Ontario defends decision to fund pipe program here
A provincial decision to locally fund a crack pipe distribution program that Ottawa had cancelled is not interference in municipal affairs, but protection of public health.
So say Ontario government officials, who were reacting yesterday to demands to know why the province did not consult city hall before announcing $287,000 in funds to continue the Safe Inhalation Program that council cancelled in July.
“At this point the program is being funded through the ministry and we have intentions to continue with that funding, because we see a need for that program in Ottawa,” said Ministry of Health spokesperson Laurel Ostfield.
The Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC) applied to the province for funds to continue the program, which sees clean crack pipes offered to addicts in a bid to reduce disease transmission.
Mayor Larry O’Brien has sent a letter to Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson asking why the province defied “the expressed wishes of the municipal representatives of Ottawa citizens.”
But Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi said after council opted out of the program, there was no need for consultations.
“It’s not going around the City of Ottawa at all. The request was made directly between the ministry and the Somerset West Community Health Centre.”
One councillor said if Ontario is so eager to fund shortfalls, perhaps money should be pulled out of other areas, too.
“There are a number of programs that the city delivers jointly with the province. I’m wondering if this means it’s OK to pull out of them and the province will pay for all of them too,” said Rick Chiarelli (College ward), who moved to abolish the program.
SWCHC executive director Jack McCarthy said the money will be used to hire two outreach workers to complement the program, and to perhaps buy or rent a van.
“Yes, our workers are handing out clean crack pipes, but they are also helping people get food and shelter,” McCarthy said. “If they need it, they bring people to a nurse practitioner. It’s no picnic out there on the streets.”
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