Calgary City council is again considering fluoride in Calgary’s tap water after studies show more cavities in Calgary children. Gavin Young/Postmedia
Gavin Young / Postmedia
City council voted decisively Monday to revisit the issue of fluoride in Calgary’s drinking water, even as elected members acknowledged the risk of reopening a longstanding public debate that has attracted plenty of social media vitriol.Council voted 13-2 to review new evidence on the merits of fluoridation gathered by the University of Calgary’s O’Brien Institute for Public Health in a report that will be presented at city hall in June.Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart said she was pleased her colleagues agreed Monday to reopen the topic of fluoridation — three years after a similar move was rejected in a 10-4 vote.The veteran councillor said she expects that a future public hearing on the matter could last for “days” based on the intense public reaction she received to her notice of motion that prompted Monday’s debate.“There are certain topics that really get people riled up and they really get involved and fluoride is one of these. People are very emphatic about this,” Colley-Urquhart said.While councillors Ray Jones and Sean Chu were the only councillors to vote against the proposal Monday, a number of council members had reservations about reopening the debate on fluoride.Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra brought forward a number of amendments to the motion, urging the health officials who will draft the report to examine other factors impacting dental health and public health in Calgary.“I believe fundamentally that we should deal with dental health, but I’m not sure that fluoridation of water supply is the best way to do that,” Carra said following the vote. Carra said he would like to see a cost-benefit analysis of water fluoridation compared to more “direct” dental interventions by Alberta Health.Dr. William Ghali, with the O’Brien Institute, told council that the debate over fluoridation requires balancing individual rights and collective protections, drawing comparisons to vaccinations and cellphone use while driving.He also countered a concern raised during Monday’s debate that the O’Brien Institute had “already formed an opinion” and might not be capable of offering objective advice.“I hope that the council of Calgary, Alberta, believes in its universities — to believe in us to be scholarly and to be objective,” Ghali said. “We are committed, just as you all are, to be the best we can in our jobs.”
Ward 13 Coun. Dianne Colley-Urquhart.
Gavin Young /
Colley-Urquhart’s motion included data from a 2016 University of Calgary study that compared tooth decay in Grade 2 students in Edmonton and Calgary. The study suggested that defluoridation had a negative impact on the health of Calgary children.Colley-Urquhart said she regrets how council handled the issue back in 2016 when councillors voted against reviewing the data.“I believe that we need to do our homework this time and get it right, whatever the results may be,” she said.The city first began adding fluoride to Calgary’s drinking water in 1991.Calgarians voted at least twice in favour of fluoridation in plebiscites held in 1989 and 1999. However, it was a decision by council in 2011 that led the city to discontinue the practice.Colley-Urquhart said that she has some doubts about the merits of using plebiscites to decide public health matters — though not all of her colleagues agree.Coun. Jeromy Farkas, who noted he is generally in favour of fluoridation, said he would like to see the question put to Calgarians again during the next municipal election.Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the debate over fluoride is one of the “strangest” that council has ever had.“I have said many times I think council acted too hastily back in (2011) in taking it out,” Nenshi said. “Even at that time, I’d asked for a good scientific research study, even a (literature) review of existing scientific research studies. I can’t imagine why you’d vote against getting more information.”firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: @mpotkins