I support fluoridation in Calgary’s water because it’s good science, and I always try to follow the science. Normally, this would mean I would support the addition of fluoride as a matter of course (after meaningful public engagement) as soon as we could afford to do so.
The problem is that we had a 2011 plebiscite in Calgary where the residents democratically voted to stop fluoridation. Turns out, no, we didn’t have a plebiscite. I assumed we did because we had a plebiscite to add fluoride into the water in 1989 and it should take a plebiscite to reverse the democratic will of the the people of Calgary. Nope, City council just decided to go against science AND democracy. If you are looking for a way to get on my bad side, simultaneously ignoring both democracy and science would do it. Ward 3’s Councillor at the time, Jim Stevenson, was one of the people who voted to remove it, so this is a Ward 3 issue as well as a city-wide issue.
In 2016, a well-designed scientific study showed that since Calgary discontinued fluoridation, childhood cavities rose dramatically compared to Edmonton, which kept its fluoride program. Also, the doomsday scenarios that the anti-fluoride activists predicted would happen to Edmonton if they kept fluoridating their water did not come to pass. We now have persuasive, recent, and extremely pertinent information on the benefits of fluoride in the water, and strong evidence against the naysaying. This completely changes things.
Increase in Tooth Surfaces with Decay in Children from 2011 (when Calgary stopped) and 2016
I am both a science guy, and a democracy guy. I do not believe we should have a plebiscite every time the city wants to do something – we should follow the science in conjunction with the education of the public through the engagement process. At the end of the day, an election is the ultimate plebiscite. However, once there has been a plebiscite, I believe we can’t just ignore it. I advocate either returning to fluoridation in concurrence with both the science and the democratic will of the people, or holding a new plebiscite plus education program about the new study and the facts.
I also believe that since this is a health issue (which is Provincial responsibility), the Province of Alberta should help cover the costs of the program. When fluoridation was first introduced in the 1940’s, it demonstrated a 38:1 cost benefit ratio – meaning for every dollar spent on fluoridation, we saved $38. Today, dental health is better and the ratio is around 18:1. But that still means that for every dollar we spend on fluoridation, we save $18. It would be financially irresponsible for either the city or the province to ignore this.
I am not in favor of continuing to ignore the ongoing risk to our children’s health, in particular those in low-income families. It is a very simple matter to opt-out of fluoridation by those who wish to do so simply by using a water filter. Ward 3 was partially responsible (via our councillor at the time) and I believe it’s Ward 3’s responsibility (via it’s new councillor) to take a leadership role in getting us back on track to a healthy, science-based, financially sound, democratic approach.