Insite – Incremental Death?

Yesterday the federal government announced it would extend the legal exemption that allows Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection site, to stay open until June 2008. (to understand why the Injection site is important click here, here and/or here)

So the good news is brief and temporary: Insite, gets to stay open an additional 6 months.

And here’s the bad news. Tom Flanagan, Harper’s chief strategist has recently published his tell all book: Harper’s Team: Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power. One of the books key messages? Conservatives must adopt an “incrementalist” strategy. In other words, they must slowly when advancing the conservative agenda – move too quickly and the electorate will turn against them.Insite Logo

This begs the question. Is the reprieve for Insite genuinely designed to give the Federal Government more time to assess whether it is having a sufficiently positive impact? This is very much my hope. Those in the know tell me that the Federal Government only got around to appointing the team to assess Insite a few weeks ago. Given that this team’s report was never going to be ready in time for Christmas deadline another temporary extension was widely expected.

Part of me desperately wants to believe in the Harper as “policy wonk” narrative. If this is the case, then the overwhelming evidence in favour of Insite may be persuasive to a person focused on outcomes. On the evidence it would be hard to justify pulling the plug on Insite.

Flanagan’s incrementalism thesis however, plays on Insite supporters’ worst fears. If Flanagan is to be believed (and there are good reasons to believe him) then the reprieve is simply a way to hold off a decision until after an election (and a hoped for majority government) at which point it will be politically “safe” to kill Insite. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is very hard to imagine the Conservatives picking up a seat in Vancouver if they kill Insite. If however, they appear to be moderate and are considering saving it, they boost their chances of capture a seat like Vancouver-Quadra. This is certainly the fear of Keith Martin and other local federal Liberals.

So am I excited that Insite got a 6 month extension? Not really. Insite works. Moreover it is operating at capacity. We shouldn’t be debating whether or not it stays open. This is akin to arguing if we should keep open a single public hospital in a country where there is no public healthcare insurance. It’s the wrong debate. The question should be – how do we scale this policy up nationally?

But that’s not the debate we are having, and likely won’t be having for a few years. So in the interim let’s save Insite.

As far as I can tell our fate in this capacity rests on whether Harper is an incrementalist, or a policy wonk.

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