Winnipeg Sun - - FRONT PAGE - TOM BRODBECK tbrod­[email protected]­ @tombrod­beck

NDP leader Wab Kinew may not have re­al­ized it when he un­leashed his po­lit­i­cal at­tack against the Pal­lis­ter gov­ern­ment last week on its ad­dic­tions fight­ing record. But he just cre­ated a new wedge is­sue for his op­po­nents, one the To­ries — who are prob­a­bly draw­ing up new com­mer­cial sto­ry­boards as we speak — pounced on im­me­di­ately.

“Wab Kinew wants to tell kids it’s OK to do meth and other il­licit drugs,” Jus­tice Min­is­ter Cliff Cullen said Thurs­day, two hours after Kinew re­leased an NDP po­lit­i­cal paper on how gov­ern­ment should fight ad­dic­tions.

“I can tell you that our gov­ern­ment will con­tinue to warn kids about the dan­gers of us­ing il­licit drugs and you will be see­ing more of this in the days and weeks ahead.”

You can al­most hear the at­tack ads play­ing in the back­ground.

Kinew didn’t quite say it’s OK for kids to do meth, but he wasn’t far off.

The rookie leader claims he in­ter­viewed a num­ber of ex­perts in the field con­fi­den­tially and they told him that telling peo­ple, in­clud­ing kids, to just say “no” to il­licit drugs doesn’t work and that they should stop us­ing that line of mes­sag­ing.

In­stead, they should use a so-called harm-re­duc­tion strat­egy which, among other things, em­pha­sizes ed­u­ca­tion about drugs, in­clud­ing their ef­fects and how to spot over­doses.

“Re­spon­dents be­lieve a fo­cus on ab­sti­nence-based ed­u­ca­tion must be aban­doned be­cause as long as poverty, ad­verse child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences and sys­temic in­equal­ity ex­ist, drug use will re­main in our so­ci­ety,” Kinew’s paper says.

“There­fore ab­sti­nence is not a re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tion in fact, re­spon­dents ar­gued that it can be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.” Not good.

It’s one thing to ac­cept that peo­ple, in­clud­ing teens, may ex­per­i­ment with le­gal sub­stances like al­co­hol and now mar­i­juana that can be sup­ported with ed­u­ca­tion and guid­ance. But it’s quite an­other thing to con­done the use of il­licit drugs like meth un­der any cir­cum­stance. The lat­ter is highly ad­dic­tive and can kill you. It’s re­ally that sim­ple. You don’t ex­per­i­ment with it. The only mes­sage for dan­ger­ous drugs like meth is to stay away from them, pe­riod. There is no safe ex­per­i­ment­ing with meth. And Kinew is play­ing a very dan­ger­ous game by sug­gest­ing gov­ern­ment agen­cies should stop telling kids to re­frain from il­licit drugs.

Harm re­duc­tion is fine, in­clud­ing ed­u­ca­tion about the ef­fects of drugs (which al­ready ex­ists, by the way.

The Ad­dic­tions Foun­da­tion of Man­i­toba does a fine job of it). And there are le­git­i­mate de­bates about strate­gies such as su­per­vised in­jec­tion sites and how they might work in Man­i­toba. But aban­don­ing the ab­sti­nence mes­sage when it comes to hard drugs like meth would be en­tirely the wrong ap­proach. If any­thing, so­ci­ety should be driv­ing home the mes­sage to kids and peo­ple of all ages that un­der no cir­cum­stances should you touch the stuff, ever.

One of Kinew’s prob­lems as a rookie politi­cian is he tries to jump on band­wag­ons to ap­pear for­ward think­ing but is of­ten ill-equipped to trans­late them into work­able, ap­peal­ing poli­cies. He makes state­ments that are fac­tu­ally in­cor­rect and he comes off sound­ing like an am­a­teur.

For in­stance, he claims that peo­ple with hous­ing, food and a “mean­ing­ful” life (what­ever that means) don’t do meth. That’s fac­tu­ally in­cor­rect. There are peo­ple from all walks of life that have ad­dic­tions prob­lems of var­i­ous kinds, in­clud­ing strug­gles with meth and other hard drugs. Kinew at­tempts to link the risks of poverty with ad­dic­tions (and there are some links) by mak­ing sweep­ing state­ments that are sim­ply not true.

Also, Kinew says one of the ways to fight ad­dic­tions is to change how gov­ern­ment ad­min­is­ters so­cial as­sis­tance. He claims that un­der the cur­rent sys­tem, peo­ple on wel­fare can’t earn any money with­out hav­ing it clawed back by gov­ern­ment. That’s also fac­tu­ally in­cor­rect.

In Man­i­toba, peo­ple on so­cial as­sis­tance can earn up to $200 a month with­out a claw­back and can keep 30% of money earned over that with­out re­duced ben­e­fits. One could ar­gue that should be raised. But to claim you can’t earn any money while on so­cial as­sis­tance with­out a claw­back sim­ply isn’t true.

Kinew is al­ready fac­ing an up­hill bat­tle go­ing into the next gen­eral elec­tion given his do­mes­tic vi­o­lence his­tory and his dark so­cial me­dia past, which his op­po­nents will no doubt ex­ploit. These lat­est gaffes just add to his mis­ery.

“There­fore ab­sti­nence is not a re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tion in fact, re­spon­dents ar­gued that it can be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.” NDP leader Wab Kinew

NDP Leader Wab Kinew’s com­ments on drug use are rais­ing con­tro­versy KEVIN KING/ WIN­NIPEG SUN FILES

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