City will consult with public on fluoridation

When it comes to the issue of adding fluoride to Red Deer’s water, it’s a case of a plebiscite if necessary, but not necessarily a plebiscite.

Councillor Buck Buchanan put forward a motion last February to hold a plebiscite on whether or not the City should continue to add fluoride to the City’s water. The motion had the plebiscite held in conjunction with the next civic election in 2013, to save the estimated $150,000 cost of a stand-alone plebiscite before then.

Council asked administration to prepare a report on the sensitive issue and at Monday’s meeting administration presented a neutral 11-page report which detailed how other communities handled the issue.

That launched a lengthy debate by council on their options. Those options include public consultation before a plebiscite, after which council would vote based on the results of the plebiscite, or going straight to a plebiscite before voting or just voting on the issue without a plebiscite.

In the end they decided to go with public consultation, possibly including an open house, debates and a public opinion survey. Based on the results of the public consultation council would decide whether or not to hold a plebiscite. If the public favours a plebiscite, there will be one. However, there were no timelines established for the consultation and Councillor Buchanan withdrew his motion.

“We want to do the public conversation,” says Mayor Morris Flewwelling. “Right now the public conversation has been limited to the activists pro and con. It’s a difficult topic, because there are passionate views on both sides, there’s information that’s valid on both sides. Our challenge, as governors is to figure out a process of dealing with this. So we’ll have a conversation, we’ll have the debate. If a plebiscite is necessary, have the plebiscite and shut it (the issue) off.”

Like most members of council, Flewwelling, when asked if he had a position on fluoridation himself, said, “Not yet, I have to go through the public conversation.” However, he worried that a plebiscite on the controversial issue during an election could be divisive.

But Councillor Frank Wong noted that the issue could improve voter turnout because people would want to express their views on fluoridation.

Councillor Paul Harris, who would like to see fluoridation ended as soon as possible, noted that in the end council will make the decision one way or another, but that he is not in favour of a plebiscite. Previously he noted there’s a worldwide movement to remove fluoride from public water supplies, that fluoride shouldn’t be forced on anyone and that anyone who wants fluoride can get it in other ways, through toothpaste, drops or bottled water.

Red Deer started fluoridating its water about 1957 after a plebiscite in favour of the move. The City spends about $60,000 a year to add the controversial chemical to City water.