Dr. Swann in Question Period on Methane Gas Monitoring – 15 November 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Methane Gas Monitoring

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This province is full of hot air when it comes to the NDP pledge of a 45 per cent reduction in methane gas emissions by 2025. The Alberta Energy Regulator fails to reliably monitor the amount of leakage from Alberta’s 400,000 oil and gas sites, and industry is underreporting by between 60 and 360 per cent, according to independent studies. To the environment minister: how can Albertans trust that your government will meet the target when it has no credible measures?

The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Energy.
Ms McCuaig-Boyd: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. You know, when we discuss methane regulations, we’re proud to work alongside industry for a made-in-Alberta solution to plan to cut methane pollution by 45 per cent. We’ll soon be announcing next steps in our balanced plan, that will protect jobs while reducing pollution. We do know what’s at stake. It’s jobs, but it’s also the health of our children and our grandchildren, and we take that job very seriously.

Dr. Swann: It requires independent science, Mr. Speaker. Methane also leaks into groundwater. For example, Encana’s coal-bed methane exploration in Rosebud in 2006 was alleged to have contaminated drinking water, forcing expensive studies. It’s still before the courts. The NDP has missed another opportunity to prevent similar disasters with shale gas activity by failing to require baseline groundwater testing before industrial activity. To the Energy minister: when will you hold industry accountable by requiring baseline groundwater testing for all shale gas wells?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms McCuaig-Boyd: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. You know, we’re using facts, science, and innovation to develop a balanced plan, the approach that will create the best conditions for the oil and gas sector using innovation and implementing new technologies. These draft regulations that I mentioned will be available soon. There’s going to be plenty of time for feedback, and I invite all members opposite to be part of that feedback loop.

Dr. Swann: Without baseline testing, Mr. Speaker, nobody knows what’s going on under there.

As if the lack of monitoring of methane gas leakage in the atmosphere and groundwater is not enough, the NDP also eliminated the independent monitoring agency and relies solely on the Alberta Energy Regulator, which is entirely funded by industry. All of this makes NDP promises of better environmental stewardship ring a bit hollow. What is the government doing differently to ensure credible, independent monitoring of methane in our air and water?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms McCuaig-Boyd: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As I mentioned earlier, we’re working alongside not just industry but environment groups and all kinds of groups involved with the oil and gas industry to develop a plan. But when our hon. colleague there mentions hot air, what we hear from the opposite side is not to get a made-in-Alberta plan. They want an Ottawa-imposed plan. They don’t want us to use science or innovation to tackle that. They want us to create uncertainty about Alberta’s industry so that we will get an imposed plan. On this side of the House we’re standing up for an Alberta-made plan, and we’re going to get that plan done.
The Speaker: Thank you, hon. minister.

Dr. Swann in Question Period on the Health Care System – 05 June 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, June 5, 2017

Health Care System

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. For years Alberta Liberals have been pointing to the Alberta Health Services quarterly performance reports as an excellent way for Albertans to assess how the system is working. Unfortunately, those reports are rarely up to date. When I asked the Health minister last week – two weeks ago, actually – she said that she hadn’t seen the report yet, which is troubling.

Dr. Swann: She did promise to follow up immediately with Alberta Health Services and inform the House. Two weeks have passed. The minister needs to respond. When will the reports be released so that Albertans can finally decide what’s going on?

The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Health.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I want to congratulate the member on his second attempt at retirement as leader of his party. Certainly, your service to your party and to Albertans is appreciated, hon. member.

I have followed up with Alberta Health Services, and the report is making its way to their board. Once it is finished going through the board process, it will come to my office, and then I will release it as quickly as possible. This is a process that happens typically. As it’s part of the annual report, it goes to the full board. When it is available, I will certainly reach out to the member and ensure that he’s aware of it.

Thank you.

Dr. Swann: Well, Mr. Speaker, what the data have consistently shown is that we’re failing to deliver humane, comprehensive seniors’ care in this province. The Health Quality Council reports hundreds of seniors not receiving the right level of care in the right place at the right time: 787 people most recently reported being warehoused in hospitals and 973 waiting for placement in the community. With numbers like these how can the minister say that she is providing seniors with dignity at the time when they need it most?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and to the member. Absolutely, there has been a long need for additional seniors’ care, including long-term care, dementia spaces, and increased investment in home care. Certainly, that was the case under the previous government for many years. I’m glad that we’re making important investments in those areas. We’re on track to be able to open 2,000 new long-term care and dementia care spaces within two years, and we’ve increased home-care supports signif-icantly. For those who are living in hospital, we certainly think that the staff there are doing a better job than warehousing, but living in a hospital is not ideal.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, the Auditor General’s report on better health care for Albertans highlighted the opportunity for better integration of clinical information systems. Unfortunately, the government has not yet required physicians to provide their clinical data to other caregivers. Clinicians are looking for leadership. When will the minister require reporting standards for physicians to share important information with other caregivers?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you again, Mr. Speaker. We’re working with the Alberta Medical Association to implement the amendments that were done to the agreement that we have with the physicians. These amendments will see improvements in primary care such as information sharing and data sharing as well. I’m pleased that the physicians came back to the table two years before what was required under the previous agreement under the former govern-ment and that we were able to make these important changes as well as committing investment to a clinical information system to ensure that patients can have integrated, seamless access to their data and that the health professionals who are making decisions have the best up-to-date information for those patients as well.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Opioid Emergency Response Commission – 31 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Opioid Emergency Response Commission

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today the government announced what they call their aggressive opioid plan, which can be summed up as more piecemeal action, including the creation of a new advisory opioid commission. Not only is this an admission that the government’s response has not been sufficient, but after four years of increasing opiate deaths, instead of giving us a clear evidence-based plan – to the minister: now that you’ve got the advisers, how long before we see a public strategic plan with specific targets and timelines?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’m incredibly proud of the group that’s been brought together to form the opioid emergency response commission, which includes harm reduction program advocates, parent advocates, law enforcement, and representation from indigenous communities. The commission has scheduled two meetings for the upcoming month, and I look forward to their recommendations in the very near future. I’m going to allow the experts that we’ve assembled to bring together their recommen-dations rather than try and presuppose their outcomes.

Dr. Swann: All good people, Mr. Speaker. A little late to the table. The minister has repeatedly told us that it was not necessary to declare a public health emergency because the government already had enough power and resources to deal with the crisis. We disagreed. Now she’s claiming that the new plan will expand her powers but can’t say what the new powers are or what will change. To the minister: specifically, what new powers does the minister have to stem the tide?

The Speaker: The associate minister.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. You know, instead of trying to use powers that were meant for an infectious disease outbreak, our government has crafted new, aggressive emergency tools that will move forward and address the actual crisis in front of us, which is a public health crisis. It a question of how we react and respond to people who are living with a chronic health condition. This is an important issue, and as a government we think it’s very important that every single Albertan who is struggling with substance use is treated with respect and dignity and has access to the treatment and the supports they need as quickly as possible.
Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, the people on the front lines are looking for answers, not rhetoric. Whether or not these additional powers are sufficient remains to be seen, but what is clear is that these powers are for the minister, and the commission itself reports to the minister instead of to a public health expert, a mental health and addictions expert. To the minister: how can Albertans have confidence that you will do what’s necessary, especially since it’s taken a year and a half just to get the advisory panel in place?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thanks, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. The commission will be directing aggressive action focused on six key areas, including harm reduction, treatment, prevention, en-forcement, collaboration as well as data collection and monitoring. The commission will be providing recommendations directly to my office around how we can best use the tools and the $30 million in new budget dollars for 2017 to have the best impacts quickly within our communities, and then the commission is going to be respon-sible for implementing those actions. I fully trust the members of this commission to do an excellent job. We have a very talented group assembled.

Dr. Swann in Question Period on Health Information Reporting – 25 May 2017

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

Health Information Reporting

Dr. Swann: This afternoon the Auditor General is set to release a report called Better Healthcare for Albertans, which analyzes the root causes of the government’s lack of progress in specific parts of the health care system. One way to gauge the system is to look at the AHS quarterly performance reports. However, the last quarter of 2016 came out in April 2017, and this quarter’s performance is still not on the AHS website. The PCs often delayed, changed, or stopped reporting altogether when it failed to meet targets. I had hoped that the NDP would do better. To the Minister of Health: where is the report, and why the delays?

The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Health.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate the question from the hon. member. I haven’t seen the report yet, but I will certainly follow up with AHS immediately and follow up with the House and with the public as soon as possible.

Dr. Swann: Well, last week, Mr. Speaker, the Métis Nation of Alberta released three new health reports detailing higher rates of injury, tobacco-related disease, and problems with Métis people accessing the health system. However, as Keith Gerein’s article points out, these studies are based on outdated information, inclu-ding one report that doesn’t have data more recent than 2009-10. Again to the Minister: given the importance of these issues what are you doing to improve the quality and availability of Métis health information to address specific concerns raised in the report?

The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Health.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Our govern-ment has committed to rebuilding the relationship with the indig-enous peoples of this land. In February of 2017 our government signed a 10-year framework agreement with the Métis Nation of Alberta, and we are very proud of that. This commitment includes working with indigenous communities, including the $300,000 that we used to develop these reports, and also providing analytical support to the community. We’re proud to work with them and not do things to them.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, late Friday afternoon, just ahead of a long weekend, Alberta Health posted the first-quarter opioid death reports, showing a 61 per cent increase over the same quarter in 2016, without so much as a comment from the minister, much less a thoughtful analysis of what’s working and what’s not working in our approach. Surely we deserve a higher degree of reporting and transparency. Will the minister commit today to establishing a predictable, monthly reporting to the public and some analysis of how the program is working? If not, why not?

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much for the question. Mr. Speaker, we had a choice. As soon as the data was available, we chose to release it rather than holding on to that data and waiting through the whole weekend. We thought it was important to be open and public with that data, so we made it available as soon as we possibly could. In terms of availability I was actually at a press conference that afternoon where we were talking about work that we’re doing to help with truth and reconciliation as well as with missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. I’m very happy to answer questions, and if the member has some that he’d like to pose, I would be happy to continue to enter into this dialogue. We’ve been doing extensive work, and we want to be open with our data. That’s why we made it available as soon as possible.

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.