Nine health board election candidates won’t say whether they support or object to water fluoridation.
Of 22 candidates for the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) elections, nine remain undecided, six support fluoridation and six are against the measure, one could not be contacted.
Government legislation expected to pass next year will give district health boards authority to fluoridate water supplies from mid-2018.
Incumbent candidate Andy Dickerson, who opposes fluoridation, said it was a “shame” that some candidates did not have an opinion.
“I am really saying to the people of Canterbury if you are going to vote for me than you have a right to know where I stand on this issue. I will not be sitting on the fence claiming to be “undecided” in case I offend someone.”
Incumbents Aaron Keown and Sally Buck said they wanted to make sure the community was consulted before making a decision.
In April, Keown said he supported fluoridation.
“We need to educate the public first by sharing all factual information before any decisions are made,” Keown said.
At present, councils decide about whether to fluoridate water supplies. Next year’s law would changed that.
Incumbent Steve Wakefield said the “usual consultation process” would go ahead before any decision by the DHB.
Jo Kane, also an incumbent, said she would need to consider all sides before making a decision.
“I won’t make a knee-jerk decision because it might win or lose me a few votes.”
First time candidate, Don Church has been a committee member of Fluoride Free NZ (FFNZ) a not-for-profit advocacy group working to take fluoride out of all water supplies, for 20 years.
In his election bio, Church did not declare his involvement in the organisation, but said it was “well known”.
When asked if this was his motivation for contesting the election he said: “Not primarily, though that is one of many aspects.”
Incumbents Anna Crighton and Chris Mene defended their ambivalence.
Crighton said there was new evidence for and against fluoridation “coming out all the time”.
Mene said having an undecided position was reasonable because the issue was complex and there was not an “engagement process in place to consider and make a decision”.
Janet De Lu, a first-time candidate wanted to know how widespread the problem of dental caries was, what solutions there were and how many people opposed fluoridation.
“With that information, I can weigh up the pros and cons of the situation.”
First time candidate Kelly Dugan said he had changed his position from undecided to “no” in the previous week.
“I am against a broad brushstroke remedy to an issue if it removes everyone’s right to decide for themselves. For this reason I would vote against fluoridation at this time but I am also open to debate and discussion on this topic.”
Unwilling to state a position, first-time candidate Gilbert Taurua said the Ministry of Health had all the evidence and should make the decision.
FFNZ national co-ordinator Mary Byrne said it was hard to say if the undecided candidates were hedging their bets both ways or if “they just don’t know enough about the subject”.
She said candidates should “come clean” about their position on fluoridation as this was something likely to sway voters.
The New Zealand Dental Association urged candidates to “take a proactive stance” on fluoridation.
“Community water fluoridation will help to reduce unnecessary pain and suffering from tooth decay,” spokesman Rob Beaglehole said.
Fluoridation position, Canterbury candidates for 2016 district health board election:
Undecided: Sally Buck, Anna Crighton, Chris Mene, Jo Kane, Aaron Keown, Steve Wakefield, Janet De Lu, Drucilla Kingi-Patterson, Gilbert Taurua
No: Andy Dickerson, Ken May, Grant Miller, Kelly Dugan, Don Church, Richard E Roe.
Yes: David Morrell, Jack Singh, Rochelle Phipps,John Burn, Brian Gargiulo, Jono Bannan
Unknown: Tubby Hansen