Government should legislate timing of the release of post-disaster reports

Calgary, AB (June 9, 2017): Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann says that the government should legislate the timing of the release of post-disaster reports.

“Natural disasters are an unfortunately predictable occurrence in Alberta and reporting on them should be just as predictable,” says Swann. “Last night’s hastily arranged and awkward release of two independent reports on the Fort McMurray wildfire is something that should never be repeated.”

The comments come after it was revealed that the NDP government had not released a damning report into the Fort McMurray wildfire, which it received months earlier, until it was forced to do so as a result of the information being leaked to media.

Swann is calling on the NDP to amend the Municipal Government Act to require the public release of any such disaster event reports within a specified time period.

“The government amended the Municipal Government Act three times in as many years, yet chose not to make this a requirement,” says Swann. “There should be a specific amount of time, perhaps one year, in which all post-disaster reports must be released to the public.

“Leaving the release of disaster event reports up to those may be most embarrassed by its contents undermines the process and politicizes a matter of critical public importance.”


NDP reject overtime and rest periods for paid farm workers and ranchers

Edmonton, AB (June 5, 2017): David Swann is shocked and disappointed by the NDP government’s repeated refusal to extend employment standards for overtime and rest periods to paid farm workers and ranchers.

“Giving paid farm workers and ranchers the same rights as every other employee in the province is fair and reasonable,” says Swann.  “Clearly, the government is gun shy from the fallout from Bill 6 and is not willing to do what is necessary to protect these workers.

“The NDP is hiding behind the Technical Working Groups as an excuse not to do the right thing.”

Swann proposed two amendments to Bill 17, the Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act, to remove exemption from the legislation for paid farm workers and ranchers, first for overtime, and, then, that an employer must provide each employee 30 minutes of rest for every five hours worked.

“This is a government that says it wants the bill to be fair and family-friendly,” says Swann. “It is anything but fair to deny all workers the same basic rights and benefits.”


Announcement to create an Opioid Emergency Response Commission

Edmonton, AB (May 31, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann released the following statement in response to the creation of an Opioid Emergency Response Commission:

“This announcement is a clear admission that the government’s piecemeal response to the opioid crisis has not been sufficient.

“There has been a dramatic increase in opioid-related deaths in Alberta over the last four years, claiming close to two lives per day. Thirteen deaths are being prevented daily by life-saving interventions.

“If this is not an emergency, I do not know what is. Yet the government still refuses to send a formal message to the public about the seriousness of this crisis by declaring a state of emergency.

“The minister repeatedly said it was not necessary because the government already had enough resources to deal with this crisis. Now, she claims this new plan will give her expanded powers, but it is unclear what they are, if they will be enough, and how this is superior to declaring a state of emergency.

“Instead of releasing a clear, comprehensive strategic plan with clearly defined targets, timelines, and accountability measures, the NDP chose to pass the buck to an advisory panel that will provide the minister with political cover.

“While the commission is comprised of accomplished experts, all of whom are standouts in their fields, surely the government has already consulted with these experts in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

“This is another level of bureaucracy that reports to the minister instead of guiding action on the frontlines, which is what the re-establishment of a chief mental health and addictions officer and the declaration of a state of emergency would do.

“At the very least, we should have received an update on the recommendations of the Valuing Mental Health Report submitted 16 months ago, several of which directly address this issue.”


Statement on Auditor General’s Better Healthcare for Albertans Report

Edmonton, AB (May 25, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann released the following statement in response to the Auditor General’s report on Better Healthcare for Albertans:

“I applaud the Office of the Auditor General for conducting this insightful and timely analysis of the root causes behind lack of progress towards the effective integration of health care in Alberta. It speaks volumes about the value of a truly independent officer of the Legislative Assembly and its ability to investigate and report directly to Albertans.

“The report clearly highlights a need to better co-ordinate our primary, acute and continuing care systems to ensure improved access to care and communication among care providers, smoother navigation through the system, and better overall health outcomes.

“We need to reduce barriers to care, involve people in their healthcare decisions, and make sure the right level and quality of care is being provided in the right place, by the right health professional at the right time.

“It is clear that much more work still needs to be done promoting wellness, injury and disease prevention, and chronic disease management. Albertans need multidisciplinary teams that are interconnected, patient-focused and follow a single, consistent care plan.

“The report also explicitly states spending more money on healthcare is not the solution. This undoubtedly means that there must be more accountability for the administrative and financial performance of our system, including physician compensation, billing, ordering of lab and diagnostic tests.

“There is also the opportunity for innovation, better integration of clinical information systems, and use of health data analytics to inform decision-making and ensure we have the best performing public healthcare system possible.

“I share the optimism of this report. Change is not only possible, it is absolutely necessary. It is incumbent on the government of the day to embrace change, commit to honest and transparent reporting of system performance, and depoliticize healthcare funding, infrastructure projects and service delivery.

“Operating in silos has proven to be ineffective. We must work together. Alberta Health, AHS, and the all of the healthcare associations and colleges must seek to improve their communication, co-ordination and co-operation.

“Elected representatives, government officials, healthcare providers, and patients all have an important part to play in ensuring improved access, quality and sustainability of the system and making Better Healthcare for Albertans a reality.”


NDP must allow Bill 205 to be amended to give Advocate more independence

Edmonton, AB (May 23, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann wants Minister Sabir to allow for Bill 205 to be amended to establish the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities as an independent officer of the legislature.

“I certainly hope that Minister Sabir and the NDP government do the right thing and consider establishing the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities as an independent officer of the legislature,” says Swann. “That is what Albertans I’ve talked to want and expect.”

Swann gave notice of his intention to amend the bill, and requested he be allowed to proceed first in the debate for procedural reasons. However, the NDP did not consent. Now in order for Swann to amend the bill, the Minister of Community and Social Services must withdraw his own pre-emptive amendment, which was moved prior to Swann’s proposal.

“This bill is well-intentioned, but having an advocate report to the minister reduces the office’s independence and makes its budget subject to ministerial whim,” says Swann. “A truly independent officer will have a budget set by an all-party committee and report directly to the Assembly.”

Bill 205, Advocate for Persons with Disabilities Act, proposes the creation of an advocate’s office similar to the Health, Seniors, and Mental Health Patient Advocates, all of whom report to a minister and whose funding is determined by ministry officials.

In the past, this has led to the advocates being unable to fulfill their mandates due to lack of resources. For example, in the 2014-15 Annual Report, the Alberta Mental Health Advocate explicitly stated, “The past year posed challenges to fulfill our legislative mandate in a timely manner. This was largely due to the loss of a position and the subsequent reassignment of duties, along with the Government of Alberta’s restraint measures. It had a direct impact on the number of Albertans we served and the comprehensiveness of our investigations” (pg. 4).

Instead, Swann envisions the disabilities advocate having an expanded role similar to that of the Child and Youth Advocate. This move has the support of stakeholders such as Inclusion Alberta and Calgary’s Disability Action Hall, both of whom are also proposing the creation of an independent advocate.


Advocate for Persons with Disabilities must have independence from government

Edmonton, AB (May 19, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann seeks to amend Bill 205 to establish the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities as an independent officer of the legislature.

“This bill is well-intentioned, but having an advocate report to the minister reduces the office’s independence and makes its budget subject to ministerial whim,” says Swann. “A truly independent officer will have a budget set by an all-party committee and report directly to the Assembly.”

Bill 205, Advocate for Persons with Disabilities Act, proposes the creation of an advocate’s office similar to the Health, Seniors, and Mental Health Patient Advocates, all of whom report to a minister and whose funding is determined by ministry officials.

In the past, this has led to the advocates being unable to fulfill their mandates due to lack of resources. For example, in the 2014-15 Annual Report, the Alberta Mental Health Advocate explicitly stated, “The past year posed challenges to fulfill our legislative mandate in a timely manner. This was largely due to the loss of a position and the subsequent reassignment of duties, along with the Government of Alberta’s restraint measures. It had a direct impact on the number of Albertans we served and the comprehensiveness of our investigations” (pg. 4).

Instead, Swann envisions the disabilities advocate having an expanded role similar to that of the Child and Youth Advocate. This move has the support of stakeholders such as Inclusion Alberta and Calgary’s Disability Action Hall, both of whom are also proposing the creation of an independent advocate.

Swann gave notice of his intention to amend the bill, and requested he be allowed to proceed first in the debate for procedural reasons. However, the NDP did not consent. Now in order for Swann to amend the bill, the Minister of Community and Social Services must withdraw his own pre-emptive amendment, which was moved prior to Swann’s proposal.

“I certainly hope that Minister Sabir and the NDP government do the right thing and consider establishing the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities as an independent officer of the legislature,” says Swann. “That is what Albertans I’ve talked to want and expect.”


David Swann statement on 2017 first quarter opioid report, rising death toll

Calgary, AB (May 19, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann released the following statement in response to the release of the 2017 first quarter opioid and substances of misuse report:

“The continual and dramatic increases in deaths since 2013, year-over-year and from quarter-to-quarter are extremely disturbing and saddening given that they are preventable. We are starting to see the same trends here as in British Columbia, but without our government taking the same emergency measures. This is a mistake.

“The opioid crisis requires strong, new leadership from a mental health and addictions expert who can develop and implement an evidence-based and coordinated plan that makes proper use all of the tools at the government’s disposal.

“Therefore, I am renewing my call to declare a state of emergency, and the reinstatement of the Chief Addictions and Mental Health Officer. Increased public education is also needed as well as improved access to harm reduction, including opiate replacement therapy and safe injection sites. And, we must make these resources more readily available, especially outside of our major urban areas.

“I am also troubled by the manner in which this report was made available. As was the case with the interim report, I find it highly disrespectful to concerned Albertans to release such important information without formal commentary from the Minister on a Friday afternoon, and, in this case, just ahead of a long weekend.

“It hints at an NDP government that is more concerned about biding its time, protecting its political skin, and avoiding accountability for a crisis that it clearly does not have a handle on despite its best efforts.

“With each quarterly report, we are seeing the death toll rise. Now, is the time for the government to admit its approach isn’t working, put away its pride, and join with all opposition caucuses and numerous stakeholders, and declare a state of emergency.

“Enough is enough! Our parents, children, brothers and sisters are dying around us. We must give this crisis all the resources available at our disposal if we ever hope to get ahead of this and save the lives of Albertans.”


OP-ED Alberta can learn important lessons from British Columbia’s opioid response

Alberta can learn important lessons from British Columbia’s opioid response.
Opinion/Editorial by Dr. David Swann, MLA Calgary-Mountain View, Alberta Liberal Leader

By any objective measure, the opiate crisis has affected British Columbia far more severely than Alberta. Both legal and illegal opiate use is more prevalent, and it was the first province to see this unprecedented number of deaths due to overdoses of fentanyl and other opiates.

B.C.’s response has been robust. The declaration of a public health state of emergency led to resources being mobilized across government departments and between all stakeholders in a co-ordinated plan. Their Provincial Health Officer reports monthly on the efforts to combat the crisis, and the province has embraced early harm reduction measures such as naloxone kits and supervised injection sites. Despite these efforts, and an investment of $100 million to combat the crisis, the death toll still continues to grow at a rate of nearly four people per day.

Alberta’s situation has not yet reached the same extremes, but we have yet to see a comprehensive strategy that involves all the major stakeholders, including physicians, government departments and non-government organizations. Alberta Health attempts to report deaths and drug overdoses every three months; yet, the final total of opioid-related deaths in 2016 is still unknown. Nonetheless, mortality rates from fentanyl and other opiates still continue to rise in Alberta, approaching two per day.

Naloxone kits are undoubtedly saving lives, but we are not tracking how many, which is an important metric for gauging our progress. Wait times for replacement therapy outside Edmonton and Calgary continue to be too long. There is a troubling lack of information that could help us get an accurate picture of the extent of the problem and the effectiveness of our solutions. The recently announced $6 million from the federal government is a welcome boost, but the province needs to be able to direct those funds in the right areas to make sure they are used effectively.

Similar to B.C., this crisis requires strong, focused leadership. This includes a mental health and addictions experts who can develop and implement a coherent and coordinated plan that makes proper use all of the tools at the government’s disposal and overcomes the silos that have inhibited Alberta’s response. I have proposed to reinstate the chief addiction and mental health officer to spearhead Alberta’s opioid response. So far, the government has refused, and also says declaring a state of emergency is unnecessary.

There is still much to do to address this terrible, preventable tragedy, but doing less than our neighbours to the west is not the answer. If we hope to get ahead of this crisis, Alberta needs to learn from British Columbia’s opioid response, and build upon it, and get ahead of this crisis. The lives of our parents, children, brothers and sisters depend on us getting this right.


Swann asks Auditor General to investigate Pure North grants

Edmonton, AB (May 9, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann is asking the Auditor General to investigate millions of dollars in grants from Alberta Health to Pure North S’Energy Foundation for a vitamin supplement program.

In his letter to the Auditor General, Swann says recent media reports by CBC’s Charles Rusnell and Jennie Russell, as well as his own research, indicate there is a clear cause for concern. Swann is requesting the investigation into both the grant process and the effectiveness of the program itself.

“Certainly, the strong connection the former Administrator of Alberta Health Services had with this program while it was seeking approval raises serious questions,” says Swann. “It is definitely worth a look to see if there was a conflict of interest.

“The public also needs to be assured that millions of dollars of taxpayer money were given for the right reasons and for a program that has a demonstrated track record of improving health.”

An additional area of concern for Swann is the potential public health impacts of providing large amounts of supplements to vulnerable populations without peer review. He worries this could be seen as human trials of an unproven treatment.

“Whatever the motivations for the funding, we must not lose sight of the very real public health and ethical questions raised by the implementation of this program. We need answers.

“In the meantime, I believe the government would be prudent if it suspended further funding of the program.”

A copy of the letter can be found on our website here.


Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann statement on the BC Provincial Election

Edmonton, AB (May 9, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann issued the following statement on the results of the British Columbia provincial election:

“While many votes remain to be counted and many decisions remain to be made, I want to extend my congratulations to Premier Christy Clark for her victory last night. This has been an exciting election and I, like many Albertans, will be watching closely in the weeks ahead.

“As close neighbours and partners in Confederation, our two provinces have many shared interests – as well as points of difference. I encourage the incoming Premier to work with our government to resolve these differences to our mutual benefit, and look forward to our shared prosperity in the coming years.”