Dr. Swann Member Statement on Opioid Use – 25 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Thursday, May 25, 2017.

Member Statement – Opioid Use

The opioid death crisis is unprecedented, ripping apart families of all socioeconomic groups, including First Nations. The continual and dramatic increases in opioid deaths since 2013 are extremely saddening given that they are all preventable. While we see increased investment, it’s not clear that mental health experts are leading, what the overall strategy is, or how current efforts are being evaluated since there has been no public analysis and reporting. Last year we had 363 deaths due to fentanyl. In the first three months of this year 113 Albertans lost their lives, a 61 per cent increase in deaths over the same period of 2016.

We’re starting to see the same disturbing trends here as in B.C., without basic analysis of why we continue to lose ground even after four years, nor have we chosen to call this a public health emergency to mobilize all related resources. This is a mistake. B.C.’s declaration of a public health emergency led to resources being mobilized through the Health ministry across all government departments and between all stakeholders in a co-ordinated plan, with monthly reporting on what is working and what is not. Alberta struggles to report quarterly on fentanyl and other opioid deaths. B.C. embraced an early harm-reduction measure, including safe injection sites. We have yet to see a safe injection site in Alberta.

Naloxone kits are undoubtedly saving lives. The associate minister yesterday admitted there were 1,130 life-saving doses of naloxone given in the first three months of this year. That’s 13 near deaths every day in Alberta. Clearly, we are not getting ahead of this devastation.

Wait times have improved for opioid replacement therapy, but outside of Edmonton and Calgary people seeking help continue to wait too long.

Numbers are not enough. There is a troubling lack of analysis of what changes are needed and where for an accurate picture of this epidemic. Strong new leadership from a mental health and addic-tions expert is needed, who can focus and oversee an evidence-based, co-ordinated plan and overcome the silos. This terribly stigmatized illness needs a new approach, and now is the time for the government to admit that its approach is not working.

This is the most important preventable public health crisis of our time. The lives of our children depend on it.

Dr. Swann Member Statement on Mental Health and Addiction Education and Services – 4 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Thursday, May 4, 2017.

Member Statement – Mental Health and Addiction Education and Services

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday I had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion on indigenous youth mental health sponsored by the U of C’s Mathison Centre and the Canadian Mental Health Commission. We heard directly from youth at the Kainai board of education and watched a video on the headstrong program encouraging youth to talk about the stigma related to addictions and mental illness. Unfortunately, the stigma is still too common even among some of our health professionals. In fact, there is often a double stigma: first, simply being indigenous and, secondly, with addictions or mental health issues.

Another common theme was the lack of culturally sensitive and more holistic approaches in our mental health system. Several panellists spoke eloquently about how traditional practices and mentoring from elders helped them break free from depression and addictions and regain a sense of identity and self-worth.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has identified a long history of intergenerational trauma and its lasting effect on our First Nations community. Updates to Alberta’s curriculum should be aimed at giving all Albertans a deeper understanding of this and encouraging further participation in the reconciliation process. Tragically, we continue to see increasing incidents of mental illness and addictions across Alberta, including opiates and preventable deaths, now approaching two per day. While I commend the government for increasing investment in this area, spending alone is not the answer.

Since 2008 the elimination of the Mental Health Board – there is a lack of consistent leadership and co-ordinated planning for mental health and addictions in this province. System change is difficult without strong, sustained leadership. Once again I must call on the government to reconsider establishing the provincial mental health and addictions officer. We need immediate implementation of the recommendations from the Valuing Mental Health report, including the long-overdue reform of primary care networks and their important role in mental health and addictions. Timely system changes will not only save lives but will substantially reduce costs and boost staff morale.

On Mental Health Week let’s reaffirm our commitment to reducing the stigma of addictions and mental health, support our indigenous people, and show . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. member. Your time is up.

Dr. Swann Member Statement on National Day of Mourning – 01 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, May 1, 2017.

Member Statement – National Day of Mourning

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Having attended the Friday memorial service in Lethbridge, a very emotional tribute to the workers lost in the Lethbridge area, I’m pleased to stand with a response to the ministerial statement on the National Day of Mourning. At this time we pause to remember and mourn Albertans who have suffered injuries, disease, and death in the workplace. The risk, especially for inexperienced and summer workers, is significant, and each worker must know of their right to refuse unsafe work. This upward trend simply cannot continue, especially given that these workplace incidents are all preventable. If we’re to avoid further tragedies, we must strive to create a culture of safety.

By the way, Mr. Speaker, this is the first year that the deaths of paid farm workers are included in the WCB statistics, a result of the much-delayed Bill 6. For far too long farm workers went without the basic legal protection that every other worker in the country has. However, more work needs to be done to reduce barriers to claiming WCB coverage for ranch and farm workers and to encourage both workers and employers alike to file claims for incidents that occur.

By remembering the injuries and deaths of Alberta workers and by supporting the families they leave behind, our commitment to building a safe work environment will be strengthened. It is our solemn duty in this House and the responsibility of each one of us to do all that we can to ensure every man and woman who goes to work returns home safely.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Dr. Swann Member Statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day – 20 April 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Thursday, April 20, 2017.

Member Statement – Holocaust Remembrance Day

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. This coming Sunday marks Yom ha-Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and today we stand in the Legislature to remember the millions of Jewish children, women, and men brutally murdered by the Nazi regime. We acknowledge that this is one day after we recognized the genocide of Holodomor, Stalin’s Ukrainian genocide. The only crime of this Jewish community was being what Adolf Hitler and his government hated and feared, being different. Because of their religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation they deviated from the Nazi ideal of a pure Aryan nation and so were exterminated.

The official name of Yom ha-Shoah translates to Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, and while we remember humanity at its darkest and mourn those lost, we also acknowledge the incredible strength of the human spirit. Opposition to the Nazi regime took incredible courage, and obviously millions lost their lives in resisting. Nevertheless, resistance was widespread once ordinary men and women became heroes as they fought back in countless ways. Their bravery gave others a glimmer of hope, a candle in this darkness.

As the Holocaust fades into the past, we risk forgetting the consequences of not being vigilant against racism, hatred, genocide in all its forms and must be prepared to act when we see evidence anywhere, any time across our world. “Never again” is more than a hope; it’s a promise to act. When we say these words, we promise that we will to the best of our ability follow the example of those who stood up and resisted to fight to ensure that the horrors of the Holocaust are never repeated.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Dr. Swann Member Statement on The Battle of Vimy Ridge – 10 April 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, April 10, 2017.

Member Statement – Battle of Vimy Ridge

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. On this day a hundred years ago a great battle of triumph and tragedy was raging on Vimy Ridge. I’m honoured today to rise in this democratically elected Assembly to be able to speak freely about these brave men and women, about the survivors, their families, and pay tribute to the fallen. Indeed, this is one of the gifts these courageous warriors gave to all of us, not just freedom from oppression and tyranny but the freedom to exercise our rights of self-determination and recognition of our inalienable human rights.

The price they paid was high: an entire generation lost. Vimy Ridge remains the single bloodiest battle Canadians fought, with about 3,600 lives being laid down in the fields in France. It was a defining moment, both in terms of the Great War as well as the birthing of this great nation, Canada. It fills us with pride to remember the victory that was wrought on Vimy Ridge. It also reminds us of the preciousness of life, the duty of public service, and the eternal vigilance required to protect our rights and freedoms and the rule of law.

Finally, I’d be amiss if I did not speak about the unspeakable horror of war and the need for each of us to work always and everywhere to create the conditions for peace. The average age of Canadian soldiers in World War I was 26; the oldest, 80; the youngest reported, 10 years old. What they were to experience in those fields was unimaginable for these young minds. While many lives were lost at Vimy, many more were forever changed. Those who did not die had been surrounded by death and terror on a daily basis: unrelenting physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma.

When they returned home, they were enthusiastically welcomed by a truly grateful nation. But how could anyone who had not been there and experienced the devastation begin to understand the effect it would have on the survivors and their families? This was a time when knowledge of mental health and particularly the lasting impacts of trauma was in its infancy. To be a man often meant then and still means maintaining a bravado of strength, refusing to ask for help, and suffering in silence. Many if not all of those returning from the battlefield agonized under the torment of posttraumatic illness. Too often this led to mental illness, alcoholism, drug abuse, and family violence. Although the guns had gone quiet, there was still a war raging in their minds, reverberating through intimate family members, and a different peace that remained to be won.

Our understanding of this disorder has come a long way since, but there are many hills we have yet to climb together. More needs to be done to support our brave servicemen, women, and families who faced and are facing today the devastations of war. We need to end the stigma and make it clear that admitting mental illness does not make us weak. In fact, it takes great strength and bravery. Bravery comes in many forms.

Let us earnestly, then, work in this House and in our communities to preserve the peace through respectful discourse, reducing inequality, and justice for all, remembering the peace that was purchased at such a high price.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Standing ovation]

Dr. Swann Member Statement on Chronic Wasting Disease – 6 April 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, April 6, 2017

Member Statement – Chronic Wasting Disease

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Chronic wasting disease, CWD, is a highly contagious, fatal, transmissible brain disease that threatens both wildlife and the entire agricultural sector. CWD spreads among cervids – deer, elk, moose, and caribou – and persists and remains infectious in the environment. An expert scientific panel years ago confirmed that CWD came to Alberta through captive elk imported from the U.S. in the ’80s. It is a sister disease to BSE, or mad cow disease, which crippled the agriculture sector in the U.K. and seriously compromised our own beef industry for a decade.

CWD is vastly more difficult to contain than BSE because the infectious prions move readily between living animals and have repeatedly actually jumped species barriers. The 2016 Alberta government update indicated that “the geographic distribution of CWD continues to expand” and now includes the Milk River, Red Deer River, North Saskatchewan River and northeast Alberta.

CWD poses a significant threat on at least two levels. The first is biological. In addition to animal-to-animal transfer, it persists in the environment and can infect other cervids through the soil and infect root systems of the plants growing in CWD-infected soils. This jeopardizes wildlife ecosystems and hunting- and wildlife-based communities such as our First Nations, who depend on deer and elk for food.

The second threat is economic. With the science and biological threats now documented, it’s only a matter of time before large markets such as Europe recognize CWD as a risk to their own wildlife, their landscapes, and their economies. This may result in a ban on North American agricultural products. Without immediate action to address these risks, repercussions are enormous. Only immediate, aggressive, and co-operative interprovincial control measures will mitigate this growing risk in both sectors. We need to remember the lessons from BSE and do something to get ahead of this.

Thanks, Mr. Speaker.

Dr. Swann Member Statement on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – 21 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, March 21, 2017.

Member Statement – International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On behalf of the Liberal caucus I’m very pleased to stand in observance of today’s international day against racial discrimination. It’s taken on increasing relevance in light of recent events here in Alberta and around the world. Unfortunately, there are still too many examples of hatred and discrimination based on race and religion. Just last week police in Calgary were called to investigate anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic graffiti in an off-leash park. And a recent attack in Quebec in the mosque has demonstrated that hatred has a cost, a cost that is paid in human lives. That is why we take a stand today to support and promote the Albertan and Canadian values of mutual respect, inclusion, and diversity. We must be clear that such hatred is not acceptable.

I’d also like to take the opportunity to call our attention to more subtle forms of racial discrimination, particularly against indigenous people. Already burdened with the long and destructive legacy of residential schools and racism, that we have only just begun to address, First Nations people continue to struggle with racial discrimination and stigma that robs them of opportunity, contributes to isolation, mental illness, suicide rates five times the average, and violence. I acknowledge the leadership of this provincial government and the federal government in this regard.

A recent Maclean’s article compared aboriginal Canadians to African-Americans and found that aboriginal Canadians were in a worse state on almost every metric, from median income to incarceration rate to life expectancy. We cannot be complacent about this racial discrimination happening beneath our noses, Mr. Speaker. So I stand with the members of this Assembly in condemning any and all forms of discrimination. All people among us are worthy and have the right to live free of discrimination. Clearly, we must do more individually and collectively to put these fine words into action with policies and funding every day.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Dr. Swann Member Statement on Opioid Use – 9 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Thursday, March 9, 2017.

Member Statement – Opioid Use

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This week in a rare display of nonpartisan co-operation we held an important debate on the opioid crisis, and I thank my colleagues across both sides for that.

We also heard from two courageous advocates for better education and more action on the devastating effects of opioid abuse and addiction. Petra Schulz, who lost her son Danny, works with Moms Stop the Harm, a network of Canadian mothers and families whose loved ones have died from substance misuse. Rosalind Davis, who lost her partner Nathan, started the Changing the Face of Addiction organization, a not-for-profit seeking political change and reduced stigma on drug and addictions issues. They say that the government’s refusal to recognize a state of emergency is unacceptable. It perpetuates stigma about opioid-related deaths.

To its credit, the government has taken a number of positive steps, but its approach has mainly been reactive, not integrated across government and nongovernment organizations. Opioid-related overdoses and deaths are reaching unprecedented levels and have now become a national crisis. We don’t have the whole picture yet because the data is simply not available, but what we do know is deeply troubling. In 2016 there were 343 deaths just from fentanyl and many more from other opioids yet to be classified. This 33 per cent increase in one year shows that the crisis is growing at an alarming rate.

If we were getting ahead of it, then I might agree with the NDP, but we’re five years into this, and the government, by its own admission, is still developing the strategy. We require focused leadership and a crossdepartment strategy that would provide co-ordination between all government ministries and nongovernment sectors of society.

Finally, we need to recognize this for what it is, an emergency, and use every means at our disposal to save Albertans’ lives.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Dr. Swann Member Statement on International Women’s Day – 8 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, March 8, 2017.

Member Statement – International Women’s Day

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. An honour to stand with the Liberal caucus on this important day of celebrating women. Today we celebrate the achievements made in gender equality over many years. Just over 100 years ago women did not have the right to vote. Even 50 years ago the franchise was still withheld from our First Nations women. Today women hold 1 in 3 seats in this House. While there is still much progress that needs to be made on many women’s issues, this is an encouraging trend. I look forward to seeing it continue into the future.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is Be Bold for Change. Across Canada, Alberta, and the world individuals and organizations are honouring this day by encouraging women to be bold and, by doing so, with the full support of real men, create real change.

I particularly want to acknowledge the work of Ask Her, a group in Calgary that’s working to encourage the greater representation of women in municipal politics. Ask Her recognizes that one of the reasons so few women hold public office is that they are too rarely asked to run. As such, they encourage Calgarians to seek out strong, qualified women in their communities and ask them to take leader-ship roles. This year Ask Her will ask 20 women to run for Calgary city council. At present only two of the city’s 14 councillors are women, a meagre 14 per cent. Ask Her aims to achieve 50 per cent female representation on council after this fall’s election, and they have my full support.

Our province, our country, our society are made better when strong, passionate, engaged women are involved in their communities and bring their voices to the table. This International Women’s Day we have much to celebrate in the progress women have made. I encourage women, especially young women, to continue to press forward, be bold, and take the lead in creating the change we all so desperately need.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Standing ovation]

Dr. Swann Member Statement on Violence against Women and Girls – 24 November 2016

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Thursday, November 24, 2016.

Member Statement – Violence against Women and Girls

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. It’s my honour to stand, too, and speak to International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Around the world mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers are at risk of injury simply because they are female. In Canada alone the statistics are horrifying. Half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence. On any given night in Canada 3,500 women and

2,700 children live in shelters because it isn’t safe at home, and on any given night 300 women and children are turned away from shelters that are already full in Canada. Finally, every week a woman is killed by her intimate partner in this country.

Violence includes the far more common psychological abuse, trauma every bit as damaging as physical trauma, causing fear, anxiety, and even suicide among women and their children. These may appear to be distant acts committed by anonymous people, but the women suffering, often in silence, are our friends, our neighbours, our family, our co-workers.

Right here in this Chamber the hon. Member for Calgary-North West has to be guarded physically because of the utterly contemptuous threat to her life. Tomorrow is not only a recognition of this widespread violence; it’s also a commitment to end the violence, a task that falls to all of us.

Silence is complicity. Strong supportive voices, especially from men and boys, must be heard to say that misogyny, whether oral, in print, in social media cannot be tolerated. Awareness, education, and advocacy are tools used to fight this, but we in this Assembly have the power to do more. We can pass bills, reduce poverty, increase access to education and life skills for girls and boys, and ensure stable, safe living environments for women and children, as well as improve the criminal justice response. By speaking and acting together against violence wherever it occurs, by increasing the supports available to women and the children they care for, we will end violence against women.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Standing ovation]