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Building addiction treatment centres a priority that could expand, infrastructure minister says

Alberta’s infrastructure minister says building addiction treatment centres is a top priority — one that might require the government to increase the scale of its approach as opioid-related deaths rise.

In Minister Pete Guthrie’s mandate letter, made public this week, Premier Danielle Smith is prioritizing building recovery communities and pushing the province’s commitment to a new Calgary arena over the finish line.

Alberta has promised 11 recovery communities across the province. Three are finished or under construction, eight more are in development. The province defines them as holistic wellness centres that foster community ties to facilitate long-term recovery. 

“It’s really become an issue across the country and certainly here we’ve placed this as a high priority,” Guthrie told CBC News in an interview. 

Opioid poisoning and deaths are climbing in the province. April was the deadliest month on record in Alberta, with 179 deaths due to opioids. Weekly EMS responses to drug-related emergencies are consistently trending up this year, too.

A smiling man is seen wearing a grey glazer.
Pete Guthrie is the minister of infrastructure. (Government of Alberta)

The minister says the worsening of the drug crisis means the government will have to be agile with the logistics of the planned centres.

“A lot of what you’ve seen thus far has been 50- to 75-person facilities, but perhaps we need to to stretch that out depending upon location,” he said. 

“There definitely will be some flexibility that will be required on our part. We don’t want to be held up — and this is a priority.”

While he didn’t provide short-term timelines, Guthrie says all the centres should be complete by the end of the political cycle in 2027.

Land for the remaining eight is being scouted, and locations are picked according to population and need.

Pushback on lack of specifics

Smith’s government has been criticized for being too siloed on recovery centres, championing one avenue for addictions treatment while ignoring other possible solutions. Experts say harm reduction methods like safe supply should be done in complement with expanding drug treatment beds.

“We want to see these drug-related issues addressed, but it’s very early to say what those recovery centres and projects will contribute because we haven’t seen anything in practice,” said Jasvir Deol, the NDP infrastructure critic. 

The Opposition NDP also pointed to a lack of specifics on major hospital and school projects promised in Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary by the United Conservatives during the election.

“This mandate letter shows the UCP is not serious about some of the very, very critical projects that are needed in Alberta right now.”

The mandate letter doesn’t mention specific facilities but does ask Guthrie to accelerate construction timelines and reduce building costs for schools and hospitals. 

A new hockey arena on the to-do list

Guthrie is also supporting other ministries in getting $330 million approved for the Calgary event centre. 

In April, the premier inked a deal with the City of Calgary and the Flames ownership (Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation) to fund the proposed arena to replace the Saddledome. The total shared cost is anticipated to be more than $1.2 billion.

That promise has to be approved by cabinet, a step Guthrie says will be happening with “some urgency.” 

The Ward 1 councillor organizing the deal for the city is eager for progress.

“If you bring everybody to the table and really help them understand the significance of it, there shouldn’t be any road blocks,” said Sonya Sharp, the chair of the city’s event centre committee.

“I’m … looking forward to the province being able to cross the finish line on their end and us to be moving forward with the project.”

There’s still no timeline for construction.

Smith made the commitment shortly before the provincial election began and has asked Guthrie and the ministers of transportation and municipal affairs to fulfil that promise.

“Whenever you have a lot of different components in a deal, it can get bogged down, but I think we do have a lot of motivated people,” Guthrie said.

Guthrie’s mandate letter also includes: 

  • Modernizing building contracts to reduce costs to businesses.
  • Developing a building naming policy that represents Alberta culture and heritage.
  • Working to boost awareness of training opportunities in skilled trades.

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