During a recent legislative break week, Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart and Surrey-South MLA Elenore Sturko held a community conversation at the Best Western on Saturday (April 29) regarding mental health, addictions, and community safety. Sturko is the BC United Critic for Mental Health, Addiction, Recovery & Education, and told the Herald that hearing concerns of rural B.C. communities is just as important as sharing their efforts in Victoria.

“As much as we’re presenting information about some of the things that are being done, and some of the things that our party is trying to push the government for, we also want to take some time to listen,” explained Sturko.

“We were in Hope last night, and listening to some of the concerns from community members, and likewise, we wanted to be able to hear from community members in Merritt, because coming to different communities and listening to their concerns actually helps pave the way and inform us of the things that are really of concern and top of mind for people.” 

During their two-stop tour of community conversations, Sturko and Tegart said they heard from a number of concerned citizens on topics such as the effects of homelessness and concurrent mental health and addictions issues, a lack of long-term support for those struggling with addiction, difficulties navigating the healthcare system, and a lack of support for the family members of those affected by addiction. Sturko noted that smaller communities such as Merritt present unique challenges, such as a lack of available treatment beds and other resources.

Sturko added that her party’s plan would see more beds made available by publicly funding private treatment beds and options, therefore removing financial barriers and expanding immediate access to mental health and addictions supports. Tegart noted that the event was an opportunity for connection with the community, and to gather input on future policy, not to diminish those working in the front lines to battle addiction and mental health issues amidst B.C’s toxic drug death crisis.

“I want to make it really clear that we are here to talk about policy, where the gaps are, and the bigger picture, rather than talk about complaints about frontline and those kinds of things,” added Tegart.

“Those people who are working front lines are working their hearts out. They are doing everything possible to provide service and support withing the parameters that are there right now. What we’re saying is that there’s not enough, and we need to talk about what that might look like, and how we put that into action. We don’t want to talk forever, we know that seven people a day are dying.” 

The pair of MLAs headed back to Victoria after the Merritt event for the last two weeks of parliamentary sessions before the BC Legislature breaks until the October sitting.