.
A group of Charlottetown doctors spearheading a private methadone clinic made it clear that their investment is spurred on a by a desire to avoid meddling from mid-level health bureaucracy.
Humility is often lost on politicians and both Doug Currie and Premier Robert Ghiz proved that with their arrogant response to a judge on the frontline of the devastating fallout of addiction.
Photo ops, press releases, new bureaucracy and limited frontline service investment will not improve reality for the thousands of Islanders suffering from addiction and mental health issues.
Lest you think Liberals were alone in playing politics with addiction, Tories were not far behind. Almost immediately the party issued a press release proclaiming the three-member opposition caucus will take Orr up on her challenge. “It is in court where the connection between addictions and crime will be very obvious,” Health Critic James Aylward boomed.
But the issue is not pressing enough for the opposition to show up in a courtroom until some unknown date after the fall sitting of the legislature. It is more important for Tories to tell Islanders about their outrage rather than actually doing something about it.
And the issue is not pressing enough to convince Island Tories to criticize their federal brothers in Ottawa for closing the only facility in North America dedicated to researching the connection between addiction and criminality. No, instead PEI Tories sit quietly by and let the Addictions Research Centre in Montague close.
Addiction should not be a political ping-pong. Those suffering deserve real leadership, not arrogance and political opportunism. Instead what we witnessed from Liberals and Tories shames us all.
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org