Dr. Swann in Question Period on Opioid Addiction Treatment and Death Reporting

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Opioid Addiction Treatment and Death Reporting  

Dr. Swann: Bah. Humbug. Mr. Speaker, deaths from opiates are still increasing in year 4 of the most serious public health crisis in memory. Today I talked with a grieving mother who lost her daughter, presumably from a fentanyl overdose, in July. We still don’t know. Tragically, her daughter had been succeeding in a drug rehab facility right up until the point she was thrown out before her program was ended, allegedly because she also had bulimia, which the facility couldn’t accommodate. This girl, a college student without meaningful family input, was literally dropped off at a gas station to be picked up. Does the Premier feel that we are doing enough, that she is doing enough to create a sense of urgency . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. member. The hon. Premier.

Ms Notley: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you to the member for the question. As we’ve often discussed – but let me reaffirm – the rise of elicit opiates, including fentanyl and the more powerful carfentanyl, has created a public health crisis here in Alberta and, quite frankly, across the country. Our hearts go out to the parents, the spouses, the brothers, the sisters, and the children who have lost loved ones. This government believes in harm reduction, and we believe in offering Alberta supports, not just stigma. So we are working carefully on a number of different avenues to improve the way that, as government, we can respond to this crisis, and our members will be . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. Premier. First supplemental.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Given that opioid death rates in Alberta now exceed one per day – public health doctors estimate that we have approximately 40,000 to 50,000 addicts in Alberta – and given that together Calgary, Edmonton, and Cardston, the main Alberta Health Services clinics, manage only 2,500 patients a year and given that four- to six-week wait times are now the norm in our treatment centres and given that many of Alberta Health Services’ clinics close at 3 o’clock every day, does the Premier feel that the urgency of this matter is being addressed in Alberta?

The Speaker: The hon. Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. I have to say that I really do appreciate the member’s compassion and advocacy on this issue. Our government is working very diligently to expand access to opioid replacement therapies, which are known as best practice, in order to address opioid misuse disorders. He listed off the number of clinics that are being operated by AHS. We’re working with partners in the private clinics as well as working with doctors in the primary care setting so that stabilized patients in ODT centres can then be transferred back to the community for maintenance with their doctor.

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

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Well, given that B.C. is managing to report on opiate deaths, emergency room visits for opiate conditions, naloxone survivors, and wait times for therapy every month but given that Alberta reports every three to three and a half months, with some families not receiving reports on their dead loved one for eight to nine months, can the Premier tell us: is she going to direct the Justice minister and the Health minister to provide more timely information on these deaths?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. Certainly, in B.C. they have a different set-up than we do here in Alberta. Here in Alberta we are having the information around emergency room visits reported to the chief medical officer of health, who is leading our government’s response to this very important crisis. Additionally, the reporting information that we’re getting from the Chief Medical Examiner is being reported back on a continual basis to the chief medical officer of health. They’re working quite closely. I look forward to talking more in depth with the member in our meeting later this week.

 


Dr. Swann Debates Bill 35 – Fair Elections Financing Act

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, December 12, 2016.

Bill 35 – Fair Elections Financing Act (Committee of the Whole)

The Deputy Chair: Are there any comments, questions, or amend-ments to be offered with respect to this bill? The hon. Member for Calgary-Mountain View.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. I move an amendment to Bill 35, the Fair Elections Financing Act, and I have the appropriate number of copies to circulate before I speak to it.

The Deputy Chair: Thank you, hon. member. Your amendment will be referred to as A9.

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Madam Chair. Let me know when you’d like me to proceed.

The Deputy Chair: Please go ahead.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. I move that the bill be amended in section 43 in the proposed section 44.1 by striking out subsection (1)(c)(i) and substituting the following:

(i) the production of an election advertising message or political advertising message in the format in which the message is to be transmitted, and

by striking out subsection (1)(d)(iv) and substituting the following:

(iv) the transmission by a person, corporation or group, on a non-commercial basis on the Internet, of the political views of that person, corporation or group,

next, by striking out subsection (1)(g)(iv) and substituting the following:

(iv) the transmission by a person, corporation or group, on a non-commercial basis on the Internet, of the political views of that person, corporation or group,

and by adding the following after subsection (2):

(3) The Chief Electoral Officer may issue guidelines respecting the application of this Part and shall publish any guidelines on the Chief Electoral Officer’s website.

Madam Chair, I think this amendment is helpful for clarifying what should be captured under third-party advertising by doing three things. First, the amendment would clarify that the definition of production of election advertising should be focused on expenses that are directly associated with the making of a third-party political or election advertisement. The reason I believe this is necessary is that I don’t think we want to hamper organizations who perform work that is not meant to be captured. Civil society is important, public discourse is important, and these things should be protected. I also believe in making sure that we provide as much clarity as possible within our legislation, and I hope the government will agree with this approach.

Second, this amendment offers clarity to ensure that third-party advertising does not include the noncommercial transmission of political views expressed by individuals or organizations on the Internet, where there is no paid expense. We don’t want to inhibit that. We know that regulating third-party advertising helps improve transparency and confidence in the electoral system. However, we do not want to restrict individuals or organizations from engaging in public discourse through the Internet where election or political advertising is not in fact taking place. Some may argue that this intent is already clear in legislation, but I would submit to the House that we should be as strong and clear as possible in our language. This amendment clarifies that we intend to capture paid advertising where the third party, an individual or organization, is engaged in an advertising buy that comes in an expense, whether the expense is in-house or from a hired individual or firm.

The third rationale, Madam Chair, is that in order to ensure that third parties understand fully the letter, spirit, and intent of the legislation, I’m proposing that we make a change to allow the Chief Electoral Officer to issue guidelines with respect to this part from time to time. This will follow the common practice in federal elections financing, which allows the Chief Electoral Officer to work with the parties and issue important guidelines from time to time with respect to the application of these new rules.

Madam Chair, these are big changes, and I believe these amendments will help to ensure the smooth transition to a more transparent system, which will provide clarity and balance to our electoral system and public discourse. I encourage all members to consider this amendment.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

The Deputy Chair: Thank you, hon. member.

Are there any members wishing to speak to amendment A9? The hon. Member for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre.

Mr. Nixon: Thank you, Madam Chair, for the opportunity to rise today. Actually, I probably have a couple of questions for the hon. member through you about his amendment. I do think that this emphasizes the concern that the opposition has had the entire way through this piece of legislation. As you know, Madam Chair, the work that the government members did during the Ethics and Accountability Committee to try to bring forward amendments to be able to get their campaign expenses paid for and the party expenses paid for ultimately derailed the entire process before it could complete its work on third-party advertisement.

Now, third-party advertisement was one of the most important things that the committee was undertaking. There are some con-stitutional issues with that. As well, there are some clear examples across the country and across North America, for that matter, where things like PACs have had some serious issues that we have to make sure that we get right. I think the member is touching on some of

December 12, 2016 Alberta Hansard 2517

those areas that it would’ve been nice to have seen completed to make sure that we did get it right and that we were understanding the issue completely.

I probably will have some more to say in a second, but first I would like to ask through you, Madam Chair, to the member if the intent of this is to make sure that individuals could protect their right to free speech on concerns they have through things like social media and mechanisms that they may have on this. First, I would support that intent, and I believe the committee made it clear that they support that intent. But my concern in the way that I’m reading this right now – and I’ve only had it for a short time – is that this would allow a PAC to complete their $150,000 cap on billing content of some sort for a general election, let’s say, and then we allow something like a trade union or a corporation to be able to unlimitedly use social media and their resources to push that content out across the sphere, which I think would be counter-productive to what we’re trying to do on third-party advertising.

If the member is trying to make sure, again, that an individual or an individual corporation could share something on Facebook or say that they agree with something, that would be freedom of speech, something that I think we should protect. But the way I’m first reading this right now, Madam Chair, is that this will leave a bit of a loophole and allow trade unions and corporations to be able to use their financial resources, et cetera, to push this out on social media.

So I’d like to get a little feedback on that, and I’ll probably have a few more comments to make after that, Madam Chair.

The Deputy Chair: The hon. Member for Calgary-Mountain View.

Dr. Swann: Well, thank you, Madam Chair. I’m puzzled as to why that would be the interpretation. I think it’s relatively clear in the amendment that what we’re trying to do is ensure a level playing field for all in a nonwrit period, especially, to express themselves, their views, their political views, their economic views freely. This amends the original bill in order to ensure that we include corpora-tions and not exclude them from their rightful role in society, again limiting that role in the writ period but allowing it in the prewrit period so that everyone is indeed on the same level playing field, social media notwithstanding.

….

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. I, too, remember this discussion in committee and felt at the time that this was a solution in search of a problem. I don’t think we’ve really seen the evidence that the cost of this relative to the benefits of this is really a reasonable approach. I’m quite convinced by the Member for Vermilion-Lloydminster, with his very passionate and clear argument, that this a step too far, that this is a bridge too far. We have not seen this as a significant problem. It’s going to cost very substantially in terms of manpower and dollars, and as far as I’m aware, no other jurisdiction is following this guideline.

Yes, indeed. After someone is nominated, after someone is running for election, we have every right to know everything about where this potential new member of the Legislature or Parliament is receiving their support, but I think it’s just a step too far. And I hope the members in the government will consider this in terms of the balance between the right to know everything and the costs to the public purse and the relevance of nomination processes. In the vast majority of cases for Albertans it’s simply not substantive enough to require this, what I would also echo as an overreach in terms of what is a legitimate concern about transparency and accountability. I have yet to see the evidence that it is a problem that requires this magnitude of intervention and solution.

Thank you, Madam Chair.


Dr. Swann Debates on Motions Other than Government Motions: Downstream Water Security

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, December 12, 2016

Motions Other than Government Motions: Downstream Water Security

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Very pleased to rise in support of this motion. It’s an easy motion to support. It’s our lifeblood, after all. The eastern slopes provide all the water to Alberta and to the rest of the prairie provinces, in fact, and it’s the source of all life and productivity, whether it’s agricultural or industrial. So it’s very clear that this really should be a higher priority than it has been for decades.

Peter Lougheed back in the ’70s established an eastern slopes policy that actually restricted industrial and commercial activity on the eastern slopes. Somehow over time that has gradually fallen away, and we’re in a state now where the designated areas for protection have not only become – what would I say? – thwarted or incompletely implemented but certainly misunderstood and certainly violated by past governments since Peter Lougheed. All manner of development has gone on now on the eastern slopes that not only threatens the quality of our water and the cost of cleaning the water, in Calgary for example, but all urban areas downstream of the mountains have to spend more and more dollars to clean the water because of not only more depositions from erosion but also from industrial and agricultural, even recreational use up there. Certainly, logging has added to the erosion and the loss of capacity to control high levels of flow or, as the hon. Member for Banff-Cochrane mentioned, control the flow for drought circumstances as well.

Dr. Brad Stelfox is a neighbour and has been an adviser to me for a decade. He has visited most environment and agriculture ministers since I got into this Legislature and has presented his ALCES model, which is recognized around the world as a wonderful visual indication of cumulative impact over many decades of development and has helped us get a sense of just how the pace of our development is threatening not only our water supplies but our industrial activities and all manner of activities that we are associating with economic development. By failing to manage the eastern slopes, we are failing to manage our economy in a very fundamental way. It’s a reminder that the economy is a subset of the environment. It’s not the other way around. If we don’t preserve the environment, we do not have an economy, and certainly we do not have our health.

Three levels of importance to water: not only the quality, not only the quantity of water but the in-stream flow needs, the so-called adequate volume that has to be maintained in streams and rivers for life to be supported there. Fish life, plant life, animal life: all of these require a minimum in-stream flow, which is threatened every fall. With the glaciers being limited further and further as years go by, there is a real threat, especially in southern Alberta, which has been known as the desert part of Alberta in past generations. The area that early explorers felt was uninhabitable and potentially desert has been close to that, especially through the Depression. We cannot assume anything for our future, especially with the unpredictability of climate change and the extremes that we can expect in terms of rain and water loss.

Those are some of the key elements of this. It’s one thing, though, to pass a motion that is motherhood; it’s another thing to actually put in place clear limits to activities and zones of development and protection against development. I applaud the hon. member’s efforts to highlight this yet again. In my time, 12 years in the Legislature, this is probably the fourth or fifth time that it’s been highlighted. It needs now to move on to much more substantive protection measures: bills, I would argue, regulations.

Off-highway vehicles have been a big issue in the eastern slopes that continue to be a damaging factor, especially in southwestern Alberta. But I think that on up the eastern slopes it’s going to be a growing problem as we get – I think Alberta has the most off-highway vehicles per capita of anywhere in Canada if I’m not mistaken, perhaps not including the Northwest Territories. We are increasingly using off-highway vehicles for recreational use in the mountains, and it’s causing very substantial impacts.

I would welcome the chance to move this forward in the next phase to some very clear guidelines, beyond what the South Saskatchewan River basin plan has done. It has made some steps towards limiting development and identifying protection areas like the park and wildland that have been established in southwestern Alberta, but I think it’s clear that we have to do more in relation to better logging practices, designating trails for off-highway vehicles instead of letting people go wherever they want, wherever there’s a trail, and designating recreational use, which is a tremendous possibility for our future economic development. Recreational tourism and the film industry out in the mountains have to be long-term economic drivers for us, which will have that as a side benefit, the primary benefit being, of course, protection of quality and quantity of water for all of us and indeed for recreational activities such as fishing and so on.

If any area of the province is absolutely dependent on better eastern slopes management, it’s the south part of this province. We don’t have a lot of water here. Most of our water is in the north. Most of our population and demands are in the south. It’s very clear, from all the reports that this member has referred to and others, that we neglect this at our peril. There have been no new water licences issued since 2006. It’s 10 years ago that we realized we’d reached the limit of our water capacity. Surely that’s the writing on the wall that says: folks, we’ve gone too far too fast. Especially in southern Alberta, what has to be the primary focus of policies on the eastern slopes is water protection for the future.

With that, I’ll take my seat. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Chronic Wasting Disease – 8 December 2016

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Thursday, December 8, 2016

Chronic Wasting Disease

Dr. Swann: I’m shifting topics to the Alberta prion institute, that just received $11 million from Genome Canada to trace chronic wasting disease in deer, elk, and moose in Alberta. We need to act now to prevent a catastrophe not only in wildlife but in our agri-culture community. CWD is a fatal brain disease like mad cow disease. It’s spreading across western Canada since its introduction in game farms, and 15 years ago, the experts said that BSE, mad cow disease, would never cross species. Now, several hundred people have died from BSE.

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. member. [interjection] Your time is allocated, hon. member. Is there a minister who would like to announce . . . [interjection] Hon. member, your time is up. Please proceed, hon. minister.

Mr. Carlier: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the very important question. You know, as a government we absolutely recognize the importance of keeping our livestock – our tame livestock, our domestic livestock, wild livestock – safe from any form of disease. It’s important for biosecurity reasons, for our markets, for everything. We’re continuing to work with the industry – the farming industry, the wildland farming industry, other livestock industries right across the province – on all our biosecurity issues and continue to be working with the member with the question as well on making sure we can do all we can. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Dr. Swann: It’s been a decade since I started raising these issues. When will you ban the movement of all potentially wasting-disease-infected carcasses, live animals, products, equipment, or other sources of infectious materials across this province?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Mr. Carlier: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and the member for the question. The odd time that, you know, those biosecurity issues do come up in the province, the department takes it very seriously and reacts very quickly. Those operations do happen not that often, but we do take action on it. Continuing to work with the member, we welcome the member’s input in going forward to do much more if we could.

Dr. Swann: No action. No action in 10 years. Given there’s now evidence that thousands of citizens are unknowingly consuming infected animals, including First Nations, will the minister mandate and implement now convenient, cost-free testing of all animals harvested in the CWD-affected areas?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Mr. Carlier: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. The member I think does realize that there is testing going on. It is true that we have over the past few years, you know, picked up a couple of incidents when this has happened. It isn’t the doomsday scenario that he’s trying to make us believe. Incidents do happen. We have control of it. We continue with those controls. I have all the confidence in our public servants to do what they do best, and that is to make sure that we’re all safe. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.


Dr Swann Debates Bill 25 – Oil Sands Emissions Limit Act – 06 December 2016

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, December 6, 2016.

Bill 25 – Oil Sands Emissions Limit Act (Committee of the Whole)

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. I think it’s important for us to continue to wrestle with this issue. The issue for Alberta today is whether we lead or whether we follow. It’s been probably 50 years since we began hearing about some of the impacts of increasing carbon in the environment and the growing evidence that temperatures were associated with it, that extreme weather events and changes and floods and droughts and these sort of issues were coming forward.

It’s difficult to make change, especially when you’re a leader. It does mean that you take some hits. As the Stern report said 10 years ago, a very voluminous discussion, the best experts in the world on climate science: we can spend 2 per cent of our GDP on trying to mitigate and reduce greenhouse gases now, or our children will pay 20 per cent of our GDP dealing with greenhouse gases. That was 10 years ago. Even former Bank of Canada chief Mark Carney said that we’re going to have to leave something in the ground, or we will not achieve any control over the climate.

Of course, leadership means not being necessarily fully competitive with other jurisdictions. That’s what leadership means in this context. We do have to pay. If Alberta is not willing to pay a little bit, who is willing to pay?

Mr. MacIntyre: No one else is.

Dr. Swann: Right. So are we going to accept that we can’t be leaders? Are we going to say that we can’t be leaders?

I want to applaud the government for the exemptions that it has put in place. Cogeneration is going to be exempt, and that’s coming from the oil sands. All cogeneration is exempt. There’s a limit of 10 megatonnes. Exceptions for new methods that result in low emissions such as experimental projects in primary production which extract bitumen through drilling without the use of heat or steam: these are stimuli for new technologies in the oil sands. That’s going to take us to a new level.

Can the environment take ever-increasing levels of carbon? No. There’s a cap that has to go on that, and the cap is associated with a 1.5- to 2-degree increase that’s projected in our climate temperature. We’re at 400 parts per million now. Some say 350 or 375 was kind of associated with that 1.5- to 2-degree increase in our temperature over the next hundred years. That carbon, that greenhouse gas is staying up there for 100 to 150 years. We’re not going to turn things around in the next hundred years regardless of how dramatically we change things here, but we have to start. We have to show leadership. This will actually stimulate new technologies. It will stimulate new business. It will stimulate a new economy.

As much as I have concerns about how this is going forward, I have to say that I can’t support this amendment because it’s not recognizing the need that leadership always presents. Not all of the population is ready to go along. If you ask people if they want an increased tax, they will say: no, thank you. Actually, what is needed is strong leadership and a willingness to put a cap on what we’re doing to show not only Canada but the world that Alberta, the most privileged, the most wealthy, the most well-resourced place on the planet, recognizes its responsibility to show some leadership. Yeah, it’s going to cost us something. We need to make provisions for people who are transitioning from coal. We need to provide new technologies and jobs and opportunities for them; we need to financially support them if they are in distress. That’s what a good government does.

We have to make sure that we stimulate with research and technology not only better ways of extracting our main resources, which are fossil fuels, but research the new technologies around geothermal and solar and wind that could help us actually make the transition and show the world that we’re not dragging our feet, that we’re not staying back in the fossil fuel age of a hundred years ago. We’re recognizing that there are limits. We’re acknowledging with the rest of the climate science and the rest of the international community that we have to put a cap on what the planet can take. The planet cannot continue to take increases every year. Yes, leadership does mean that we’re sticking our necks out.

Mr. Hunter: Other jurisdictions are increasing.

Dr. Swann: Yeah, they may be increasing. Well, are we just going to follow that blindly right over the edge of the cliff and leave our children to deal with the crisis? I’m saying that it’s time to show leadership. It’s time to show leadership.

I spoke against the unlimited borrowing of the Power Pool. I speak for this bill. Thank you, Madam Chair.


Dr Swann Debates Bill 36 – An Act to Enhance Off-highway Vehicle Safety – 06 December 2016

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, December 6, 2016.

Bill 36 – An Act to Enhance Off-highway Vehicle Safety (Committee of the Whole)

Dr. Swann: It’s a pleasure to rise on this important Bill 36 and offer to strengthen it in terms of public safety. I have the amendment here, and we’ll proceed once it’s distributed or at your request, Madam Chair.

The Chair: This will be known as amendment A2. Go ahead, hon. member.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. I move that Bill 36, An Act to Enhance Off-highway Vehicle Safety, be amended at two levels. Section 3 is amended in the proposed section 128.1(2) by adding: “and has received safety training in accordance with the regula-tions” after the section that says, “unless the person is properly wearing a safety helmet.” Section 4 is amended in the proposed section 129 by adding the following after clause (f): “(g) respecting standards for safety training, including the proper use of helmets, to be completed prior to a person driving, operating, riding in or on or being towed by an off-highway vehicle.”

Madam Chair, this is an important move forward, this whole bill, towards safety, especially for children but for all riders of ATVs. I’m particularly focused on those under the age of 16 and will remind this House that across Canada we’re almost the only province that allows 14-year-olds to drive ATVs independently. Everywhere else it’s 16. Virtually everywhere else. That’s a concern to me, so I had hoped today to also offer an amendment to raise the age of appro-priate driving of an ATV, but it’s been ruled out of order because this is a helmet bill. So I’ll encourage the minister to examine the whole age question at another time and hope that at some other point in the next year we could revisit the age restrictions and ensure that we try and reduce the carnage with children.

To bring out the latest data from the Alberta Centre for Injury Control & Research, there were 1,053 emergency room visits in the last two years from ATVs, a 9 per cent increase in the off-highway vehicle emergency department visits; 84 hospital admissions per year in the last two years; and 33 of the ATV deaths in the last 10 years – that is about three per year – were children under the age of 16. About three per year, then, of our children under the age of 16 died with ATVs. The rest of the country has said that you should be 16 or older to drive an ATV. We’re still accepting 14. I leave that under advisement since that’s not the substance of our amendment here.

What I’m passionate about is that, at the very least, anyone who drives an ATV should have a proficiency test, should be trained in the mechanical and the physical aspects of managing safely, understand some of the forces and the speeds that they’ll be going at, understand what happens on irregular terrain, understand how to deal with a rollover, understand how to deal with someone else who’s involved with some kind of an ATV incident. In other words, every motorized vehicle that we have authorized in Alberta has a training program associated with it, a mandatory training program and licensing for things like motorbikes and cars, at least. We don’t necessarily have a licensing requirement for young people who are driving these vehicles.

So I think there needs to be some further work on this bill, but at the present time this amendment is simply requiring all new drivers or any drivers under the age of 16 to take a proficiency training examination. Sorry. It’s not under the age of 16; it’s any driver to have given some evidence that they have taken a proper safety course before driving this vehicle.
I’ll open it up for discussion, Madam Chair, and welcome the debate.

….

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. Well, I’m disappointed, to be sure, that the government couldn’t take it further than simply helmets, but it is progress. I can assure you that I will be on the minister’s case in the new year. I expect that he will get both letters and appeals from those in the community that see an opportunity to reduce suffering, handicaps, and hospitalizations, up to 1,000 a year. Three children under the age of 16 die every year, partly from a lack of parental oversight, I presume. But I guess one has to say that if need be, children deserve the state trying to protect children where parents aren’t there for them, aren’t requiring good training, aren’t requiring them to be supervised, aren’t requiring them to learn the basics of how to deal with an emergency situation on their all-terrain vehicles. Age is a critical factor in their capacity to manage a thousand-pound transportation device, and training is a critical factor. I don’t think we need to know that. We have established that in respect of motorbikes and cars and other vehicles.

I don’t think that this is also applying to snowmobiles. Are we going to have to bring forward a separate bill for snowmobiles? It’s not clear to me, but they are managed in the same way as ATVs in some legislation. It’s clear that that’s the next step. If this helmet law doesn’t apply to ATVs and snowmobiles, I think we’re missing an opportunity, and I think we’ve missed a crucial opportunity to put more age restrictions on those who are operating what can be very serious weapons for injury both to self and others.

I will leave my comments there. The minister has known for some months that these were areas that we both agreed upon, and I expected more from this bill, but I will continue to press for those changes. Thank you, Madam Speaker.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Addiction and Mental Health Strategy – 05 December 2016

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, December 5, 2016

Addiction and Mental Health Strategy

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In June of 2015, shortly after taking office, the Premier announced a review of mental health and addictions here in Alberta. She recognized that the current system was not good enough and announced that her government would act on the matter. The committee reported the Valuing Mental Health report one year ago. Hundreds of front-line workers and families who participated and continue to participate and offer input are still waiting for an update on the 26 remaining recommenda-tions to fix our inconsistent and fragmented mental health and addictions system. To the associate minister: what progress has been made beyond the six initiatives?

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

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I would thank the member not just for his question but for his tireless advocacy on this issue as well as his service on the review committee. Our government recognizes that mental health and addiction treatment are a priority not just for Health but across ministries and within the community as well. We’ve been working very closely with community leaders and service agencies on the implementation of the report, and we’ll have more to report in the coming weeks.

Dr. Swann: Well, Mr. Speaker, it’s been almost 12 months. I think we’re expecting more timely reporting. Given that the panel itself identified primary care and primary care network reform as essential for these health providers in order for them to play a stronger role in addiction and mental health, what reforms have occurred in primary care?

The Speaker: The hon. associate minister.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for his question. The role of the primary care networks and primary health more broadly within our health system is a very critical one, and we’ve been working very closely with the PCN leads not just around how we’re incorporating mental health services but also how we can include interdisciplinary teams throughout the system and throughout our province so that Albertans know that they are getting the best quality care that they can and so that we’re able to make the best use of the resources available.

Dr. Swann: Again, Mr. Speaker, we’re looking for progress. Can the minister provide evidence of progress? Given that the opioid crisis continues unabated, now over one death per day in Alberta, and a wide range of professionals need to know how this crisis is changing, when will we see public reporting monthly to assess ER wait times, ER visits, wait times for treatments, naloxone use, and deaths so we can assess whether things are getting worse or better?

The Speaker: The hon. associate minister.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. This is data that our department is tracking through the chief medical officer of health. I’m pleased to update the House that as of October 31 over 7,200 naloxone kits have been distributed to Albertans through nearly 900 registered sites, which include local pharmacies and university campuses. We know that because of this we are seeing a decline so far in the number of overdoses but also that patients are able to access life-saving medical interventions because that naloxone dose is able to reverse . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. minister.


Dr Swann Debates Bill 36 – An Act to Enhance Off-highway Vehicle Safety – 05 December 2016

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, December 5, 2016.

Bill 36 – An Act to Enhance Off-highway Vehicle Safety (Committee of the Whole)

Dr. Swann: Well, thanks, Madam Chair. I’ll be brief. This is really about establishing a culture of safety. Whether or not older people, including hunters and trappers, are fine operating their vehicles, we’re setting a standard for kids, for young people.

A culture of safety starts with adults modelling behaviour that says: my head, my body, my machine; the people around me matter, and I’m going to do everything I can to prevent injury and death and cost to the health system. A minor inconvenience or a minor cost like a helmet or even age restrictions would be, to me, no-brainers, if I can use that term, if we’re really trying to establish a culture of health and safety and model it for our kids. That’s precisely what needs to happen if we’re actually going to get to less injuries.

There’s been a 30 per cent increase in injury rates from ATVs over the last 10 years. That’s just involving children. I’m most concerned about children. A 30 per cent increase over 10 years in children’s injury rates associated with ATVs suggests that we need to do more. My view would be similar to that across the building here, to say, “Let’s do everything we can to set standards that are not the worst in Canada,” which they are in Alberta today. The Canadian Paediatric Society has rated Alberta the very lowest standards of ATV safety anywhere in the country, and it’s reflected in some of the statistics.

It may not be specifically statistically relevant to say that hunters and trappers are not injured any more frequently whether they wear helmets or not, because they’re going slower or faster. We don’t know the data. That’s the fact of the matter. What we do know is that a culture of safety is established by the adults in a society, what’s important is visible, and when children see adults taking care of themselves, taking care of their vehicles, taking care of their speeds, acting responsibly, wearing helmets, children grow with that culture.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Dr. Swann: I’m assuming that we haven’t closed or adjourned at this time.

Well, I’m pleased to speak in support of what I’ve heard across the floor. This is a first step in what I hope we could extend further around age limits. About 18 per cent of the deaths from ATVs are under the age of 16. There’s good physiological and psychological and other cultural data in the country to show that children under the age of 16 aren’t physically or psychologically able to handle the power and the weight that is associated with an all-terrain vehicle. Almost all other provinces in Canada have age 16 as the limit for driving an ATV. In fact, 14 is the age limit in many provinces for being a passenger on an ATV. So I’m hopeful that we could also consider some of these age limits if we’re really serious about trying to reduce injuries and deaths in children.

A thousand injuries in children in a year: I mean, that’s phenomenal. Or was it a thousand in a year that you quoted? I didn’t have that data. But our own injury control and prevention centre has some data up until 2013. I’ve been pushing them to give me more data since 2013, but suffice to say that the rate has increased by 31 per cent in Canada between 2001 and 2010. A 30 per cent increase. Surely, we need to look at some ways to reduce that carnage.

I know that there are other measures being taken, including licensing. Why would we allow people to drive a motorized vehicle at significant speeds without a licence, without proof of training, without some sense that they know what they’re doing? We don’t do that with motorbikes. We don’t do that with motor vehicles.

Again, it may seem like overkill to some, but what is our culture about if not moving towards higher levels of safety and prevention? Part of the criticism I’ve had of our health care system for many years is that we spend 3 per cent of our budget, almost $20 billion, on prevention. No wonder our hospitals are overflowing. No wonder that in our emergency rooms you have to wait six to eight to 10 hours to get seen. It’s because so many opportunities for prevention are being ignored, and this is one of them.

We need to develop a stronger culture of prevention in this province. It’s perhaps the last vestige of frontierism and free enterprise, I guess, and free will and individual choice. We were the last ones, I think, in Canada to bring in seat belts, and that was a fight. But now I think we’ve all accepted that there is something besides individual freedom that’s also important, and that’s social responsibility, the cost to society.

Those two areas, I think, I wanted to highlight. I would still hope to be able to bring forward a couple of amendments tomorrow, one on age restrictions and one on licensing and requirements for training.

So I’ll adjourn debate with your permission, Madam Chair.


Dr Swann Debates Bill 34 – Electric Utilities Amendment Act, 2016 – 05 December 2016

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, December 5, 2016.

Bill 34 – Electric Utilities Amendment Act, 2016 (Second Reading)

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I’m pleased to rise and speak to this bill, a critically important bill not only for us but for our children, I would say. This is a bill that arose as a result of the out-of-court settlements that the government has reached with some of the power purchase agreement companies. Settlements with TransCanada, for example, and AltaGas are tentative, and the government apparently is still negotiating with one of the parties, Enmax.

Under the terms of those settlements, the companies will each pay the Balancing Pool an agreed-upon sum of about $39 million in the case of capital, and in exchange they will be permitted to return their money-losing electricity contracts to the Balancing Pool. As a result of that, we have all recognized, I think, that this will result in all of us paying the true cost of electricity. I guess one of the philosophical questions that we’re wrestling with here is whether we allow people to experience the true costs of electricity or whether we protect them from the true costs by capping the costs and giving the false impression that we are paying our way rather than passing on this what could be up to $500 million to our children and our grandchildren to pay for the way we’re making decisions today.

I guess I have some practical and some very philosophical resistance to this. Maybe it’s because I’m not opposed to market signals, to cost signals, and that the public, you and I, should really see the true cost of our electricity and adjust our lives accordingly, either try to find ways to reduce our use or find ways of developing new technologies, investing in new technologies.

I’ll have another recommendation in relation to another bill, that perhaps an innovative way for all of us to participate would be a public offering on renewables, that we could all invest, as citizens of Alberta, in renewable energy in this province. We could all share in the risks or the benefits and move our province forward and be part of the solution, instead of waiting for the big investors to come in when it may not be the right time for many of them. They may not see the opportunities that we as Albertans must start to take hold of and must start to take responsibility for, I guess.

So I have some real difficulty in simply hiding the true price of electricity from consumers. It is going to cost more, and I for one have difficulty suggesting that we should allow the Balancing Pool to borrow whatever it needs to protect, I guess you’d say, consumers from the true price. I would call it paternalism at its worst to decide for the people of Alberta: “You can’t handle the price of electricity, so we’re going to give you some kind of a Santa Claus approach to the costs. And oh, yes. Eventually you’ll have to pay for it, but it’ll be much more in terms of interest payments by the time 2030 comes around.”

If we’re not there yet, then it’ll again be falling more and more on future generations, when we’re already asking future generations to take on a heck of a lot of debt and other expenses related to environmental concerns, obviously, some of the social deficits, some of the infrastructure. And, to be fair, the infrastructure investments that we’re taking on, I support fully.

But the idea of giving the Balancing Pool the power to do all of this simply to give the impression and to protect people – if there are people that are vulnerable and can’t pay their power bills, let’s give them rebates. Let’s give them the supports they need to keep the lights on. There’s no question that some people will not be able to handle increased rates, but keeping it to 67 cents extra in a month: that’s a false kind of message, to me, to be giving to all of us, that everything is cool; electricity isn’t changing much; don’t be concerned about the carbon levy, which I support; don’t be concerned about the new charges, the borrowing that’s going into the Balancing Pool; we’re going to cover it for you. As if we as government can cover anything that isn’t paid for by taxes.

The irony, of course, is that the government itself triggered the return of these unprofitable power purchase agreements to the Balancing Pool by announcing the changes without being fully aware of what the impact might be as a result of the contracts that were there and that, it’s my understanding, a full level of research would have shown to be a problem and a potential out for the power people. The fact that we’re now settling out of court kind of confirms that, that the government realizes it’s not going to win and has gone back and paid these folks with out-of-court settlements.

I guess I would question the notion that we can’t have clear market signals for people and that we have to hide the true cost from people, and I would question the right of this government to pass along even more debt to future generations and to take on more interest payments simply because we can, because you’re in a majority position and you can make that decision. I don’t think that’s in our current best interest, and I don’t think it’s in our future generations’ interest to not start to pay our way as we go.

The government has taken a number of steps to ensure low prices and system stability. This is all in the name of system stability. Well, at what cost, I guess I have to ask. Stable prices at what cost? It looks a lot like political opportunism when you look at it in that light, if you’re not really thinking about the longer term and the importance of market signals for all of us. We all make decisions on the basis of price. Well, if the price is being hidden from us, we stop using common sense and we stop making longer term, better decisions in our own personal lives.

I think those are the main issues, that have been said before by others, but I needed to say them as well. While the aim of Bill 34 is laudable on one level, the reality is that there is no free lunch. There is no free lunch. Eventually we’re all – and I’m particularly concerned about our children – going to have to pay it. For that reason, I’ll be voting against this bill.

Thank you.


Dr Swann Debates Bill 30 – Investing in a Diversified Alberta Economy Act – 01 December 2016

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Thursday, December 1, 2016.

Bill 30 – Investing in a Diversified Alberta Economy Act (Third Reading)

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. I’m pleased to rise and speak to Bill 30, Investing in a Diversified Alberta Economy Act. Yeah, another positive step for Alberta. I think this government has been listening. Small and medium-sized businesses have been calling for this for years. This investor tax credit will offer a 30 per cent tax credit for investments in Alberta small businesses between April of last year and 2019. It’ll have a budget of $90 million over these three years and will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis and will be available for investments in companies that are engaged substantially in development or commercialization of proprietary technology, interactive digital media, and video postproduction as well as tourism. Additionally, the capital investment tax credit will offer a 10 per cent nonrefundable tax credit. That’s progress on both levels.

I think the Conference Board of Canada was pretty clear back in 2013 in saying that Alberta lagged way behind other jurisdictions in this area and gave Alberta a grade of D in this regard, near last in terms of venture capital investment. Presently six provinces have some form of tax incentive for those who invest in local small businesses, so we’re approaching the B.C. program, which is considered the gold standard by business groups. It provides a tax credit equal to 30 per cent of investments made into eligible small businesses. Research out of UBC found that between 2001 and 2008 $250 million worth of tax credits helped attract 10 times that value in equity investments, creating more than 4,000 jobs.

So the only concern might be that it’s going to be, perhaps, short lived. It’s a two-year time frame, but I can understand that we need to see how it works, what the impact of it is, and presumably there will be some modifications before this gets significant change.

I think the only other concern is what has always been expressed with respect to government handing out money, and that is that we don’t pick winners and losers, that we actually allow the market to decide where the proven track record is. The examples of the past have come back to haunt us even now with continued challenges, so we do need to be very careful about what the criteria are. Obviously, all of us will be waiting with bated breath to see the follow-ups, the outcomes, the results. I think it’s a positive step forward given those caveats, but we need to see an honest reporting of what works, what doesn’t work, where we invested successfully, and where we have lessons to learn.

There’s no silver bullet, but this is progress, and I certainly will be on behalf of the Liberal caucus supporting this bill. Thank you.