Alberta NDP MPs are quitting a legislative committee examining whether safe supply programs could reduce drug poisoning deaths in Alberta.
The United Conservative Party caucus called the move a “political stunt” and said the committee’s work would continue without opposition members.
At a news conference on Friday, NDP MP Lori Sigurdson said the committee was “rigged” to come to a predetermined conclusion about whether a secure supply could do more harm than good in Alberta.
“We refuse to participate in this any further,” she said, along with colleagues David Shepherd, Kathleen Ganley and Janis Irwin.
Late last year, the legislature agreed to create the committee to examine the concept of “safe supply,” in which opioids are prescribed to people struggling with addiction and for which other treatments have often been ineffective.
The opposition said they lost patience when they saw the list of 21 presenters that government MPs intend to invite.
Shepherd said members of the government were “travelling the world” looking for people opposed to the practice.
The list includes American author Michael Shellenberger, who wrote the book San FranSicko: Why Progressives Are Ruining Cities.
The committee heard on Thursday that Alberta Health lacked in-house expertise on safe supply and had asked psychologist and professor Julian Somers of Simon Fraser University to compile current research on the issue. Somers has previously publicly criticized Safe Supply.
Shepherd said the committee is an inappropriate “political circus” for a health crisis that is killing thousands of Albertans.
In the first 10 months of 2021, 1,247 Albertans died from opioid poisonings, making it the deadliest year on record, with two months to go.
“It’s something that needs to be taken seriously,” Shepherd said. “And unfortunately that’s not something we see happening with this committee and we don’t want to validate that with our presence.”
Opposition members nominated six presenters, including advocacy group Moms Stop the Harm and the Alberta Medical Association.
In a Friday afternoon statement, the United Conservative Party caucus said the committee would continue to meet and invite presenters suggested by the opposition. They also said that the NDP could have proposed more participants.
UCP MP and committee spokesman Mickey Amery said members wanted to hear from a range of experts.
Alberta Legislative Library staff were unable to find a past example of opposition members leaving an all-party committee.
Gillian Kolla, a postdoctoral fellow at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria, said it’s “striking” that the guest list is missing anyone who attended, worked or made research on an existing Canadian secure supply program.
“You get a very, very skewed view by excluding the people who basically have the most experience providing these services and conducting research around them,” she said.
Research by Kolla and colleagues found that program participants in Ontario and British Columbia said the services saved their lives, prevented drug poisoning and connected them to more health care. and social services.