Friday’s groundbreaking for the 105-bed Centre for Mental Health and Addictions on the Riverview Hospital grounds is good news for those who want to see the 244-acre Coquitlam property retained for mental health and wellness uses.
But the lack of any concrete next steps on the future of the provincially-owned land serves to create anxiety and disappointment at a time when we need some good news in how we should be addressing B.C.'s mental health and overdose crises.
Riverview is an ideal location for some services in this area and so it was a disappointment that no new beds were promised, other than an additional 11 over current CMHA beds at the old Burnaby site.
Perhaps, the press announcement for the NDP government gathering should have been more clear about the limited objective of the event — a photo op groundbreaking for a project announced almost two years ago by the BC Liberal government — so as not to get people’s hopes up.
Granted the NDP government has only been in place for a few months — not enough time for a fully developed plan to be finalized and announced — but what we would like to see is some indication of what is being done with the BC Housing Renewing Riverview vision, which received only muted support, if not outright condemnation, when it was announced under the BC Liberals in 2015.
So far, the only vision in place is one calling for a break-even financial mandate for re-developing the site. This would mean market housing would be required, although how much still has to be determined.
Another issue that needs to be resolved are claims by the Kwikwetlem First Nation, which maintains it has title to the land because of historic habitations during high water and in times of war. The KFN has economic claims to the land and the public should know what stage these negotiations are in.
Finally, we would like to know where Riverview fits into the broader need for mental health and addiction services in B.C. At Friday’s groundbreaking, Judy Darcy, who is responsible for mental health and addictions, said her ministry is trying to come up with a comprehensive plan for the entire province and acknowledged Riverview occupies an important place in that plan but she wasn't more specific.
Understandably, she is likely still working on what the vision for looks like for mental health and addictions in all of B.C. and this will take some time to work out.
So lacking any concrete information, the public will continue to speculate.
For now, it would be enough for the province to say the Renewing Riverview vision is on the back burner until a full comprehensive plan is in place while also providing some clarity as to what is being considered for the property.