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August 2019 Mayor's Column

The excitement of Whoop Up Days is just around the corner. A great deal of effort from the organizers has gone into revamping and reenergizing the format this year to make Whoop Up Days an event for the whole family. This annual event offers the opportunity to come together to celebrate the growth and prosperity of our city and enjoy the many national and international artists who perform in the StagEX Music Festival.

Advocacy is something I take very seriously as a member of City Council and as Mayor of Lethbridge. I advocate for our city on a number of issues but none more fiercely than the much-needed supports to combat drugs in our community. I want to thank those community members who took the time to write to City Council with their thoughts and insights on the Supervised Consumption Site (SCS). Whether for or against the SCS in our community, taking the time to put your opinion in writing is appreciated as it helps members of Council to understand what residents are experiencing in our city.

Some people may think by shutting down the SCS, we also shut the door on the drug problem. Quite the opposite will be true. Those users will just spill back out onto the streets, into neighbourhoods and we will very quickly see the number of needles and associated crime spike across all areas of the city. The hard fact of the matter is, there is no quick fix to solving the drug related issues in our city.

We recognize that the City of Lethbridge cannot defeat substance abuse alone. City Council has actively been advocating for the provincial government to develop an overall drug strategy in consultation with municipalities so that we can serve our residents to the best of our abilities, in a focused and proactive direction. We all want to live and work in a safe community. We want our children and grandchildren to play carefree in the beautiful parks and green spaces we're lucky to have in our community, but we need help to do that. We've been asking for this assistance for more than five years, long before the SCS was in place.

One example of this work is the advocacy City Council is currently doing with the Alberta Crown Prosecutor's office. We recently met with the prosecutor's office to ask for a dedicated prosecutor for Lethbridge to help process the backlog of cases awaiting a hearing. We've met with the Associate Minister for Mental Health and Addictions, Jason Luan, to ask for resources and supports for our city. We continue to have the hard conversations with the provincial and federal governments to convey the reality of drugs in our community and what we need from them in order to move forward.

We're also seeking additional enforcement resources like a Lethbridge based Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) office. This is a unit of the Alberta Sheriffs that helps keep communities safe by dealing with problem properties that are being used for specific illegal activity. At the upcoming City Council meeting, I will be bringing a resolution forward to formally start the work needed to advocate for this resource, as recommended by our Police Chief.

In addition to this work, City Council has joined forces with many municipalities across Alberta to ask the provincial government to put together a comprehensive provincial drug strategy. We're working with these other communities to try and get strength in numbers and show the province we're all struggling and their need support.

We need help to implement an exit strategy for those who are battling drug addiction. We know the issues that face our city and what needs to be done and now we need support to implement a model of care that includes intox, detox, treatment where drug replacement therapies are utilized and lastly a sustainable housing strategy that includes ongoing social supports. There are municipalities who are showing this integrated model works and they are experiencing success in decreasing drug usage in their community.

Our city needs support to create a road out of addiction for users and we can only do that with provincial support. We have been asking for help for years and we continue to do so, even louder with every day that passes.

As elected officials, we are constantly striving to do what is best for our constituents. This often means making difficult decisions that we know will not always be popular but are the right thing to do. We seek the information of those with qualifications, expertise and experience in the field and make informed decisions for the betterment of our city. We listen to the results of community consultations and receive direct feedback on a daily basis about the issues affecting our residents. We hear you and are working hard to find solutions to the issues we are having in our city.

On Monday, I will be bringing forward a proposal for a task force that may help us address illicit drug use on an issue by issue basis. We have heard loud and clear that crime and personal safety continue as priorities. Regardless of the outcome, City Council understands that we need to continue to work on illicit drug use and crime.

Unity as a community and as a City Council are integral to bolstering our advocacy efforts. If we present a united front when asking for these much needed supports, it shows we are a willing and able community who is ready to act and implement those supports. We need to come together in times of hardship, not divide further apart. The City of Lethbridge deserves to have the same quality of supports that are available in the cities of Calgary and Edmonton.

We encourage all residents to stay engaged with this issue and to be informed. There are a list of resources and information available at www.Lethbridge.ca/downtown.  Here you can see everything the City has done to date to curb and prevent drug related issues in our community.

I look forward to seeing our city come together in celebration over the coming week with the many pancake breakfasts and events surrounding Whoop Up Days. I encourage you all to take part in any way you can and get out to soak up the last few weeks of the warm summer weather.