Council’s priorities and finance committee will receive a report Tuesday on the cost of reintroducing fluoride to the city’s drinking water
One of Calgary’s most historically contentious issues will be back before council members this week.
Council’s priorities and finance committee will receive a report Tuesday on the cost of reintroducing fluoride to the city’s drinking water.
The report found the overall cost of reintroducing water fluoridation for a 20-year service life would be $30.1 million, with an additional $2 million to $4 million needed for life-cycle maintenance activities.
It’s a cost fluoridation proponents say is a drop in the bucket when it comes to the city’s overall budget.
“The costs are trivial in the overall budget,” said Juliet Guichon, president of the Calgarians for Kids’ Health advocacy group and an associate professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. She said the cost to put fluoride back in came out to $1.29 per year for every resident of the city.
If approved, the costs would not require an increase to water utility rates, the report to committee said.
Calgary has a decades-long history with water fluoridation.The city first began the practice in 1991 but stopped after a council vote in 2011. Calgarians have twice voted in favour of fluoridation, in plebiscites held in 1989 and 1999.Council directed city administrators in October 2019 to produce a cost-analysis report on reintroducing fluoride that was originally due in June but was pushed to December as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coun. Jyoti Gondek, a member of the committee receiving the report, said a decision on water fluoridation shouldn’t fall to councillors because it’s an issue of public health, which is a provincial jurisdiction.
“If this government wants to make everything a jurisdictional battle and they want to scream ‘fiscal reckoning’ at every turn, then they can damn well make a public-health decision about fluoride by themselves, with their experts, and they can pay for it,” Gondek said.
“I’m not a public-health expert. I was not elected to be a public-health expert. I don’t have a ministry of health. If you want to talk about slippery slopes, what’s next? What else do I have the authority to do?”
Fellow committee members and councillors Gian-Carlo Carra and Sean Chu agreed there was a jurisdictional mismatch. Carra said universal dental care was needed and said the province could fund fluoridation if they believe it to be valuable.
Chu, meanwhile, said he would likely oppose any future plans to reintroduce fluoride to Calgary water based on cost, which he argued was too steep amid COVID-19 belt-tightening.
“With the price tag, I don’t think I’ll be able to support it,” Chu said. “To be honest, we shouldn’t have taken this out in the first place, in 2011. Unfortunately, it was taken out, but with the budget and the state of the economy, I don’t think it’s a good time to do it.”
In 2017, then-Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Karen Grimsrud said in a letter to Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi that the decision to fluoridate a municipal water supply — and any costs associated with it — are the responsibility of local governments.
The priorities and finance committee are only slated to receive the report for information Tuesday, with no vote on the topic planned.
Guichon urged councillors to put fluoride back in Calgary water, saying the move would help bolster equity and help a dental health system she said has been hurt by the pandemic.
“(Jurisdiction) isn’t really worth arguing about, because this is a really inexpensive investment for a huge benefit,” she said. “If elected officials have it within their power to make the lives of everyone in the city better for relatively low cost, not even a penny a day, why wouldn’t they do it?”