VANCOUVER — B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said Wednesday his party would expand a program that pairs police officers with mental health workers if the Liberals win the provincial election.
During a campaign event in Vancouver, Wilkinson said a Liberal government would provide $58 million to hire 100 psychiatric social workers and registered nurses to staff joint teams with police to answer mental health calls.
"Police officers aren't trained in mental health issues beyond the basics," Wilkinson said. "It's far better to have trained individuals in the field with them."
The Liberals would also hire 200 more police officers to fill vacancies across British Columbia and 40 new Crown prosecutors.
Increasing police presence will make communities safer and "clean up the street disorder that is bedevilling so many of our communities," he said.
He said there has been a 21 per cent rise in aggravated assaults with a weapon in Vancouver this year alone.
Provincial data shows that between 2009 and 2018, all violent crimes across B.C. declined 17 per cent.
Some advocates like the Pivot Legal Society have called for community-led crisis intervention, such as a program in Oregon that pairs medics with mental health workers and only involves officers when necessary.
However, Wilkinson said he believes it's important for police to be present from the outset on calls that could be violent or disruptive.
As Wilkinson sought to boost the party's law-and-order brand, the New Democrats unveiled further details of the party's 10-year cancer care plan and the Greens announced supports for small businesses and the tourism industry.
The vote is Oct. 24 and Elections BC said it had received 597,000 requests for vote-by-mail packages by Wednesday morning.
NDP Leader John Horgan said that while the COVID-19 pandemic is front of mind for many, British Columbians are also concerned about a host of other health problems, including cancer.
"Cancer affects us all in one way or another," he said. "I myself have had my doctor tell me that I have cancer. It's jarring, it's frightening, but in British Columbia, we've made great progress."
The 10-year cancer care plan is part of the NDP platform released this week and Horgan said it will mean bringing cancer care centres to Kamloops and Nanaimo, as well as renovations and upgrades for existing facilities.
In the first five years, the plan says patients will have one point of contact during their treatment.
Entire families will also be offered genome testing and new clinicians will be hired to meet demand.
Adrian Dix, who served as health minister in the NDP government, says there will be twice as many people living with cancer in 2038 as there are now, so the province needs to prepare.
"That's because we have an aging population and because our outcomes are getting better," Dix says.
"This is an extraordinary thing of course, a positive thing, but also one that presents challenges that we have to prepare for, not 20 years from now, but now."
At an event in Whistler, Green Leader Sonia Furstenau announced part of the party's platform focused on supporting the small businesses and tourism sectors.
She accused the NDP of calling an election at the expense of small business owners who've seen supports delayed.
A Green government would allocate $300 million to create a six-month rent subsidy program for small businesses, she said.
Businesses that pay up to $50,000 in monthly rent would qualify for 25 per cent of that cost to be covered.
The Greens would also retool the provincial grant program for the tourism sector to focus on supporting small operators. They would immediately work with industry to establish criteria that make sense and accelerate the flow of money. However, Furstenau could not say how much that would cost.
The pandemic has put small businesses and the tourism industry in an exceedingly stressful position and they need support, Furstenau said.
"It's not just the cost they face, it’s the uncertainty they feel about the future as they look forward," she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2020.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press