© Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
Premier Robert Ghiz listens to a speaker during a rally at Province House Tuesday. Protesters called for more treatment services for addicted Islanders.
Premier Robert Ghiz has committed to immediately amending this year’s budget to build a new addictions facility – but only if the province’s chief mental health and addictions officer recommends it.
Addictions was once again a topic of heated debate in the P.E.I. legislature Tuesday night after a protest was held earlier in the evening calling for more services and treatment for addicted Islanders.
Opposition Tory MLAs used their time allotment Tuesday evening to table a motion calling on government to immediately commit to building a new youth addictions facility – one that would be similar to the Portage youth facility in New Brunswick.
But, as was done when a similar motion was tabled last year in the legislature, government amended the motion to say it would only move forward on an addictions facility if recommended to do so by Dr. Rhonda Matters.
Matters is the province’s chief mental health and addictions officer and is currently undergoing a major review of all services and programs available to Islanders struggling with mental health and addictions in P.E.I.
Ghiz said he is trying to take the politics out of the addictions issue and trying to base decisions on evidence-based research.
“We would be undermining the process if we said, ‘We’re not going to listen and we’re just going to build something,’” Ghiz said.
“We’re not saying that it’s the right thing to do, I’m not saying it’s the wrong thing to do, I’m saying if it is the right thing to do, then let’s do it… but if you’re going to spend a certain amount of money, make sure that you’re spending it on the right thing.”
He then went a step further and committed to amending the budget this year to move forward immediately if Matters does recommend a new facility.
“If the chief mental health and addictions officer comes back and says we need a full-time facility, the leader of the Opposition can stand up and second it, an amendment on the budget, that we add $3-5 million right off the bat into that budget,” he said.
“That’s our commitment to it.”
Opposition Leader Steven Myers tried to fight the amendment to his motion, but the speaker dismissed his argument.
He then accused Health Minister Doug Currie of stalling.
“They kick it another four months down road, so we’ll get a report back, and I’m sure it’ll say the same thing that every other report has already said, but you know what Madame Speaker? There’ll be another report after that and they’ll kick it another four months down the road, and there’ll be another report,” Myers said.
“We were looking for immediate action.”
But backbench government MLA Richard Brown, who has also been vocal in pushing for more addiction services, says he looks on Ghiz’s commitment for a treatment facility as major step forward.
“The premier listened today and the premier has made a substantial commitment tonight,” he said, adding he strongly believes a youth addictions facility is needed.
“It’s going to be our job over the next few months to make sure that we convince (Matters) that a facility is needed,” Brown said.
“I look forward to her report, but I also look forward to arguing with her if she doesn’t recommend a facility. She had better have real, good evidence that we don’t need one in Prince Edward Island.”