Calgary has spent a lot of time mulling whether fluoride should flow through the water in city taps. And on Monday, after six plebiscites in the city’s history – the most recent in 1995, voting to keep the fluoride in – city councillor Druh Farrell will put forth a motion to lose the tooth-protectant chemical once and for all. This week, Mayor Naheed Nenshi decried the motion, saying it really shouldn’t be on the council table without public and expert consultation. The Post’s Sarah Boesveld spoke to the mayor Thursday:
Q: Why can’t council just vote on whether fluoride should be removed from city water?
A: This is an obvious issue that needs to be put before scientific experts and last time I checked, no one on council is scientific expert. Clearly it’s an issue of intense public opinion on both sides. To just put it through on a notice of motion, strikes me as a bit hasty. We certainly do have processes in place to allow public to give their opinion and we use them on minor issues quite frequently.
Q: The city of Waterloo recently voted to remove fluoride from their water following a referendum in favour of it. But critics say the result was swayed by a campaign full of bunk science. Do you think there’s an element of questionable science to the claims that the fluoride chemical can cause cancer and other ailments?
A: I don’t know, I want to hear both sides of it.
Q: What kind of approach would you take to gathering more information? Do you have any experts in mind?
A: This is it. I’m not trying to be obstructionist. I don’t know. Simple as that. We’ll go out and we’ll look for experts. People who have an interest can come to us. I don’t have a big plan. I haven’t gone through and figured it out. That’s the point I’m trying to make.
Q: So you don’t have an opinion on it either way.
A: No I really don’t. I’m sorry to laugh about it. I don’t know. It popped up in a binder yesterday. We have to do the work. This is such a strange issue because we don’t know what the evidence is one way or the other. That’s why you can sense a bit of frustration because we shouldn’t be going into things with one eye shut. There’s just not enough evidence for us to take a vote on it.
Q: You’ll try to cast the vote as an opening up of the floor, not a yes or no vote.
A: Absolutely. Not only do I want to involve the public, I strongly believe that we have to use the policy process. If fellow members of my council had done that, we might have more information to go on.
Q: Would public consultation be very costly?
A: You can do it costly, or you can do it cheap, but you’ve got to do it.
Q: And you’ll use social media tools and so on to gather this public input?
A: I always do. Many, many, many Calgarians are starting to weigh in on my Twitter feed. The comments on articles online, the volume is enormous. That’s a good thing.
Q: Which way do you think the vote will go?
A: Council will do what council wants to do. A large number of councillors have supported the motion (10 out of 15).
Q: If they’re representing constituents, doesn’t that mean there’s a lot of support in the community?
A: You can ask them, I suppose, what their motivations are.
Q: If so many people in the medical community are against removal of the fluoride, how will you decide who weighs in as an expert?
A: That’s why we have policy committees and council can figure it out too. But we’ve got to figure it out with the public.
Q: So you haven’t seen the 2008 panel report from Health Canada that said fluoride is safe in drinking water at current recommended levels?
A: Council has nothing. There is literally one page, you can see it online, and that is all that council has. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven sentences.
*Original article online at http://nationalpost.com/news/canada/q-a-who-decides-on-fluoride-in-calgarys-water