B.C. Liberal fails to show at forum for candidates on mental health

B.C. Liberals are under fire for skipping a debate on mental health and addictions issues in the middle of an overdose crisis that’s killing an average of four people a day across the province.

The Canadian Mental Health Association organized the forum with Carole James of the NDP and Chris Maxwell of the B.C. Green Party at The Atrium in Victoria Monday night.

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The B.C. Liberals could have sent a representative from any riding, and their absence was marked by an empty white chair draped in red.

Moderator Jonny Morris, senior director of public policy with the association, told the audience that he tried in vain to get a B.C. Liberal participant.

“I was on the phone for weeks and I’ve made a lot of new friends in campaign offices across the Lower Island,” he said.

“They know me by first name there. But despite that valiant effort, we did not secure a Liberal candidate this evening.”

Karen Bill, who is running for the B.C. Liberals in Victoria-Beacon Hill, said she had a family commitment that prevented her from attending. She was unable to say why her colleagues were all unavailable as well.

“Certainly, I and other candidates are accommodating as many requests as possible for debates, meeting with various stakeholder groups and getting out and meeting with people at the doorstep,” she said.

“With respect to last evening, while I wasn’t able to attend, I did have support staff there.”

Bill said she will take part in an all-candidates debate hosted by the downtown service providers committee from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Centennial Square.

Carole James, who is seeking re-election in Victoria-Beacon Hill, said the B.C. Liberal Party’s refusal to participate in the debate showed “an appalling lack of respect” for people struggling with mental health and addictions issues.

“They could have had anybody on Vancouver Island who could have come and been here to show respect and show that they cared about this issue and they refused,” she said. “And I think that says everything about a government that’s been in place too long, that has become disconnected from people in the community.”

Maxwell, who is seeking election in Victoria-Swan Lake, called it a “real shame” that the B.C. Liberals chose to bypass the debate.

“People should know what the three parties stand for, should be able to discriminate between the three parties,” he said.

“The B.C. Greens, every opportunity that we have to engage the community, every opportunity that we have to communicate our vision, because we are so proud of it, we take that opportunity. So it’s disappointing that they didn’t take that opportunity.”

The B.C. Coroners Service released statistics last week showing 120 overdose deaths across the province in March, the third-highest monthly total on record.

There were 60 deaths on Vancouver Island in the first three months of this year.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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