By Lethbridge Herald on August 12, 2019.
Coun. Blaine Hyggen is still working on the final wording of his motion which will eventually be put forward for debate at next Monday’s city council meeting; a motion which would, in broad strokes, request the provincial government prohibit ARCHES from distributing needles outside of the supervised consumption site and, secondly, ask the province to halt funding to the SCS pending its upcoming public consultations on the issue this fall.
Hyggen says he has put in 80 hours this past week preparing for the debate and fine-tuning the eventual motion. He has fielded messages from supporters who perhaps expect too much of city council on this matter given it is ultimately for the province to decide, and he has received deeply personal insults from those philosophically opposed to what he is bringing forth no matter his intent.
Hyggen says his motion does not propose to take away all the SCS funding it currently has for this fiscal year, but rather to ask the provincial government not to put any more into it beyond that pending the review.
“Their funding is currently on a yearly basis, and if this (provincial) review is done by early fall then they (the SCS) are not going to be shut down whatsoever,” he says. “The review will come back and they designate where funding is supposed to go, and they find that funding is important in certain areas and not in others.”
Hyggen says he is aware there will be two counter protests going on in front of city hall next Monday prior to the meeting both in favour of and against the SCS. He says the timing of his motion was not based on that. He says his motion is motivated by social media reports of yet another child being poked with a potentially dirty needle in the city.
“I am a councillor that has been elected by my constituents to represent them, and they figure this should be brought forward,” he says. “I am happy on their behalf to bring this forward.
“This motion has been in my thought for quite some time in light of what happened (to the child poked with a needle). It’s not because of these protests next week am I bringing this forward. One hundred per cent not.”
Hyggen says last year’s vote to restrict needles coming out of the SCS was decided by a vote of 5-4 against. He hopes for a different result this time around, and wants to poll his fellow councillors’ positions on this with a year now behind them to reflect on whether the city’s current policies are working or not.
“Honestly what it comes down to is, on council, our end goal, I truly believe, is the same. And that is to have a safe community to raise our families and do business in. That’s our end goal, and I would hope we all see the same way when it comes to that. Just the way of getting there is where we may differ, but the end result is working for the community.”
Mayor Chris Spearman acknowledged Coun. Hyggen’s motion may be well-intentioned, but he asks what purpose such a motion would serve other than to further divide the community.
“It is disappointing,” said Spearman. “It just keeps dividing the community over and over again. It keeps the issue on a regular boil, and it keeps us from getting important work done. Our key role at city council is to advocate effectively, and when these types of motions come forward, and when the community is divided and city council is divided, that’s very bad for the City of Lethbridge.”
Spearman said council should be advocating together to get more resources from the province for the drug crisis rather than kicking the legs out from the few supports that already exist.
“We need to work together as a council,” Spearman stated, “and ensure we are effectively advocating to the provincial government the services our city needs. And, of course, paramount were the announcements back on Dec. 7 of funding for the City of Lethbridge for other forms of support.
“The new government has said that funding is under review, and we should be united as a council and united as a community in saying, ‘That funding is needed in Lethbridge.’ We need to have supportive housing. We need to have intox centre funding. We need to have way of getting people off addiction and make sure they are successful.
“Without that additional funding, and despite all the great work being done at the supervised consumption site, that’s going to be a problem.”
“The supervised consumption site did not bring drug users to Lethbridge,” added Spearman, “the drugs got here first.”
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