As Toronto’s mayoral campaign enters its final month, candidates have had the opportunity to announce their policy platforms to address the city’s drug and addiction crisis. 

Major cities across the country, including Toronto, have seen an exponential increase in the number of deaths from opioid overdoses. In 2022, Toronto saw 506 deaths from opioid overdoses, a 269% increase compared to 2015’s 137 opioid overdose deaths.  

This issue has drawn a varying level of interest among the mayoral candidates. Mark Saunders and Anthony Furey have spoken in-depth about the drug and addiction crisis on the campaign trail while Ana Bailão and Mitzie Hunter have steered away from this issue. 

Former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders has released a comprehensive plan to deal with the crisis with a series of announcements concerning the future of Toronto’s drug injection sites, drug legalization and supports for addicts. 

On Toronto’s drug injection sites, Saunders believes they pose a danger to the surrounding community as it is common to see used needles litter the surrounding area.

Saunders concedes that drug injection sites save lives and would like to maintain the city’s support for the program, but promises to take a zero-tolerance approach to needle disposal and street cleanliness.

“While supervised injection sites save lives, nearby residents and communities have received the short end of the stick and it is now time to rebalance this debate and protect the dignity and quality of life for all residents,” said Saunders.

Saunders committed to cancelling Toronto’s request to the federal government to legalize hard drugs like crack cocaine, crystal meth, heroin, fentanyl, and more for personal use for both adults and youth. 

Furey has also taken a strong stance against illicit drug use in Toronto, being vocally critical of the city’s programs to distribute drug paraphernalia to Toronto’s family shelters and slamming the city’s drug injection program. 

Recently, Furey held a press conference where he exposed a city program that was forcing Toronto’s non-profit shelters to accept and distribute Toronto Public Health branded crack pipes and crystal meth pipes. 

Furey promised to end the program, lamenting the fact that taxpayers are funding the program.

“Most Toronto residents will be shocked to learn that their tax dollars are going to crack pipes and crystal meth kits,” said Furey. 

“This is not just going on at drug injection sites, though: Shelters across the City are now being told they must distribute these drug kits, and basically become injection sites.”

Furey also announced that as mayor he would scrap the city’s drug injection sites in favour of a treatment model similar to Alberta’s model of treatment and recovery. 

“As the number of injection sites has increased in Canada, so has the number of overdose deaths and so has the violence,” said Furey. 

“This is not a sustainable situation. We need to prioritize treatment. Isn’t that what you’d want for yourself or a loved one?

Furey is currently on leave as True North’s VP for editorial and content.

While Saunders and Furey have taken a tougher stance on Toronto’s drug crisis, the same can’t be said about other candidates.

Progressive councillor for Toronto – St. Paul’s Josh Matlow says that he would push for a de-politicization of the the drug and addiction issue and instead focus on saving lives. 

Matlow told True North that he would support the legalization of hard drugs for personal use and also supports Toronto’s drug injection sites. 

Matlow’s platform includes a $115 million fund for community health and safety that would address poverty, racism, and trauma – components that Matlow says are risk factors for criminal behaviour and drug use. 

The fund would expand mental health crisis teams, provide additional shelter beds, expand mental health and addiction counselling, and provide safe spaces for at-risk youth among other initiatives.

Matlow says that he would divest money from the Toronto Police Service’s budget to fund his multi-million dollar health and safety fund.

“For too long, we’ve expected police to do too much,” says Matlow.

“They aren’t social workers, youth counsellors or public health nurses. Let’s allow them to focus on solving crimes while properly resourcing community experts who can prevent violent incidents before they happen.”

The race’s frontrunner Olivia Chow’s plan consists of creating new 24/7 respite centres for the city’s homeless population and expanding Toronto’s community crisis service who respond to and help people suffering from a “mental health crisis.”

The former NDP MP would expand the Toronto Community Crisis Service (TCCS), a team of crisis workers meant to respond to menal health crises’ at the number 211 with an additional $10 million in funding annually.

Chow says her plan would provide citizens dealing with mental health issues with the immediate city-wide support that they need while freeing up 911 operators and emergency workers to respond to other emergencies in the city. 

“The Toronto Community Crisis Service is an approach that puts care and understanding first without involving the criminal justice system. I’ll make sure this service is available in every corner of our city,” said Chow.

Other major candidates like Mitzie Hunter and Ana Bailão have not released extensive campaign platforms addressing Toronto’s drug and addiction problem. 

Bailão would expand the TCCS to service the entire city and she would pressure Ontario’s provincial govermment to be accountable for their healthcare responsibilities. 

Hunter on the other hand announced that she would eventually create a comprehensive mental health and addiction strategy that will receive millions of dollars in funding, but she has not released the details of said plan. 

Recent polls show that Chow maintains a sizeable lead compared to the other candidates, polling at 32% support while Bailão polls at a distant second place at 16% support. Saunders is polling at 12%, while Furey polls at 9%, Matlow at 10%, and Hunter at 7%.