CALGARY (660 NEWS) — Eight years since it was removed from Calgary’s drinking water, the City Council has approved a study for the University of Calgary’s O’Brien Institute for Public Health to examine the benefits and detriments of fluoridation.
“So the idea is to try to reconcile, a little bit, the evidence that’s out there. Not to have this be about decibel opinion, but more just a measured analysis of what the evidence shows,” said director Dr. William Ghali of the O’Brien Institute.
Ward 13 Councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart presented the motion on Monday asking for a thorough assessment on all the facts and viewpoints that apply to the contentious issue.
“Part of what we are responsible for is to make sure as legislators that we are as well informed as we possibly can be when you’re bringing in public policy decisions,” she said. “I know this is tricky — this is whether or not you believe in vaccines, or whether or not you believe in blood transfusions, any of those things. So, none of us on council are experts when it comes to fluoridation.”
Going back in time, this motion is nearly identical to one presented by Colley-Urquhart in 2016 and was defeated.
Voters cast ballots in favour of fluoridation in two separate plebiscites, but then council unilaterally struck down the bylaw in 2011 without any public engagement.
“In one fell swoop, we had no experts before us, we had an article by the Fluoride [Action] Network, and we said repeal the bylaw and it never went to committee,” explained Colley-Urquhart. “We’ve got to do better than this.”
Ward 11 Councillor Jeromy Farkas is in favour of fluoridation but stresses the final say needs to be up to Calgarians.
“What we learned with the Olympic plebiscite is you have to be outright with Calgarians, you have to give them all of the facts on the table to decide,” said Farkas. “It should cause pause for everybody that council chose to overrule the will of Calgarians in this way.”
It will take some time until we find out the results of the report, as researchers will scour for all available evidence on the issue — rather than conduct new research themselves.
“We would undertake over about a three to four month period because City Council is requesting information — in the motion at least — by June. So, we would have some time to have a group of experts looking at the evidence in each of those dimensions and then providing feedback to the city on this is what the literature says, this is what the evidence shows on each of these topics,” Ghali added.
No matter what, it’s a sticky topic, and will likely cause a lot of heated discussion inside and outside of the Council Chamber.
“We can’t just think that it’s only about evidence,” said Ghali. “It’s about evidence, it’s about health belief, and then it’s about individual choice and societal well-being.”
Before the decision was handed down Colley-Urquhart asked her colleagues to be “open-minded” and emphasized that it wouldn’t cost anything.