Climate Leadership Implementation Act moves in the right direction but provides far more questions than answers says Dr. David Swann

Edmonton, AB (May 25, 2016): Dr. David Swann has expressed reservations about the Climate Leadership Plan legislation introduced today. The three part bill put forward by the government places a tax on transportation and heating fuels, establishes a new government agency (Energy Efficiency Alberta) and makes changes to the existing Climate Change and Emissions Management Fund.

“Alberta has long needed to address climate change in a meaningful way,” Swann said. “However, I’m concerned about how the government is choosing to do this.”

“The Environment Ministry has consolidated control of all monitoring and regulatory aspects of this bill; including the creation of a new agency which answers only to the minister.

“The stated purpose of the carbon tax is to reduce consumption but 60% of Albertan households will receive the full rebate amount. How will this incentivize conservation and what metrics did the government use to determine how much tax is enough to change behaviour.

“A primary goal of the plan was supposedly to provide incentives for a new energy future of renewable power. However, the bill doesn’t provide any targets for renewable energy, not even guidelines.

“Measurement of environmental progress is now firmly in the hands of the environment ministry. What methods are they using to determine the effectiveness of the Climate Leadership Plan? Will this process be transparent? How is the monitoring going to be independently checked?

“And what plans are in place for retraining and relocating those whose livelihoods will be eliminated or curtailed by the Climate Action Plan.

 “I truly hope the government can provide some answers in the lengthy Legislature debate to come,” Swann concluded. “The Minister may have the best intentions but, as written, the Climate Leadership Implementation Act lacks clear accountability for achieving the stated goals.”


Dr. David Swann very troubled about implications of the Redwater Energy decision

Edmonton, AB (May 20, 2016): Dr. David Swann is very troubled by yesterday’s court decision allowing Redwater Energy to sell off its assets before cleaning up its wells.

“This decision has serious implications for the environment,” said Swann. “If insolvent oil companies use their assets to pay off their creditors instead of cleaning up their old, non-producing wells, we will be left with hundreds more abandoned wells across the province.

“Two things are happening,” continued Swann. “First, oil companies in financial difficulty now have the ability to treat their non-producing wells as an afterthought.

“Second, the court is telling creditors they don’t have to take environmental practices into consideration when lending money – the cost of clean-up becomes irrelevant.

“In both cases, the public is left to pick up the cost of remediation.”

“While it is true Alberta has an orphan well fund in the event an oil company goes bankrupt,” Swann stated, “the economic downturn has stretched this fund to its very limit. There is no way the fund can keep up with the hundreds of additional abandoned wells which may happen as a result of this ruling.”

“This ruling clearly indicates the need for a change in regulation,” Swann concluded. “I will be contacting the Premier, the Attorney General and the Energy minister shortly in order to find a solution for this extremely important issue.”


Dr. David Swann repeats his call for merit-based appointments to Agencies, Boards, and Commissions

EDMONTON, AB (MAY 19, 2016): Dr. David Swann was pleased to see the NDP government take action to reform Alberta’s Agencies, Boards, and Commissions (ABCs) with the introduction of Bill 19, but feels that the legislation does not go far enough.

“While I commend the government on bringing compensation in line with the rest of the civil service, they are missing a prime opportunity to go one step further in reforming the ABCs and introduce merit-based appointments,” Dr. Swann said.

“For years under the previous government we saw important appointments being handed out as political favours,” Dr. Swann added. “Even this new government has appointed government insiders proving that without an independent body to authorize appointments, Alberta’s most important services are vulnerable to politicization.”

“Albertans deserve and expect their Agencies, Boards, and Commissions to serve them and not the party in power. Only a transparent, non-partisan, merit-based process can secure that for them.”


Dr. Swann expresses concern that the Act to Ensure Independent Environmental Monitoring will provide very little independence

Edmonton, Ab (May 18, 2016): Dr. David Swann expressed concern today that the Act to Ensure Independent Environmental Monitoring (Bill 18) consolidates far too much authority in the Ministry of Environment and will not ensure independence.

“I believe the Minister Phillips has the best of intentions and honestly believes that environmental monitoring is an essential function of government,” said Swann. “However, the bill as written consolidates all power under the Ministry. This is the very circumstance which caused the creation of an independent body in the first place.”

“Under Bill 18, the Minister appoints the Chief Scientist, the Minister appoints new members of the Scientific Panel, the Chief Scientist reports to the Deputy Minister and the Chief Scientist chooses the schedule under which he reports to the public,” Swann continued. “Nowhere is there independent oversight.”

Swann believes replacements to the Scientific Panel should be chosen by an independent committee and the Chief Scientist be required to report to the Legislature.

“If the Minister is determined to move AEMERA back into the Ministry, the corresponding legislation must provide independence from Ministry interference. Bill 18 does not perform that function,” Swann concluded.


Dr. Swann disappointed as the government votes down amendment to protect Alberta’s medical and health research community

Edmonton, AB (May 18, 2016): Today the government used their majority to vote down Dr. David Swann’s amendment to the Alberta Research and Innovation Amendment Act (Bill 11). The proposed amendment would have protected the identity and unique contributions of our world-class medical research to public health and to business innovation.

By failing to pass this amendment, the government has risked losing visibility and investment for Alberta’s vibrant health research community. Without a distinct identity, attracting funds and world-class researchers will be more difficult.

The amalgamation of Alberta Innovates will further remove health research from Alberta’s struggling health system and the hinder the collaborative work needed to improve access, quality and cost-effectiveness.

“The roll-up of Alberta Innovates: Health Solutions into this large amalgam called Alberta Innovates is a problem,” said Swann. “It is going to reduce our visibility on the national stage. It is going to reduce our credibility across the world as a leader in medical research and it is going to diminish our capacity to improve the very system that is costing us so much.”

“Alberta has been a leader in health research for 40 years, since Peter Lougheed first initiated the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research,” Swann continued. “By burying health research under the umbrella of a generic agency focused largely on economic development and diversification, Alberta loses its flagship research organization.”


Dr. David Swann warns the province is unprepared to meet the mental health needs of Ft. McMurray residents and first responders

Edmonton, AB (May 13, 2016): Dr. David Swann yesterday warned that Alberta is unprepared to meet the complex and ongoing mental health needs of Fort McMurray residents and first responders.

“Alberta is facing an unprecedented crisis in mental health. More than 80,000 people have been forced to flee a disaster which devastated their community. If only a fraction of these individuals require help, our already teetering mental health system could collapse,” Swann said in a statement to the Alberta Legislature.

Swann indicated that the government needs to do three things immediately to “avert a domino effect and further crisis in the health system.”

The first is to educate the public, and in particular evacuees and first responders, about mental health.

“There is still a stigma associated with mental health problems and many of those in Ft. McMurray won’t realize or won’t want to admit they need help,” Swann said.

Second, those who fled the fire need ready access to publicly funded psychologists and other trauma experts thereby freeing psychologists to work with critical trauma cases.

Third, the health system must provide patient navigators to guide those in need through a complicated and sometimes overwhelming health system.

“To do nothing or to make half-measures merely moves the problem forward in time and exponentially increases both cost and suffering,” Swann concluded.

–DAVID SWANN’S FULL STATEMENT TO THE LEGISLATURE–

Thank you Mr. Speaker,

Alberta is facing an unprecedented crisis in mental health. More than 80,000 people have been forced to flee a disaster which devastated their community. If only a fraction of these individuals require help, our already teetering mental health system could collapse.

In the coming months, most of us will remember the fire as a terrible event and move on with our lives. For the residents and first responders of Ft. McMurray, though, moving on may be a process fraught with challenges for many years.

Recovery from major emotional loss and trauma is a difficult and delicate process, with no two people having the same experience. What is certain, though, is that left alone this type of trauma can cause severe suffering whether it be overt, such as alcohol abuse or family violence, or subtle, such as anger or depression.

To avert a ‘domino’ effect and further crisis in the health system, the government must provide three things:

The first is public education. There is still a stigma associated with mental health problems and many of those in Ft. McMurray won’t realize or won’t want to admit they need help. The consequences of ignoring effects of trauma are harmful not only to the sufferer but to their family, their friends and their community.

The second is early access to funded psychologists and other experienced trauma professionals that may be unaffordable privately, who can offer screening, triage and timely referral thereby reducing wait times and freeing up psychiatrists for more critical patients.

The third is a navigator or primary care-giver to ensure the various financial, medical and psychological supports communicate and work together through integrated care plans over the coming year.

I am fully aware that these recommendations require substantial new money from a budget already strained, but the money must be found – either in our own budget or through federal assistance.

To do nothing or to make half-measures merely moves the problem forward in time and exponentially increases both cost and suffering.


Dr. David Swann calls for better access to mental health care for children

Edmonton, AB (May 5, 2016): Dr. David Swann made this statement in support of Children’s Mental Health and the Canadian Mental Health Association’s #GETLOUD campaign for Mental Health Week:

“Today is Children’s Mental Health day and given what’s happening in Northern Alberta, I can’t think of a better time to highlight the unique Mental Health needs of children. We’ve all seen images and video of families fleeing their homes as well as images of the devastation caused by the fire. The horrors of this disaster will live with the children of Fort McMurray for the rest of their lives.

“It is easy to forget that children are just as susceptible to mental illness and addiction as adults because they may be resilient and adept at changing with circumstance. However, most mental illness and addictions have their origins in childhood and adolescence. Emotional, behavioral and learning problems, as well as adverse experiences such as the current disaster, when inadequately unaddressed, have profound impacts on the rest of the child’s life and have significant effects on wider society.

“In April the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate (OCYA) released a report that shows other chilling consequences of failing to address mental health and addiction in Albertan youth, particularly in First Nations communities. The urgent importance of the OCYA investigation was further highlighted as an epidemic of youth suicides swept the country. Twelve recommendations, including addressing poverty and discrimination for were made by the OCYA, and I look forward to seeing new cross-ministry approaches to them in the months ahead.

“The key for children’s mental wellness, as is so often the case, is early access to care. By being able to confront trauma and illness early and effectively, we prevent not only prolonged suffering of the child and family but also the potential societal impacts later in life.

“Right now our system does not excel at providing children with the needed access to comprehensive care. Mental health teams sufficiently trained to help with children and families including child psychiatrists and psychologists must be available, and affordable.

“Ultimately, if we are to address mental health in a lasting way, we must begin with our children. When we pay attention to their mental health early in life, we provide the basis for fulfilling, successful lives and supportive families. So let’s #GETLOUD today about the priority of children’s mental health and build a healthy society for their children tomorrow.”


Statement from Dr. David Swann on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day)

Edmonton, AB (May 4, 2016): Dr. David Swann made this statement:

“Although I, like all Albertans, am focused on the sad events unfolding in Fort McMurray, I wish to remember, also, that today is Yom Ha-Shoah, the Day of the Holocaust.

“On this day we remember the evil committed by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis that saw six million Jews brutally murdered solely because of their faith. It is a day for us to reflect and mourn on a horrific and shameful chapter in human history.

“As the Holocaust fades into the past, we risk forgetting the consequences of not being vigilant against hatred in all its forms. As we remember the genocide, we must also remain watchful of systemic violence, persecution, and racism that sadly still threaten our society today.

“Despite the evil happening all around them, there were many during the Holocaust who stood up to persecution and acted to save the lives of their neighbours. We must be mindful of their example, and ready to stand up to ensure that the horrors of the Holocaust never happen again.”


Dr. David Swann speaks out during Mental Health Week on the stigma surrounding mental illness and addiction

Edmonton, AB (May 3, 2016): Dr. David Swann made this statement on the stigma surrounding mental illness and addictions:

“Perhaps the greatest obstacle to effective mental health treatment today is the stigma associated with mental illness and addiction. Stigma, and the shame it causes, greatly limits our ability to discuss and treat the mental health issues affecting our society.

“Mental illness and addictions can be an intensely frightening experience. The fear of being dismissed, labelled, or shunned by society discourages those experiencing mental illness or addiction from finding proper care. Left to struggle in isolation and shame, they suffer deeply and in secret – often until it is too late.

“The further tragedy is that this is entirely preventable. Mental illness is not shameful; it affects one in five people across the country. Every one of us has been touched by mental illness, whether in ourselves, a co-worker, friend, or family member, and the best thing we can do for them is create an environment where they feel safe and comfortable speaking about their struggle.

“During this year’s Mental Health Week, it’s up to us to change the conversation surrounding mental health so we can create that environment. The Canadian Mental Health Association has chosen #GETLOUD as their theme for this week so let’s all #GETLOUD about mental health – and show that we care for those suffering in silence.”

More Information:

Canadian Mental Health Association: http://www.cmha.ca/

Alberta Events: http://mentalhealthweek.cmha.ca/news-and-events/events/alberta/

Fast Facts: http://www.cmha.ca/media/fast-facts-about-mental-illness/


Statement from Dr. David Swann on International Workers’ Day honouring those fighting for labour rights around the world

Edmonton, AB (May 2, 2016): Dr. David Swann made this statement on International Workers’ Day:

“In celebration of this year’s International Workers’ Day, I extend my best wishes to those standing up for the rights of the worker worldwide.

“Although Canada’s celebration occurs in September, Albertan and Canadian workers play a vital role in promoting labour rights worldwide, and I salute them for this important task.

“Protection for worker’s rights is lacking in many parts of the world, causing considerable suffering. Here in Alberta, paid farmworkers only recently are moving toward mandatory WCB coverage for injuries, workplace safety standards and fair employment standards.

“Only with concerted action nationally and internationally can we hope to correct some of these abuses, and that struggle begins at home.

“Today I honour all those who have fought, and continue to fight, for the right to a safe and fair workplace.”