Dr. Swann in Question Period on Logging in Kananaskis Country – 18 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Thursday, May 18, 2017

Logging in Kananaskis Country

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Kananaskis Country includes vital headwaters, prime outdoor recreation for Calgarians, an attraction for tourists from all over the world. That’s why a plan for large-scale clear-cut logging in the Highwood region is very concerning to residents from Black Diamond, Turner Valley, and High River. The allocation of trees was supposed to be over a five-year period, yet they’re planning to take it all this year, before the NDP government can amend logging plans or put in additional conservation measures. To the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry: are you aware this is happening, and what are you doing about it?

The Acting Speaker: The hon. Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

Mr. Carlier: Thank you, Madam Speaker and to the member for the question. Our government remains committed to protecting and improving the things that make a difference in Albertans’ lives. That includes protection of land and water. We have good partnerships with our lumber industry right across the province to ensure that sustainable practices are maintained across the province and continue to be so. The partnership is working well. We’ll continue working with this those lumbering partners in the province, including in the area that the member is talking about, to ensure that those sustainable practices are maintained.

Dr. Swann: Madam Speaker, this clear-cut is part of the quota operated by Balcaen Consolidated Contracting, a company from B.C., and the timber will be processed in B.C. This means there are very few jobs for Albertans in this plan to clear-cut a significant part of Kananaskis Country. To make matters worse, it will reduce tourism and recreational economic opportunities, having a negative impact on livelihoods that are based on the region’s intact forest. What is the minister doing to protect jobs and support the economic diversification this provides to Alberta?

The Acting Speaker: The hon. Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

Mr. Carlier: Thank you, Madam Speaker and to the member for the question. Up to 70 communities in the province and over 19,000 workers are in the lumber industry, so it’s a very important industry. We continue to support that industry both nationally and interna-tionally. We’re continually monitoring the harvest operation, whoever is doing that harvest operation, to ensure that sustainable practices are maintained and to meet those standards. Governments, communities, and industries must continue to work together to maintain those standards and ensure the sustainable management of Alberta’s important forestry resources.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Dr. Swann: Madam Speaker, the creeks in the forested slopes feeding the upper Highwood River also contain pure strain cutthroat trout, an endangered species in Alberta, and this activity threatens their further recovery. High River also depends on the forest for flood mitigation. Nonetheless, this operation is slated to start in August even as many concerned citizens are speaking up to protect the local economy, the watershed, and the wildlife. Again to the minister: will you put this logging on hold and order a proper impact assessment before proceeding with this plan?

The Acting Speaker: The hon. Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

Mr. Carlier: Thank you, Madam Speaker. All harvesting oper-ations are done in accordance with operating ground rules in the area. Companies have to work with the department to ensure that their harvesting plans meet those standards. The department then periodically goes out, making sure those standards are maintained. I have confidence that those are maintained. For example, the logging companies must maintain a tree buffer zone around creeks, et cetera, to ensure that we do protect all species, endangered or otherwise, in those harvested areas.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Pure North S’Energy Foundation – 16 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Pure North S’Energy Foundation

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, the former PC government gave a $10 million grant to Pure North for a vitamin/mineral supplement program against the advice of medical officials who expressed concerns over its effectiveness and potential health risks. The NDP last year gave another $4.2 million to the same group for a nurse practitioner program led in a primary care clinic. Fourteen million dollars represents a significant investment in a group that third-party reviewers said should not receive funding. The Minister of Health claimed to have no knowledge of her ministry’s concerns before approving the grant, but an AHS briefing note suggests otherwise. To the minister: given the concerns . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. member. The Minister of Health.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. On what he does say about the $10 million for the wellness program, I have to agree. That’s one of the reasons why my department gave me advice not to extend the funding that was granted under the former government. Twice they gave me that advice; twice I acted on their very important advice. When it came to nurse practitioner demonstration projects, I think all members of this House – I hope all members of this House – would agree how valuable nurse practitioners are, particularly in working with vulnerable populations, and there are a number of different nurse practitioner demonstration projects currently under way just to prove that thing, Mr. Speaker.

Dr. Swann: CBC news reported that former AHS official Carl Amrhein reportedly has a history of participating in and lobbying for Pure North. This raises serious concerns about a potential conflict of interest in the awarding of both these grants. Albertans deserve to know what role he played and whether or not his involvement biased the approval process. I’ve asked the Auditor General to investigate, but perhaps the minister could set the record straight. Were you aware of your deputy and his conflict of interest, and if so, when?

The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Health.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and again to the member for the question. It’s my understanding that Dr. Amrhein made his disclosure to the Ethics Commissioner. If the Ethics Commissioner wishes to look into this further, we certainly welcome that, and it’s my understanding that there were also questions today brought forward to the Auditor General. Again, if the Auditor General chooses to pursue that, we welcome that. The nurse practitioner project has very rigorous oversight, and we welcome that to any of the other decisions that were made under the former government, of course, as well.

Dr. Swann: It doesn’t sound like the minister wants to answer the question. In Public Accounts today I asked the assistant deputy minister if he was concerned that the latest $4.2 million grant to Pure North for a nurse practitioner led clinic program would be used to further the supplements of vitamins and minerals. He denied any connection to Pure North, which clearly views this as an extension of their program. Can the minister assure us that no megavitamins are being handed out by this clinic and table their contract?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much. Just to clarify, the disclosure was made to the Ethics Commissioner. I don’t recall any discus-sions that spoke to that specific matter with regard to the previous question. With regard to the nurse practitioner grant agreement, which this question relates to, the agreement very clearly spells out that Pure North must obtain written permission to use any of the information outside of the agreement, which has not been granted. If any organization does not follow the grant agreement, Pure North or any other, their funding could be discontinued. Clinicians are beholden to their colleges as well as to those who are granting this funding. We, of course, work in partnership with the colleges, but these are for nurse practitioners, RNs, LPNs, and health care aides.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Child Protective Services on First Nations – 10 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Child Protective Services on First Nations

Dr. Swann: Yesterday the wounds from Serenity’s tragic death were reopened as we learned that six more children remain in the same home where her life was cut short. Our first reaction is to assume that the other children in the home might be in danger as well; however, the government says that there’s no evidence of abuse or neglect that would cause them to intervene, and clearly there are difficult jurisdictional issues here involving a federal on-reserve family. That is good to hear, that reassurance from the minister, but Albertans cannot understand why we wouldn’t err on the side of caution. To the minister: as a provincial authority what evidence do you base your decision on?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Larivee: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you to the member for the question. Absolutely, the safety of Alberta’s children is the key priority of Children’s Services, so when there is any evidence or complaint or indication of concern, that is followed up with a thorough assessment as to the safety and well-being of Alberta’s children. I will continue to state very clearly that when there is specific evidence of abuse of a child, that child is apprehended and then is supported by the courts. We continue to monitor the situation to ensure the safety and well-being . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. minister.

Dr. Swann: Well, let me put it very succinctly, Mr. Speaker. First Nations children on reserve land are under the authority of the delegated First Nations authorities. Who is ultimately responsible for the safety of reserve children, the DFNAs or you?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Larivee: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We work very closely with the delegated First Nations authorities to ensure the safety and well-being of children on Alberta’s First Nations. It’s no secret that conditions for children on First Nations in this province are far below what they are for children who live off-reserve. That’s very unacceptable, and there are many issues that need to be resolved, that have been complicated and have existed for a very long time. We’re very committed to working with our First Nations to make sure that First Nations children have access to the kind of care and support that all children deserve, but their safety . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. minister.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, the Premier rightly identified Serenity’s death as a reason to establish the Ministerial Panel on Child Intervention to fix what the Premier called systemic problems. The system supposed to be watching out for Serenity clearly failed; however, we must not allow the jurisdictional issues to fail these children again. Finally, to the minister: if you come to believe that these six children are not safe but are outside your jurisdiction, what is your role to ensure their safety?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Larivee: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’d like to reassure the member that the safety of those children absolutely is my responsibility through Children’s Services. Absolutely, if there is evidence that those children are not safe, that those children are being abused, then we’ll utilize the power that the law has granted to us to apprehend those children.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Gravel Extraction in Flood Plains – 09 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Gravel Extraction in Flood Plains

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My questions are for the minister of environment. The water for life strategy has three main goals: safe, secure water; healthy aquatic ecosystems; a reliable, quality water supply. Gravel extraction in watercourses continues to threaten as flood plains are crucial for long-term protection of our water and flood mitigation efforts, yet this government continues to allow the PC-era policy of continued activity in flood plains. To the minister: why hasn’t the law changed since you took office? Why do you still allow gravel extraction in flood plains?

The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Environment and Parks and climate renewal.

Ms Phillips: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you to the hon. member for the question. He’s quite right that the water for life strategy involves monitoring. It involves clean drinking water. It also involves public education. It also involves compliance and enforcement. We’re very committed to all of those elements of the water for life strategy. As for the particular matter that the hon. member raises, I can assure him that the department is reviewing the matter of gravel extraction and will have more to say about that. Thank you.

Dr. Swann: Well, the conflict is that the Municipal Government Act allows municipal governments authority over water within their boundaries. The Environmental Law Centre said recently that they have a lack of capacity to assess risk, measure cumulative impacts, and protect habitat, recognizing ecological function of the flood plains. Alberta Environment and Parks does have the necessary expertise and is responsible for protecting all surface water, including flood plains. To the minister: when will the minister make water the priority and enforce the ministry’s standards?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Phillips: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. There is no question that years of underfunding the environment department and the operations division in particular under the previous government led to a situation where we have a number of cases in which we simply don’t have enough resources to do the job. That is why we have increased our resources by reallocating within the department – we’ve had this conversation at estimates as well – to ensure safe drinking water, to ensure habitat, and to ensure that Alberta’s water resources are there for environmental, social, and economic reasons. That is why the department is looking at its options . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. minister. Second supplemental.

Dr. Swann: Thanks, Mr. Speaker. Last week I met with members of the watershed planning and advisory committee for the confluence of the Red Deer and Medicine rivers and viewed the 120 acres, productive farmland, in the river flood plain that are going to be turned into another gravel bed. They’re dissatisfied with the lack of transparency in the approval process and the inability to appeal decisions, meaning that finances trump environmental concerns. However, the proposal still needs to be ratified by this province. To the minister: will you commit now to protect these communities and the environment and do a proper cumulative impact assessment before this goes ahead?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Phillips: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. I want to thank the hon. member for his engagement on this topic for the benefit and health of all Albertans. It’s not just on this particular topic, but his history of working on environmental issues is to be commended and in this case as well. I am pleased that he has interacted and engaged with the WPAC in question. I am pleased that he has raised this matter for us. We will ensure that all of the appropriate protocols are followed and that we take a conservation and stewardship ethic approach as we consider this matter of that particular extraction. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Mental Health and Addiction Services – 04 May 2017

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

Mental Health and Addiction Services

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Well, this being Mental Health Week, I expected to hear more government announcements on progress implementing the recommendations from the Valuing Mental Health report, including those on first responders, given that this is the anniversary of the Fort McMurray fire; also on extending funding for the central Alberta regional collaborative service delivery model; and on more timely access to opioid treatment clinics. To the Minister of Health. Sixteen months have passed since the report was accepted. Can you give us an update on the progress made on the 26 remaining recommendations?

The Speaker: The hon. Deputy Premier.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the important question. We are continuing to make good progress, and we look forward to being able to give a fulsome response in the coming days. Even without being able to do the full update in short order, I want to assure everyone that we are continuing to move forward with opioid replacement therapies throughout the province. A great deal of the funds that we received from the federal government to help us address the opioid crisis was funnelled directly to that so that increased opportunities for methadone and Suboxone closer to home are available throughout the province. As well, we continue to work on addictions and treatment options in communities, including a number of detox beds.

The Speaker: Thank you.

Dr. Swann: The regional collaborative service delivery model has proven to be the most efficient and most effective provider of mental health services to children and families. It’s a clear improvement over previous fragmented approaches. A Red Deer mother of a child with special needs is concerned that this funding cut will lead to longer waits for therapy, poorer outcomes, and an increased burden on teachers as they attempt to fill the gap. Again to the minister: will you reinstate the regional collaborative service delivery funding, and if not, why not? This should be expanded, not cut.

The Speaker: The Minister of Advanced Education.

Mr. Schmidt: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’m pleased to answer this question on behalf of the Minister of Education. Of course, we believe that every child in Alberta, including those with special needs, deserves an education that prepares them for success. That’s why our government is working to make life better by improving classroom education for all children by hiring new teachers and teaching assistants and investing over $12 million more this year in inclusive education for students with special needs. It’s important to note that since the RCSD model was introduced in 2014, funding for delivery has actually increased by over $8 million, to over $67 million this year. We will continue to do everything we can to support students with special needs in our classrooms.

Dr. Swann: That hardly explains the cuts to the Red Deer program. Opioid users are seeking help, and often they cannot book during regular business hours. These Albertans require expanded access to treatment clinics, and wait times outside of our two major cities must be shortened. Clinics should meet the needs of people seeking services rather than those providing the services. In other words, services need to be patient centred. To the Minister of Health: will the government commit to reducing wait times and expanding after-hours access to services?

The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Health.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. These are the exact kinds of things that the associate minister has been working on, and we appreciate the recommendations and the support from the member opposite. Earlier this week she was in Lethbridge working at meeting with front-line service providers in terms of harm reduction and making sure that increased supports are available there. They also raised a number of other issues that they’re hoping to move forward with in collaboration, including supervised consumption services, potentially, as well as increased access to other harm reduction strategies in the community. We look forward to being able to support all Albertans and save lives.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Gravel Extraction in Flood Plains – 20 April 2017

Gravel Extraction in Flood Plains

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Well, as a Liberal you might expect me to be asking some questions about marijuana today, but instead of weed I want to talk about rocks and water. Like human lungs, alluvial aquifers around rivers and streams are essential for exchanging surface water and groundwater, but gravel extraction in our flood plains is threatening to choke out our vital water supply. To be blunt, Alberta has the largest scale gravel extraction in the country.

The Speaker: Hon. member, I think your time has lapsed.

Dr. Swann: Impossible. Impossible.

The Speaker: I’m sure that the minister . . . [interjection] Hon. member, I think you need to sit down. What a wonderful day in the neighbourhood. I’m not sure if there was a question in there. The Minister of Environment and Parks.

Ms Phillips: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. I share the hon. member’s concern about, of course, water quality and gravel extraction, as we all do. We all want to make sure that safe drinking water and riparian habitat are appropriately maintained in this province. That’s why, for example, we’ve invested in more river and stream monitoring as part of our consolidation of monitoring in the province, and we’re working with the Sand and Gravel Association and the municipalities on these matters of gravel extraction, ensuring they’re done in the best way possible.

Dr. Swann: Well, to the contrary, Mr. Speaker, it’s clear that there’s a potential for permanent environmental damage when we continue to allow gravel extraction in flood plains. I’ll be tabling photographs from all over Alberta later today. The Minister of Environment and Parks has taken action on science-based evidence in the Castle, so I’m sure that there’s a commitment to using science to make better decisions. Why is science enough to restrict industry activity in the Castle but not in flood plains? Why the double standard?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Phillips: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thanks to the hon. member for the question. Certainly, our department along with Municipal Affairs is working with the Sand and Gravel Association and other stakeholders to ensure that sand and gravel and all aggregate extraction is done in ways that protect our air, land, and water. Certainly, the Sand and Gravel Association has been a good partner to us in that. In many cases we work on a case-by-case basis with the affected municipalities to make sure that we’re upholding the highest standards.

Dr. Swann: The fact is, Mr. Speaker, that the Sand and Gravel Association has a very cozy relationship with municipalities and Municipal Affairs, and they’re the ones financially benefiting from the developments on flood plains. Allowing them to police is like asking a pot user to guard the brownies. What’s needed is for the environment minister to remove the temptation and protect our water. When will you take real action and institute a total ban on gravel extraction in flood plains?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Phillips: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thanks to the hon. member for the question. We will certainly take his views under advisement as we speak to communities who have concerns about flood plains gravel and other aggregate extraction. We’re always looking for a productive conversation with the communities that are affected by these projects. Thank you.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Opioid Use Prevention and Mitigation – 10 April 2017

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

Opioid Use Prevention and Mitigation

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On Friday Alberta Health posted the first near quarter interim report on opioids, further detailing the devastating impact this epidemic is having. An issue as serious as this should have been accompanied by a greater public response. Instead, this government was busy making funding announcements. In the first six weeks of 2017 51 Albertans died from fentanyl-related overdoses, nearly twice as many as last year, yet this government still refuses to call this an emergency. To the associate minister: what will it take for you to call this an emergency?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. The interim numbers that were released last week by the chief medical officer of health confirmed what we’ve heard clearly from front-line health care workers and community agencies, that synthetic opioids remain a deadly threat to Albertans living with substance use, their families, and first responders. That’s why we’re multiplying our efforts and will spend up to $56 million over the next year to help Albertans get the treatment that they need to reduce the harm of substance use and to raise public awareness.

Dr. Swann: This minister has repeatedly told us that the government has already got enough resources to deal with the crisis. However, Albertans with mental health and addiction illnesses are not getting the supports they need to recover. Access to treatment clinics outside of our two largest cities is a major issue. I don’t know of any clinics that are open evenings and weekends. We continue to see a piecemeal approach instead of a coherent strategy, one that involves government and nongovernment organizations, police, human services, and indigenous groups. To the minister: when will we see a comprehensive provincial opioid strategy aimed at getting ahead of this crisis?

The Speaker: The hon. associate minister.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Our response to the opioid crisis is being led by the chief medical officer of health, something that the member opposite has supported. We’re going to make sure that we have all of the tools available, but we believe fundamentally that this is a public health issue. What we will not do is subscribe to the discredited war-on-drugs approach that the Official Opposition supports. Certainly, access to opioid replacement therapy is a critical part of our government’s response, and part of the money allocated in Budget 2017 is to expand the overall capacity and geographic reach of our clinical systems.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, it’s clearly beyond the current chief medical officer.

Following the flood that ravaged southern Alberta in 2013, the previous government established the office of the chief addictions and mental health officer to provide psychological and social help to the flood victims. Later he began to focus on harm reduction issues, including fentanyl and opioids. Instead of supporting this expanded scope for the chief addictions and mental health officer, the minister eliminated the position. My question is now to the Health minister. In hindsight, this may have been a mistake. When will we see the reappointment of the chief addictions and mental health officer to lead this government’s response?

The Speaker: The associate minister.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. As I noted earlier, our response to the crisis is being led by the chief medical officer of health, who’s working very closely with experts in the field to ensure that our plan is heading in the right direction. What we are doing is that we have expanded the reach and scope of our naloxone kit program, which has expanded to more than a thousand registered sites across our province, without a prescription and at no cost to Albertans. We are expanding access to opioid dependency treatments across our province, making use of telehealth and other services to ensure . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, Associate Minister.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on School Fees in Charter Schools

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, April 5, 2017

School Fees in Charter Schools

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. When Bill 1 was announced, a government news release said, “Alberta parents will no longer have to pay school fees for instructional supplies or materials.” As it turns out, this doesn’t mean all parents. Rather, to borrow an Orwellian phrase, some parents are more equal than others. In particular, parents who have students in charter schools aren’t getting a break on school fees. This is wrong since charter schools operate entirely within the public education system. Their parents should be entitled to the same school fee reductions. To the minister: why is the Minister of Education discriminating against charter school parents?

The Speaker: The Minister of Education.

Mr. Eggen: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Certainly, by reducing school fees in An Act to Reduce School Fees, we’re not eliminating them, but we are making important inroads to reduce school fees across the province. We had to make choices around elimination of different fees in different places. It was very difficult to find the money to in fact do this, you know, but it’s worth it because we are putting money back into the pockets of parents when they need it the most. For the 61 school boards here in the province of Alberta that are publicly funded, that is exactly what we are doing.

Dr. Swann: Well, Mr. Speaker, according to the government’s Charter Schools Handbook, “A charter school is a public school that provides a basic education in a different . . . way.” In fact, many charter schools serve marginalized, low-income, and special-needs students. The Association of Public Charter Schools is quite concerned by the decision to exclude them since they are full-fledged members of the public school community. End quote. However, the NDP didn’t create charter schools, so perhaps they view them differently. To the minister: does the minister still consider charter schools public? Yes or no?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Mr. Eggen: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Charter schools are what they are. They are charter schools. The funding for the reduction of school fees, again, was not in its complete form but that, rather, we are looking to reduce school fees over time. So that is exactly what we are doing. I am very proud of the moves that we have made to reduce school fees, and I think that many Alberta families would concur.

Dr. Swann: Curious, Mr. Speaker, that the criterion was whether they were public or charter, so called, when it’s socioeconomic status that would most benefit families. It’s quite clear that the NDP government is singling out charter schools for different treatment, one that is more in line with private schools. That’s certainly what Public Interest Alberta advocates in their recent media release that urged the government also “to phase out the public funding of private schools . . . and reallocate the money to fulfill its education-related campaign promises.” Interestingly, this is exactly the scenario that Bill 1 sets up. If the minister is planning to defund charter schools, why isn’t he telling the Legislature?

Mr. Eggen: Well, Mr. Speaker, certainly, we are putting in money for enrolment and we’ve increased the enrolment funding for all schools, including charter schools and private schools, too. That is the bulk of where schools actually function. I made a choice – we all did – around reducing school fees for schools here in the province of Alberta. We have done so. I think it’s a very proud decision to make to reduce school fees. It will put money back into the pockets of Alberta families and make life easier for Albertans.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Mental Health Services for Postsecondary Students – 4 April 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Mental Health Services for Postsecondary Students

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. My questions are for the Advanced Education minister. Many of our postsecondary institutions have critically needed mental health services on campus. This government has said that it’s committed to funding mental health but failed to increase the mental health budget, which now is shared between 26 institutions in Alberta. It chose to maintain status quo funding of $3.6 million, and the minister called this, quote, a placeholder item. He promised to say more about this in the future. With the Council of Alberta University Students in the gallery can the minister tell us when and how we’ll see postsecondary institutions with adequate, stable mental health funding?

The Speaker: The Minister of Advanced Education.

Mr. Schmidt: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I want to thank the hon. member for his good work in supporting mental health work here in the province of Alberta. Of course, on this side of the House we’re concerned about providing mental health supports for students as well, and the member, quite rightly, points out that we committed $3.6 million. We also struck an advisory panel that is looking at how we can better provide mental health supports for students on campus. Our department is in the process of reviewing those recommendations, and once we’ve reviewed those recommendations, we will decide how those recommendations will be implemented and how the money will be spent.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, when you get down to it, this amounts to about $14 per student per year, which does not stretch very far. However, not all postsecondary institutions receive the same amount. Last year, for example, the U of A received $1 million and the University of Calgary, $900,000. This is now going to be distributed between 26 institutions across the province. Can the minister tell us how the money is going to be allocated?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Mr. Schmidt: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. Again the member, quite rightly, points out some of the inequities in the system that was established under the previous government, and we’re of course committed to fixing those as best we can. That was one of the tasks that the mental health panel was given, and of course we’re looking at its recommendations for how to better support the mental health programs that exist on campuses across the province so that students, whether they’re going to school in Edmonton or Lethbridge or any other communities, have access to the mental health supports they need when they need them. We’ll be working on that, and we’ll have more to say about that in the future.

Dr. Swann: Well, I would like to see a little clearer indication of when, Mr. Minister.

The 2016 national college health assessment indicated that nearly two-thirds of Canadian students have feelings of loneliness, 13 per cent have considered suicide, and 2 per cent have actually attempted suicide on our campuses. It’s getting worse. In the case of campus mental health funding, decisions are not just numbers; we’re dealing literally with life and death. Given that the mental health budget was not increased and there’s no indication of future commitments to allow planning, will the minister tell us which campus services we’re going to cut: proactive care or crisis counselling?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Mr. Schmidt: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. Of course, I’m very concerned about providing mental health supports, just as the member is opposite and just as the people on this side of the House are. As I said before, we’ve committed $3.6 million to providing further mental health supports, and we’re working with our colleagues in Alberta Health to continue to identify resources that are available to provide mental health supports to students on campus. What won’t help mental health is the radical cuts that the members opposite want to make. That will only make students’ lives worse, and of course that’s not what we – we are here to support our students.

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. minister.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on the Mental Health Patient Advocate – 22 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mental Health Patient Advocate

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On Monday I raised concerns about how each year the Mental Health Patient Advocate office’s work increases but the resources do not. The 2015-16 annual report yesterday revealed a significant increase in caseload, yet it was only able to initiate one formal investigation in all of last year. Same staff count as 1990. The associate minister recognized the importance of the Mental Health Patient Advocate’s role but pointed out that funding in Budget 2017 will stay the same. Why isn’t the minister backing up her words with action?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the hon. member for the question. As we discussed on Monday, the Mental Health Patient Advocate is a very important position, and we are actively recruit-ing to fill that role. We also need to make sure that we’re improving access to mental health supports for Albertans so that we can help diminish some of that caseload work by making sure that we’ve got services available to Albertans when and where they need them. I am proud to say that Budget 2017 is delivering on that promise.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, this is about funding for the mental health advocate.

The commitment to new funding to implement the mental health review is promising. Unfortunately, it doesn’t address the Mental Health Patient Advocate’s inability to do formal investigations for people calling for help. Since 1990 the number of people has tripled, the number of issues has quadrupled, and investigations continue to take more time due to complexity. Why is the govern-ment allowing this situation to continue by not properly resourcing the advocate’s office?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. As I said, we are very proud of the work that the mental health advocate has been able to do on behalf of Albertans, and we will continue to support that role and that office. We are also ensur-ing that we are able to expand access to services, working in the community and with mental health practitioners both inside and outside of Alberta Health Services as well as partners within the community. That is one way that we’re working to make life better for Albertans.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, we’re not talking about Albertans in this case. We’re talking about a mental health advocate that has no resources to do her job.

One of the most interesting items in the 2015-16 annual report is the fact that the mental health advocate’s office did not use its entire budget last year. It seems odd given the advocate’s 2015 remarks that there was a critical lack of resources. I understand that approval is required to fill vacant positions and get additional staff even if the funds are available. To the minister: did the government impose last year a hiring and spending restraint on the advocate’s office, and if so, why?

The Speaker: The associate minister.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. Our government has implemented hiring restraint measures across government, ensuring that when positions become vacant, they are being filled when they are critical to the role and to the work of government, including implementing our mandate. A huge part of our mandate is ensuring that Albertans have access to the mental health supports that they need. It is a reality that recruitment takes time and that for these important positions we want to make sure that we are filling them with the right person so that we are able to help make life better for Albertans.