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

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

Member Statement – Opioid Use

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Dr. Swann Debates Supplementary Supply Estimates 2016-17, No. 2 head: General Revenue Fund – 9 March 2017

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

Dr. Swann: I’m obviously very interested in the minister’s earlier comments and would appreciate at some point any reference in the supplementary estimates to the opioid crisis and whether any of the new funding was required for some of the extra demands that clearly have been on the system and how that is being disbursed.

I’m also a bit curious about the amended agreement with the AMA and how that’s resulted in increased costs. I had thought that it was resulting in savings, especially in relation to primary care. Maybe we could have some clarification around that. I guess it relates to the specialist remuneration as well.

In relation to the increased seniors’ drug benefit and nongroup drug benefits and brand name drugs how is that relating to our generic policy? Is it the fact that physicians aren’t prioritizing generics or pharmacists are not providing generics? Why are we spending more on brand name drugs when we have made such an effort and spent heavily on promoting the generics?

The $15 million for the pharmaceutical innovation and management program, I guess, raises the question now that pharmacists can do a whole bunch of things that they couldn’t do before. They can now diagnose. They can now prescribe as well as dispense. I met with the pharmaceutical college and the association to talk about how they’re supervising this second set of professionals who are fee-for-service billing. We have already identified that physician billing as a fee-for-service system is not optimal. It is rewarding volume. It’s not rewarding quality of care, continuity of care. We now have another group of professionals who are able to bill up to $125 for a drug review per year for people.

So as we do on physician billing, we have to have a way of overseeing and ensuring that those who are outliers, who are perhaps billing more than usual or not adding substantial value – we have to have a way of monitoring that use and ensuring that it’s within guidelines and appropriate.

Finally, the $19 million for continuing care beds due to contractual obligations: I assume that’s salary, incremental salary stuff, operational costs. Perhaps you could comment on those.

Thank you.

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Madam Chair. The minister has, I think, philosophically embraced prevention and health promotion in a lot of respects, but this year we saw cuts to injury prevention. We saw no increase that I was able to detect in the prevention programs beyond injury, some of the lifestyle issues, the health promotion programs. Indeed, maybe she wouldn’t be able to comment on it just yet but next time.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. I’ll have some questions for environment and First Nations. Let me begin by congratulating the environment minister on her leadership on climate change. I’ve said before – and I think it needs to be said – that this is the first meaningful and bold initiative we’ve seen since I was elected, and we’re starting to see some of the benefits in terms of people recognizing their own impact on the environment.

I am curious, though, to see why there is no supplementary estimate for the new park. Is that because nothing has been done this past year and it’s going to be in a future budget, or is it under other categories?

I’m not clear either on the $5.4 million for surface rights compensation grants. Oh, those are related to the unpaid oil and gas rental industry. I guess I’d missed that.

I’d be interested to hear how the flood hazard identification program is getting on and what progress is being made, how close we are to understanding the full flood mapping. Again, if you could comment with respect to water on the groundwater mapping that was to have been – well, it was started under the previous government, and I thought we were moving forward pretty close to completion or should have been by now. Is any of this relating to groundwater mapping in the province?

Dr. Swann: With respect to the groundwater mapping how much progress are we making there? There are serious concerns about understanding better our groundwater.

Ms Phillips: Absolutely, hon. member. We’re looking at the groundwater and surface water management framework in the lower Athabasca regional plan, for example. That was a piece of work that had been sitting for some time under the previous government, and we’re moving that along under the lower Athabasca regional plan. There are frameworks that contain within them triggers and thresholds so that we can better appreciate the cumulative effects. I’d be happy to follow up in greater detail in writing on where those processes are at and, once those management frameworks are complete, what changes they reflect in terms of how we manage cumulative effects on the landscape.

Dr. Swann: Just quickly to the First Nations minister: what impacts has the opiate crisis had on your department, and what in your budget reflects the concerns around the opiate crisis?

The Deputy Chair: The Minister of Indigenous Relations.

Mr. Feehan: Thank you very much. There is no particular request for a change in our supplementary income during this time with regard to the opiate crisis because that particular issue is being handled directly through Health, through the Associate Minister of Health, and as well through our Solicitor General. All of those programs are aligned and assigned through those two ministries, not through IR particularly, because they’re the ministries that actually do the hiring of individuals who will do the work. In our ministry we are spending time working with the communities, of course, on relationships, building and working with both the reserve communities and the neighbouring communities. We already have a full contingent of people who are assigned to each reserve and who are working with that, so it becomes a particular focus of their work but doesn’t change the number of people that are required. Therefore, no supplementary estimate is required at this time.

Dr. Swann: Thank you.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Dr. Swann in Question Period on Opioid Use – 8 March 2017

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

Opioid Use

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. A briefing note I obtained from the Calgary Police Service shows the further impact that opioids, including fentanyl, are having on policing resources in the community. In 2016 the Calgary Police Service responded to 223 overdose calls, including 111 fentanyl-related charges. These numbers have risen dramatically every year for the last five years. There’s also been a corresponding spike in property crime driven by addiction. To the Minister of Justice: if the government has all the resources it needs, why do these numbers keep going up?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Ganley: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. We know that fentanyl and addictions are best attacked on a health front by ensuring that we have the necessary treatments, and that is why our Associate Minister of Health has been moving so quickly to ensure that we have treatment beds available, that we have replacement therapies available, that we have naloxone available. I’m in regular contact with the Calgary police and every other police service. They support the approach that we are taking, and we will move forward together.

Dr. Swann: That’s a bit of a stretch given the chief of police’s comments in the last month.

The danger of falling victim to an opioid overdose doesn’t end once people are arrested. A letter I received from the Justice minister just last month admits an unprecedented 10 Albertans died in custody last year. Two of the deaths have been confirmed to be the result of overdoses; six more await the final ME, medical examiner, report. There were also 27 near deaths – 27 – that were prevented by emergency intervention in remand and corrections. To the minister: how are you investigating these deaths, what are the results, and what actions are you taking to prevent this?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Ganley: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. The safety of our inmates and our correctional workers is of the utmost priority in the correctional division. We know that fentanyl has a much more deadly effect than other drugs. We do know that that can cause some challenges. I think that we should await the actual statistics before we draw any conclusions on that, but corrections officers take steps every day, including searches, intelligence, and we’re even investigating body scanners, to ensure that our inmates are as safe as we can make them.

The Speaker: Second supplemental.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The opioid crisis is pervasive, affecting urban, rural, First Nations, and all economic classes, and it crosses all government jurisdictions. Beyond Health it includes human services, Education, Justice, and First Nations. We need a clear, comprehensive, evidence-based strategy. So far the govern-ment has failed to deliver this. To the Premier: when will a comprehensive, government-wide strategy for the opioid crisis be tabled in the Legislature?

The Speaker: The Deputy Premier.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and to the member for his question. My door continues to be open, and we’ve been pleased to receive some of his feedback as well as the feedback of others throughout the province, whether it’s with regard to Health, Justice, human services, and so on. We continue to work on pulling all of those pieces together. The member is absolutely right that more can and must be done. I’m confident that the associate minister is taking those recommendations into consideration, and we’ll be happy to update this House in a timely fashion as we continue to move forward.


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

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

Member Statement – International Women’s Day

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Standing ovation]

Consideration of Her Honour the Lieutenant Governor’s Speech – 8 March 2017

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

Consideration of Her Honour the Lieutenant Governor’s Speech

Dr. Swann: Thank you. My honour and privilege to speak to the throne speech, a very fine speech, to be sure, as all throne speeches are. I haven’t heard a bad one in 11 years. The question is: what follows, and what’s the action on the ground?

I acknowledge we’re here on Treaty 6 land. Our First Nation brothers and sisters clearly need to be heard and seen and be part of the activities of this Legislature more than they have been. I acknowledge a government that, perhaps for the first time since I’ve been here, recognizes First Nations and the importance that they have and the relationship with them as critical to our success, all of our success, going forward.

This is probably my last Speech from the Throne as leader. Who knows? It’s possible. I won’t be the interim leader for a third time.

An Hon. Member: We’ve heard that before.

Mr. Cooper: It’s the swan song.

Dr. Swann: I hope to have many farewells over the next few years.

I want to acknowledge International Women’s Day and in that context the Calgary Police Service’s troubles over harassment. I’ve been working or trying to work with the Calgary Police Service to establish two things: one, independent hearing officers in our police forces so that the hearing officers for complaints are not past police people but independent, legally trained people. The chief has said that he’s interested in this and is going to look at the possibility and feels that it’s an important area. Other police forces should be looking at this, as far as I’m concerned.

The second is amendments to our Human Rights Act. Under the Human Rights Act the Human Rights Commission can only hear complaints within a year of them occurring. For many of these women who have been harassed, it’s been years, and they haven’t felt that they could come forward. We need to extend that period. Just as the minister is doing with respect to sexual assault, sexual harassment should also be included in extending the timelines, and I’ll be coming forward with a suggested amendment there.

But the other part of the Human Rights Act that needs to be amended is for the Human Rights Commission to be able to independently investigate systemic concerns like what is going on in the police force today. It’s something like 28 women who’ve now come forward in Calgary in addition to the others that have come forward. It’s clear that none of them felt free to make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission, and therefore the Human Rights Commission can’t act. It can’t investigate without a complaint. Well, if we amend the Human Rights Act – and in special circumstances only. We don’t want them going willy-nilly into organizations and pulling down people. But I think it’s important that the Human Rights Commission be empowered. In situations like this, where there’s clear evidence of wrongdoing and it’s being hidden, they need to have the power to go in and launch investigations.

Yes, the speech was excellent, and I acknowledge that many of the issues that were raised were important. We all, I think, could agree on most of the statements that were made. I was disappointed with only one sentence which related to the ongoing crisis with opiates in this province ravaging our families and increasing by the month, even in our remand and jails. Last year there were eight deaths in remand and our provincial jails and 27 near deaths in our remand and jails. The near deaths were reversed by naloxone – great – but if the naloxone or the guard wasn’t there, that could have been a potential 35 deaths due to overdose, raising a lot of questions about what is happening, how the drugs are getting in, how well they’re being managed by the staff, whether there is access to professional health care workers in there, how they deal with people who are coming off drugs as they come into jails. We need a public inquiry there, as far as I’m concerned, and I’ll be again raising that with the minister, which I raised in the fall as well.

I want to acknowledge the bold new direction this government has taken. It’s the first serious commitment I’ve seen since I got into the Legislature to reduce inequity and poverty – the first serious commitment to reducing inequity and poverty – and the first serious commitment I’ve seen to climate change. You know, I got into politics because of climate change and the lack of action, and I want to acknowledge this government for being bold and moving the yardstick down the field, if you will. Most Canadians believe that climate change is real, and they want to protect future generations from the scourges of extreme weather events, new infectious diseases, droughts and floods, and the increased impact on the global community with refugees and the massive immigration that we’re going to be facing. Someone has said that what we’ve seen from Syria so far is a small indication of what we’re really going to be seeing in the next two decades if we don’t get some degree of control over all three: conflict, poverty, and climate change.

The Stern report – some of you may remember it, from 2006, 11 years ago – said that we can spend 2 per cent of our GDP on climate change now, or we can spend 20 per cent of our global GDP in 30 to 40 years. That’s what we’re faced with, and this government has taken that on actively if not aggressively.

Infrastructure: surely worth investing and borrowing for at this stage and protecting our employment here, with interest rates being favourable. These echo the Liberal platform, which I’m very pleased to have influenced this government on over many years of advocating.

Parks. By the way, I meant to mention parks in the environment portfolio. Happy to see the commitment to protecting our wildlands, our eastern slopes. It needs to go much further, and there need to be, as with everything, authentic consultations. I’m glad to see the off-highway vehicle people being listened to. They’re a strong lobby. They’re going to be very, very active, very challenging to the protection that is needed in the eastern slopes. Science is the basis for evaluating linear disturbance. We need to make sure we’re protecting our waterways, primarily, and our habitat. We can co-exist in some areas with off-highway vehicles, but there are certain areas where we cannot. Our eastern slopes have to be very carefully examined, which I applaud.

The electricity agenda moved ahead without sufficient research, in my view, and with a lack of awareness of unwanted side effects, negative effects, from some of the changes. I will be tabling a motion next week, with the help of the former Utilities Consumer Advocate, offering a regulated rate option that we believe would save Albertans up to a hundred dollars a year, and that amounts to, you know, significant dollars over the course of the next 10 years. We calculated that close to a billion dollars could have been saved in the last 10 years if we had used this form of calculating the regulated rate option over the current one.

There needs to be – and I’m pleased to see it – a stronger emphasis on mental health and addictions in this province. I was pleased that the Premier included me in the review last year. I still haven’t seen an update on where that is. There were 32 recommendations. Six were acted on within a week, but we haven’t heard any follow-up on the other important recommendations, that relate not only to the lack of integrated mental health services in this province but also now to the opiate crisis, that appears to be out of control. That is all I can say. Whether we call it an emergency or not doesn’t matter, but we need to mobilize resources. We need to co-ordinate the departments of Justice and Solicitor General, Education, homelessness, First Nations, and Health. If we don’t get all those departments working together, we are not going to get ahead of this terrible and costly tragedy that’s going on.

Bill 6 was a wonderful, welcome initiative, again, by this government. They’ve been part of recognizing basic human rights for the people that feed us every day: the right to a safe working place, the right to compensation, not being booted down the road because they can’t perform their functions after an injury. I’m not saying that all farms and ranchers were not ethical and good employers, but some were not, and all workers deserve a standard of safe conditions and compensation when they get injured.

I’m pleased to see a couple of reports come out this week from the working groups. I’m waiting now for the other three. I hope they will not be delayed too long, and I hope they will not be watered down by the very strong push-back from the ag coalition, who only came on the scene since Bill 6 came in. Formerly it was the Alberta Federation of Agriculture that spoke for the agriculture community and agriculture and the ranching and farming industries. Somehow the ag coalition jumped on the bandwagon against a lot of the positive elements of Bill 6 and undermined any belief in the rural community that this is actually going to be good for both owners and farm workers.

It’s going to improve both the image of the agricultural and farming sector, and it’s going to obviously improve, hopefully, long-overdue child labour standards, which we still don’t have in this province for farm workers. There are no child labour standards. Especially in the context of the Mexican Mennonites, I’ve seen and heard lots of stories about some of the ways that they have been misused and abused, not only by working in situations that are not safe, but because their families needed the income, they allowed them to skip school to go and work in some of these somewhat dangerous areas.

So that is an ongoing satisfaction to me, and I’ll be watching for progress reports and holding the government to making strong decisions there.

Health innovation is happening, but it’s much too slow and much too piecemeal. We need to address the waste and inefficiency in our major public service health care, consuming more dollars per capita than any other provincial budget and getting poorer results in spite of it. It’s not about money. It’s about better management, and I hope that the minister is going to be bolder in looking at the ways that the systems are top heavy. They’re focused on treatment and high tech, and they’re not addressing early intervention/prevention programs in the community that would make such a difference.

Primary care family physician teams are not working well together. They’re not working consistently on some of the most important issues plaguing our population, including mental health, addictions issues, child poverty, child behaviour and learning problems. If we don’t get primary care networks to work more effectively and efficiently and clearly fit into the rest of the system with the other players in social services, in education, and with the other departments that are important to health, including the poverty work that needs to be done, we’re going to see a continued escalation in costs that we’re not going to be able to afford without sacrificing many other things that are needed.

I’m happy to see the commitment to high-quality, affordable child care and, obviously, given the financial situation recognize that we can’t do everything we would want to do at this time. I’m pleased to be part of the panel reviewing child deaths in care, and I hope that we’ll soon focus on the early determinants of child health and family health. This is clearly an area where we are missing the boat.

Since 1994, when Ralph Klein cut social services, we now have 20 per cent fewer social services supports than the national average. It has never caught up. As a result, we have families in distress, families unable to meet their basic needs, families that are in a cycle of poverty and violence and unable to succeed in school. The vicious cycle continues. I think we have Ralph Klein to thank for that, but successive Conservative governments have not addressed the issues of basic social supports for people.

I’m pleased to see First Nations and Métis appearing to be more of a priority. Clean drinking water clearly needs to be addressed. Both provincial and federal governments have to step up and make sure that we can guarantee every person in this population clean drinking water. We need regular progress reports on that. I hear a smattering from time to time: oh, this reservation, this organization now has clean drinking water, and another one is going on a boil water order. Well, lets make it a systematic and consistent progress report that we get with, again, joint federal and provincial response.

Change is difficult. I think we recognize that. It disrupts people and organizations in their lives, in their work. Essential as it is, the pace of change I think has to be examined by this government. The pace of change in some areas has been beyond what many people can tolerate. Particularly the business community has been giving me an earful. I think that if you want to be successful in the next election, you need to listen to the legitimate concerns of the business community and understand that all the wealth that we are distributing here comes from business.

Oh dear. Is it possible I’ve run out of time?

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. member. The hon. Member for Lethbridge-East.

Ms Fitzpatrick: Thank you very much for your thoughtful response. I do want to go back to your comment about the opioid crisis. I want to go back there because you and I have had many conversations over this and my over 30 years of experience in corrections. Certainly, I would have to say that staff in every institution in the country, in the remand centres are vigilant in terms of stopping drugs coming into that institution. They do everything that they can to stop it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop. My question to you – well, I need to back up. Those drugs come into the country, come into the city, come into the province. In fact, Lethbridge police had a huge drug bust of over a million dollars just a couple of weeks ago. Somebody is fronting that money for those drugs to come in. Can you give me a suggestion of an achievable objective to stop it there? Certainly, from my experience that’s where it needs to stop.

Dr. Swann: Thanks very much for the question. I would leave that to the federal and provincial authorities, who know much more about screening packages and substances and finding these.

I would flip that to recognition that maybe we don’t have enough discussion at this time about the revenue as well as the spending. We’ve been very focused on the spending in this government, and I think we need to have an adult conversation about the revenue side as well, recognizing that, again, all the revenue that we distribute comes from business and, yes, some federal transfers, some fines, some land sales, and taxes. I see a real need to examine what is happening on the spending side, though, as I mentioned, in public services through independent reviews, I would hope, of all the public sectors. Independent reviews. I haven’t seen or heard any of the ministries doing independent reviews and examining with real action following the failure of certain aspects of our delivery services.

We cannot expect carbon taxes, royalties, fines, and federal transfers to meet the burgeoning debt load, which ultimately will fall to our children. We have to examine other options. We have to look at other sources of revenue. That includes a PST; I’m sorry. We used to have a 7 per cent national GST. Now it’s at 5 per cent.

A 2 per cent PST would simply take us back to where we were before. We need to have an adult conversation about a PST in conjunction with a very rigorous examination of what we’re spending in the public sector and how we can bring that under control.

I know of all kinds of examples of waste in the health system. That’s the system I know best, but I’m sure that there are areas in every branch of government that, because they haven’t had an independent review, are not able to make serious and strategic, maybe surgical, decisions about where we can find efficiencies. I would be willing to entertain a discussion about a PST if we’re seriously exploring and publicizing the changes that we’re making in our public sector through independent analysis of where we could make significant improvements and efficiencies, better management styles, strategies, people who are not doing effective work within their job portfolio. Those kinds of changes have to be much more rigorously done.

I think that if we don’t address the growing and burgeoning tax level, we are going to be passing on to future generations a tremendous boondoggle. We’ve heard already about the $2 billion that we can anticipate in interest payments coming up. So I would welcome and I think this Legislature should welcome an adult conversation about where we’re going to get the revenue to continue as well as finding the efficiencies in our spending.

Getting back to the original question that the Member for Lethbridge-East asked, I think that if we’re not screening appropriately for drugs going into the correction centres, if we’re not equipping the staff appropriately to do thoughtful engagement with people who may be coming off drugs or who may be addicted or who may be at risk and are desperate to do anything to get a fix because of the pain they’re in, then we need to do something else.

Thank you.

Dr. Swann Debates Bill 1 – An Act to Reduce School Fees (Second Reading)

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, March 7, 2017.

Bill 1 – An Act to Reduce School Fees (Second Reading)

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. It looks like we’ll have a few minutes left to wax eloquent on Bill 1, An Act to Reduce School Fees, a welcome addition to the Legislature. I think you’ll find unanimous consent for this and maybe not unanimous consent for how you’re going to finance it. That may be the challenge that you’re up against. Borrowing is not a solution if we don’t have a long-term plan to address this important contribution to young families particularly.

Of course, it was under the PCs that these fees got out of control. Under the Klein cuts in the ’90s the schools had to make up the reduced income they were getting to function, and Ralph Klein’s government allowed schools to levy whatever fees they wanted, so they went from about $80 a child in 2008 up to $240 a child in 2012 and even higher since. The only question, I guess, that all of us need to look at is: how can we continue to spend more and not get into trouble for those very children and their future and the level of debt they’re going to incur?

One suggestion we have on the Liberal side – and it’s been in our platform for some time – is to phase out the private school fees as they’re able to and find the resources to sustain some of their needs, not suddenly but over the course of five to 10 years. That would amount to something like, I believe, over $200 million. That could help to sustain the kind of reduced school fees in the public system that I think we’re all looking for. According to my research $248 million is now being paid for private schools in Alberta. That would go a long way in moving us towards a sustainable source of funding and satisfy us that we’re honouring our commitment to public education while not compromising some of the special schools that are in the province that have to be subsidized because of disabilities – learning disabilities, physical disabilities, autism, and significant learning disabilities – and that at this point are under the private purview, perhaps.

I guess that in the short time that I have, I just wanted to make the point that we certainly support this. It’s another important step that this government is taking to make living more affordable for lower income people and education accessible for more people at the lower income levels and allow people to keep their own money and use it in other ways. We often hear from this side of the House: leave money in people’s pockets. Well, that’s exactly what you’re doing in this case. You’re leaving more money in people’s pockets to spend in other ways that they consider valuable and preferable for their own families.

However, borrowing is not an answer in terms of the longer term. We have to be careful that this is also a slow transition away from private school funding and ensure that we deal with the special populations that they are dealing with. We believe that there should be more support for wraparound services, including affordable lunch programs and transportation, as is indicated in this bill.

Subject to hearing more about just how we’re going to fund this, we will certainly be providing provisional support from this side of the House. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker: Any questions under 29(2)(a) to the hon. Member for Calgary-Mountain View? The Government House Leader.

Mr. Mason: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I can either adjourn the House, or I can ask the hon. member under 29(2)(a) to enlighten us further for a couple of minutes about the Liberal plan to make education more affordable.

The Speaker: There’s a question under 29(2)(a).

Dr. Swann: Well, I would be very pleased to add more to what I’ve said. The Liberal plan has been outlined in our platform for a number of years along with the message about shifting more of the private school funding to the public school system. I think that is well recorded. I’m pleased that the government is borrowing our policy and looking at that still although the minister has been a bit ambiguous about exactly what he’s going to do with the private schools. I hope he will become more clear with time and ensure that we do provide the more fair response to a public system that is struggling. I encourage the government to look more seriously at that private funding source.

The Speaker: Hon. member, under 29(2)(a)?

Mr. Hanson: Yes. I’d just like to clarify: is it your party’s position to defund private schools and charter schools?

Dr. Swann: It’s our position that over time we should bring all the school systems under one public school system. That will not be quick or easy because, as I indicated, there are some special schools that are only funded by private funds right now. But the goal is the same, to ensure that public funds go to public schools over a period of five to 10 years.

Dr. Swann in Question Period on Opioid Use – 7 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Opioid Use

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday we debated the increasing number of deaths each year for the past five years caused by opioids. The government calls it everything from an epidemic to a crisis, but it refuses to call it an emergency. The definition of an emergency in the Emergency Management Act is, quote, an event that requires prompt co-ordination of action to protect the health of people and limit damage to property. End quote. Health and crime statistics say that this is an emergency. To the Premier: why is the government the only one who won’t call this an emergency?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. I was really pleased to be part of the discussion in our House yesterday as we talked about some new ideas. You know, I was certainly pleased to hear from most of the opposition their support for supervised consumption services, which are viewed as leading best practices for how we can help stem the tide of deaths from the opioid crisis. I agree with the member opposite that we need to be doing more and continuing this hard work that we’ve started to protect Albertans and to make sure the supports are in place. We’re going to do that no matter what.

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. minister.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, two of the courageous survivors of this crisis, Petra Schultz and Rosalind Davis, said that this government’s refusal to act on the call for an emergency is, quote, unacceptable and the inadequate response perpetuates the stigma about opioid-related deaths. End quote. The government insists that a state of emergency isn’t appropriate in this situation. Clearly, the govern-ment can do more to help and mobilize resources without kicking down the doors. If the government has all the resources it needs, why is the opioid crisis continuing to worsen? Why are you failing?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. When I hear people call for a public health emergency, I hear them wanting to know that their government understands that this is a serious issue, a top priority, and that we are taking action. Is there more to do? Absolutely, and it is top of mind for this government. Earlier today I met with Marliss Taylor of Streetworks and Jennifer Vanderschaeghe of Turning Point in Red Deer to discuss practical, on-the-ground solutions that we can do to help save Albertans’ lives, ways that we can support front-line workers who are working to support people who use substances day in and day out so that we can help to stem this tide.

The Speaker: Thank you.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, the reason we’re failing is that the government’s response to this emergency has been piecemeal at best. During the emergency debate it touted more incremental, one-off measures. Harm reduction is good; it is not enough. The govern-ment has provided no comprehensive plan. It is unwilling to admit that the opioid crisis has become an emergency. Focused leadership is what is lacking. The NDP campaigned on leadership for what matters. Well, certainly, these nearly 500 lost lives last year matter. How many deaths will it take before you call it an emergency?

The Speaker: The associate minister.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’m going to disagree with the member’s categorization of our approach as piecemeal. We have moved forward on harm reduction by expanding access to naloxone for people who need it. Yes, definition of a Band-Aid. It’s going to save a life when it’s needed. That is one part of our plan. We’ve been working on opioid dependency treatments, Suboxone and methadone, which are top-of-the-line clinical evidence for helping people who are living with opioid addictions. That is the treatment that is needed, and we are working to expand access to that treatment.

Emergency Debate – Opioid Use – 6 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, March 6, 2017.

Emergency Debate – Opioid Use

Notices of Motions
The Speaker
: The hon. Member for Calgary-Mountain View.

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. It’s my honour to rise and today provide notice that at the appropriate time I’ll move the following motion.

Pursuant to Standing Order 30 be it resolved that the ordinary business of the Legislative Assembly be adjourned to discuss a matter of urgent public importance; namely, the growing number of deaths from opioid use and abuse, including the use of fentanyl, which now constitutes a state of emergency.

The Speaker: Hon. member, I want to remind all of the members again. When there is one of the members speaking, try not to get out of your chair while the Speaker is speaking to the member present.

Emergency Debate

The Speaker: I believe we have a Standing Order 30 application. The hon. Member for Calgary-Mountain View.

Dr. Swann: Yes, Mr. Speaker. Thank you. I can circulate it to the members and proceed at your will.

The Speaker: Hon. member, at this stage we are arguing the importance of the urgency of the matter.
Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise today to ask you to approve my motion under Standing Order 30 to adjourn the ordinary business of the Legislature to discuss a matter of urgent public health importance – namely, the growing number of deaths from opioid abuse, including the use of fentanyl – which now constitutes a state of emergency.

To be clear, I am not asking the Assembly to declare a state of emergency. Rather, I’m categorically stating that a state of emergency exists, and that it is up to the Assembly to urgently debate this issue in this Assembly. The issue is being debated everywhere but here, Mr. Speaker. It’s happening at the federal level, at the municipal level, in the media, in our health and justice systems, by our police, fire, and ambulance services. MLAs on both sides of the House are touched by personal stories which are being sent to our constituency and our caucus offices. And Albertans are talking about it around their dinner tables.

It is time for this Assembly and this government, which has jurisdiction over the areas of health, justice, social services, and emergency management, to have the courage to talk about it here. It is time to put aside pride and partisanship and discuss how, together, we’re going to stop this scourge and make lives better or even possible for Albertans. We will leave it up to the government to determine if it is going to keep being reactive or show stronger leadership for what matters. After hearing this debate, should the government decide that calling a state of emergency is needed in order to tackle this epidemic, then I would encourage it and applaud it and thank it for this leadership.

Now, in terms of the specific requirements for this motion I am confident that the Speaker will find it is in order. Standing Order 30(1) states:

After the daily routine and before the Orders of the Day, any Member may request leave to move to adjourn the ordinary business . . . to discuss a matter of urgent public importance when written notice has been given to the Speaker at least 2 hours prior to the afternoon sitting.

This is clearly a matter of urgent public importance given that it is, in fact, a genuine crisis which is putting public health and safety at risk. As well, proper notice was given to the Speaker. It clearly meets these criteria.

Beauchesne’s section 387, on page 113, says: It must deal with a matter within the administrative competence of the Government and there must be no other reasonable opportunity for debate.

Certainly, the government has the administrative competence to deal with whether or not a state of emergency exists.

Furthermore, should the government want to act on the matter, the Emergency Management Act also gives the Lieutenant Governor in Council the power to formally declare a state of emergency should she be satisfied that “an emergency exists or may exist.” In that context, an emergency is defined as a public health risk that exceeds the capacity in technical, human, and material resources. End quote.

In terms of opportunities for debate there is no proposed legislation or motion before the Assembly that would provide us with another opportunity to debate this matter.

Beauchesne’s section 387, page 113, also says: In making his ruling, the Speaker may, on occasion, take into account the general wish of the House to have a debate.

I believe the Speaker will find that at least on this side of the House there is a general wish to have this debate. There are also people in the galleries who have joined us to hear the debate and would like to see it proceed.

Beauchesne’s section 389, page 113, says: The “specific and important matter requiring urgent consideration” . . . must be so pressing that the public interest will suffer if it is not given immediate attention.

The current opioid crisis is ending lives, destroying families, disrupting communities at an incredible rate, and clearly is a matter of public interest, approaching more than two deaths a day and a greater number of deaths than motor vehicle injuries, motor vehicle deaths, and homicides combined. Clearly, failing to recognize this as an emergency or refusing to talk about how to address it will cause the public interest to suffer.

Beauchesne’s section 390, on page 113, also says: “Urgency” within this rule does not apply to the matter itself, but means “urgency of debate”, when the ordinary opportunities provided by the rules of the House do not permit the subject to be brought on early enough and the public interest demands that discussion take place immediately.

Given that this is the first day of regular government sitting, obviously it is the first opportunity for us to debate this. This is also our first opportunity since the government released the report called Opioids and Substances of Misuse, fourth-quarter report, to discuss the shocking data that it contained. I don’t know how we could in good conscience just let that report hang over us without taking the time to take a critical look at what has been reported and what it means for the future.

It is fitting and right that we take this opportunity to debate a matter of such urgent importance instead of throne speeches, which were on the agenda for today. Likewise, I would draw your attention to the fact that despite the release of this alarming report, the government only gave the issue one sentence in the throne speech. Finally, perhaps now would be a good time for the govern-ment to tell Albertans more about what it plans to do in response to this opioid crisis.

There is also the matter of precedent. The Speaker has previously permitted debates to occur on similar matters under Standing Order 30. As recently as November the Assembly held an emergency debate on the deaths of children in government care. I would argue that the need to discuss the opioid crisis is equally or more serious and urgent, and it is getting worse.

Finally, under SO 30(7): (a) the matter proposed for discussion must relate to a genuine emergency, calling for immediate and urgent consideration.

With regard to whether this is or isn’t a genuine emergency, the facts speak for themselves, Mr. Speaker. In fact, if these numbers were related to an influenza epidemic, a public health emergency would already have been declared. There’s been a steady increase in fentanyl-related deaths for four years. Our last fourth quarter shows 343 deaths, a 33 per cent increase over 2015. That is not counting roughly 150 unspecified opioid-related deaths that have still to be characterized by the medical examiner.

In 2016 there were 2,267 emergency medical service responses in Alberta to opioid-related events. Eighty-four per cent of these events occurred in the following large urban settings: Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, and Medicine Hat. There is a continual backlog in the medical examiners’ office, causing lengthy delays in confirming suspected opioid-related deaths. This week I got a letter from a gentleman whose stepson’s death occurred 11 months ago. He has yet to hear from the Chief Medical Examiner. His is one of many stories I’ve heard over the past year, and I’m sure my colleagues have heard similar stories.

There is also a rise in overdose deaths in Alberta’s correctional facilities and remand centres, eight deaths last year compared to one in 2015 and 27 near deaths that presumably were overdoses reversed by naloxone. We don’t know about those 27 near deaths because the medical examiner hasn’t finished the deaths and doesn’t cover the near deaths.

Police services have expressed frustration at the lack of co-ordinated wraparound health and social service supports. There’s a clear lack of strategic leadership for large-scale, co-ordinated, and well-funded intervention with police, health, social services, and even our education institutions.

The Speaker: Hon. member, I want to urge you to speak to the matter of urgency and then to the substance of the debate.

Dr. Swann: Fair comment, Mr. Speaker. Thank you.

The list goes on. The opioid crisis is literally a matter of life and death for those who are facing it, and we need to talk about it. Therefore, with respect, I’m asking you and my colleagues in this House to recognize that the growing number of deaths from opioid abuse in this province, including the use of fentanyl, is a genuine emergency requiring our urgent consideration and debate.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker: All opposed, say no. The motion is carried. The debate on this matter will now proceed. The Member for Calgary-Mountain View.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you to the mem-bers of the Legislature. This is a debate that’s long overdue here and recognizes the deep sadness, grief, and anger developing at the inadequate and fragmented response to five years of increasing deaths due to addictions and mental illness, especially of our young adults and First Nations. Most members and professionals have been surprised, I included, at the devastation this has taken and at how quickly and quietly it has overtaken our health care, our justice system, our social services system. Surely there is enough statistical evidence and anecdotal stories to suggest this is indeed a public health and safety emergency in this province.

Our two major municipalities are having their own discussions on how to better tackle this issue. Edmonton’s mayor, Don Iveson, is quoted as saying that there’s no doubt this is a serious and escalating crisis, so the time well may come for that declaration to be issued. End quote. Calgary’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi, is reported saying that we lost more people to opioid overdose last year than the combined deaths from homicide and car collisions. We’re not talking about this enough. We’ve got to do something. End quote. The Calgary Police Service is holding a public discussion on opioids March 7, this week, expressing frustration at the lack of co-ordinated social and health services. Health stakeholders are hold-ing a public panel discussion this week, March 9, at the University of Alberta, Edmonton Clinic Health Academy, on opiates.

As an MLA I’m hearing these concerns raised almost on a daily basis from constituents, advocacy groups, and professionals in the medical, policing, and social services systems. As a physician I can confidently say that the current levels of opioid addiction overdose are beyond anything I’ve ever experienced in a lifetime of medical practice and constitute indeed a threat to public health and safety.

Assuming that these last-quarter reportings, that showed 343 deaths related to fentanyl, which was a 33 per cent increase over the previous year, similarly constituted only 57 per cent of all opiate-related deaths, as was reported in previous quarterly reports, then another 43 per cent of deaths have actually occurred this year than has been reported and are still awaiting final medical examiner confirmation. That would mean roughly 500 deaths last year, Mr. Speaker. We’re approaching two deaths per day in this province. I happen to believe that the provincial health officer cannot be expected with the resources she has to manage this extraordinary multi-disciplinary, multidepartmental crisis. Consideration should be given to reinstate the provincial mental health and addictions officer that was let go last year. It’s critical to have someone in place with a mental health and addictions leadership background.

I’d also like to see a clear, comprehensive plan for mental health and addictions, specifically on the opiate crisis, that is related to a collaborative stakeholder consultation; adequate, shared resources; more open communications between these organizations; and a close monitoring to see what is working and what is not working in our systems of care. I hear too many reports that people are not getting help, are pushed from place to place, do not have a clear plan, and do not have the emotional or mental support to go through the very difficult, painful family challenge of getting off opiates.

I also believe that resources beyond those currently being used are needed and that the federal government has recognized this. It means that we have to recognize other resources outside of Alberta, which is the definition of an emergency, when current resources fail to meet the needs of the emergency.

While we don’t necessarily understand all the dimensions of this epidemic, we must address the urgency. We must acknowledge that we do not have the resources or expertise currently or the co-ordination of resources needed to bring this under control. Five years surely has shown us that. With the recognition that we need resources, consideration should be given, as we have in other natural disasters, to call an emergency under the Emergency Management Act if not the Public Health Act. This would demonstrate (a) that we now appreciate the unpredictable devasta-tion of this evolving and increasing crisis. It would demonstrate (b) that we will develop a comprehensive plan and more effectively manage and mobilize the resources we have within this province as well as seek other resources from outside the province – why? – because we recognize that this is a national crisis needing federal, provincial, and municipal collaboration, because unprecedented numbers of people have died, and the rate has increased progres-sively over the last five years despite the welcome distribution of free naloxone that saves lives every day.

It’s not enough to save lives. We have to get ahead of this and get people off the drugs. Harm reduction elements are important – the tremendous and growing cost and the failure of our current approach with tremendous loss of money and morale in our police service, in our social service, in our front-line health workers, who see the same people coming in again and again without getting the appropriate supports they need.

Finally, “why” includes the need for strong and expert leadership focused on developing the plan that includes policing and the justice system; human services; our education, including the post-education system; and, of course, Health, which should be leading the charge and co-ordinating this effort as well as nongovernmental agencies, some of whom are represented in the gallery today; and the professionals outside the health system that are dealing with this: social workers, psychologists, counsellors.

What is needed? The government of Canada signed on November 19, 2016, a joint statement of action to address the opioid crisis with eight provinces and the Northwest Territories but not Alberta. Why is that? Why was Alberta not at the table?

More money needs to be directed at various sites and harm reduction approaches, especially supervised substitute therapy, and approaches to more focused leadership and a plan that includes all stakeholders. I believe, Mr. Speaker, that new and expert leadership focused on co-ordination and integrating the partnering of these various organizations and stakeholders with experts in mental ill-ness, addiction, as well as the police, social services, and schools is essential. Clearly, enhanced funding for supervised injection sites and opiate replacement therapy are needed. Other harm reduction programs are needed beyond the big cities, where we know that we have much stronger resources available to deal with poverty and homelessness, including their families in a comprehensive approach to their care.

Doctors, too, are fundamentally involved in this crisis. They have been involved in prescribing too many opiates, failing to monitor the opiates and other psychoactive drugs, and according to the college’s triplicate prescription program requiring all doctors prescribing opiates to register these, there’s been a failure of doctors to check on individual patients on whether they’re taking more drugs than they should be or continuing to take opiates from more than one physician. That is the responsibility of the medical profession and the college. To its credit the college has finally brought in this week standards for opiate prescribing. Now they must monitor and enforce more stringently, confronting the painful truth that most addicts were begun on prescription opiates.

My final comments, Mr. Speaker, have been said.

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.