Parry Sound and McDougall ratepayers, there could be a referendum regarding water fluoridation in your future.
Deputations against the town’s decision to keep its water fluoridated are becoming more frequent, as the group Parry Sound for Progressive Water Management is keeping the pressure on council to remove the chemical from its water.
Last week, the group’s representative Karen Birch was given permission to show council a 20 minute video, Our Daily Dose, by Jeremy Seifert laying out the dangers of water fluoridation.
The town has been fluoridating the water with hydrofluosilicic acid since the 1960s at a cost between $4,500 to $5,000 annually. In June, when council decided to keep its water status quo, staff suggested it would need to upgrade the way the chemical is dispensed into the system to ensure the safety of staff.
In September, a report was brought to council outlining the necessary $250,000 upgrades to the plant, which were approved.
“Although council has already made the decision to upgrade the fluoride system in the Tony Agnello Water Treatment plant as being in the best interest of the public they serve, the question of holding a referendum (or plebiscite) to let the residents of Parry Sound decide on this issue rose a number of times during deputations,” wrote Peter Brown, town director of public works in his report to council. “As a result, staff were asked to look into what would be involved in holding a referendum to discontinue adding fluoride to the town’s drinking water.”
At a cost of $19,000 plus staff time, a referendum could be held if 10 per cent of both Parry Sound and McDougall Township’s electorate signed a petition wanting fluoride from the drinking water system.
Because the town provides drinking water to some McDougall Township residents, least 10 per cent is needed from them as well, said town clerk Jackie Boggs.
“(The petition) does not get forwarded to our council or McDougall, it gets forwarded to the Chief Electoral Officer…most plebiscites, in fact any plebiscite I could find on this issue or any other issue was handled through a municipal election and a question was put on the ballot. That’s the most cost-effective way to do it. You’re having a municipal election, it costs nothing to put a question on the ballot,” Boggs said. If a petition did come forward and they did have the required 10 per cent of the electorate for both municipalities, it would go to the Chief Electoral Officer. We’re really not involved in it at that point, until we hear from the Chief Electoral Officer. My understanding is that it would include us checking every name on the list to ensure that they are actually eligible to vote in this election for the Town of Parry Sound and presumably McDougall would be doing the same.”
Coun. Paul Borneman asked Brown if there was a way for the water treatment plant could continue on as is for another three years, until the next election.
“In my humble opinion the worst possible outcome here is that we spend a significant amount of money only to see a system discontinued in a very short period of time,” Borneman said. “That’s not to say that I don’t continue to support council’s decision, it’s that I’m cheap and I don’t want to see good money spent turn bad. The system that’s in existence, can we limp along with that system for the next three years?”
Brown said it was a difficult question to answer, as staff are put in direct contact with the chemical on a daily basis.
“That’s why we’re here today, or one of the reasons why we’re here, because it’s considered unsafe for the staff and we have to upgrade the system,” said Brown. “As with any part of the water plant, it needs to be replaced, things wear out, we need to upgrade things. The fluoride system needs to be upgraded; it needs to be made safe for the staff. I have the kick-off meeting with the engineers on Thursday (Nov. 5) to start the process…so they can start doing the design and prep work. I’ve been given, as you said, orders by council to proceed with this, so that’s how I am proceeding.”
Council approved receipt of the report and agreed to have a copy provided to McDougall Township.
Monday afternoon, Birch said the group intends to start knocking on Parry Sound and McDougall Township doors in about two weeks to solicit signatures for their petition for the removal of fluoride from the water system.
An alternative to the $19,000 referendum, or waiting until the next municipal election in 2018, would be for the council member on the prevailing side of the original vote (to upgrade the town’s water treatment plant) to provide a Notice of Motion at a council meeting. Then the motion would come before council at the following meeting.