Calgarians are heading to the polls for the seventh time in the city’s history to let policy-makers know whether or not fluoride should be added to the water supply.
City council voted 10-4 in favour of a referendum on the issue as part of the upcoming municipal election.
“What I’m hoping we’ll get is a very fact-based conversation,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said following the decision Monday evening. “I want people on all sides to come out and inform folks, and hopefully, we’ll have a clear direction one way or the other.”
Dr. Juliet Guichon, Calgarians for Kids’ Health president and associate professor of law and ethics at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, has reservations about the campaign and the possibility of misinformation.
“I think Calgarians ought to be very wary of false statements by people who have fixed false beliefs, fixed in the sense that nothing you say will change their minds,” Guichon said.
Guichon has advocated for the reintroduction of fluoride in the city’s drinking water since the chemical was removed in 2011.
In 2019, she presented to council when the city re-examined the idea in what became a contentious debate over the pros and cons, which created heated arguments outside council chambers.
“It’s safe, everybody benefits, nobody is harmed,” Guichon said.
According to a report published by the O’Brien Institute of Public Health at the University of Calgary for city administration, fluoridation would result in a 50 per cent decline in tooth decay that requires surgery and a 35 per cent reduction in tooth decay and cavities.
However, the report said there is also evidence that suggests fluoridation can cause fluorosis and in some cases can impact thyroid function.
“The reviews that have been done on possible health consequences of fluoridation do not consistently support the view that there are robust health consequences of fluoridation,” said Dr. Linsday McLaren, an associate professor at the department of community health sciences and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the U of C.
Alberta Health Services’ official stance on water fluoridation supports the practice, calling it a “foundational public health measure to prevent dental disease and improve oral health.”
However, Ward 1 Coun. Ward Sutherland isn’t sold on the idea.
Sutherland voted against sending the issue to a plebiscite after reviewing evidence on both sides of the debate. He said he personally is against fluoridation but would respect the result of the plebiscite.
Sutherland outlined his concerns around misinformation in the debate about sending the city’s default speed limit reduction to a plebiscite.
When asked if the city was planning a fact-based, impartial ad campaign similar to what was discussed for a speed limit plebiscite, the city said administration was working through the details.
“The city is reviewing council’s direction and will provide more information when possible,” a City of Calgary spokesperson said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Ward 4 Coun. Sean Chu said he reluctantly voted in favour of a plebiscite as he is against the reintroduction of fluoride into the drinking water and remains concerned about cost.
“I think we should let sleeping dogs lie, which means don’t bring it back,” Chu said. “It’s a lot of money, especially during this difficult economic time.”
Late last year, a city committee received a presentation and report on how much it would cost to reintroduce fluoride back into the water system.
City administration has pegged those costs at $30.1 million over a 20-year span but said the capital costs could be absorbed by the water utility, which wouldn’t require an increase in water rates.
Now, city council is expected to return to the issue in May to decide how the ballot question on fluoride will be written.
Calgarians will make their decision on Oct. 18.