Banning paid donations will not ensure a safer, more sustainable plasma supply

Edmonton, AB (March 21, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann will not support Bill 3, the Voluntary Blood Donations Act, over concerns that banning paid donation will not ensure a safer or more sustainable supply of plasma.

“Alberta currently imports 80 per cent of its plasma products from clinics in the United States which pay donors,” says Swann. “There is absolutely no way for the government to replace this capacity with volunteer donors.

“Growing our domestic plasma supply is a critical goal. Systems allowing for paid plasma donations have had success in other jurisdictions without any of the adverse effects that the NDP are raising as justification for this bill.”

Paid plasma donations are regulated by Health Canada regulations and have been deemed to be every bit as safe as those that come from unpaid donors.

Swann is also concerned about the additional burden Bill 3 might put on the public health care system.

“Health care is already the largest line item in the provincial budget. The government cannot hope to ‘bend the cost curve’ by adding more public services that could be provided through private sector partnerships,” says Swann. “We saw this same approach with private laundry services.

“Canada deserves a safe, sustainable supply of plasma. I am not convinced Bill 3 helps us get there. For those reasons, I cannot support it.”

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann responds to Budget 2017

Edmonton, AB (March 16, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann released the following statement in response to Budget 2017:
“I would like to applaud the government on investing in public services and infrastructure, eliminating school fees, and committing to address climate change and protect the environmental. These are priorities that Alberta Liberals share.

“However, like many Albertans, I am concerned about the increasing deficits and debt our province is accumulating as a result of government borrowing for operational costs. This budget sees the NDP government borrowing $15.2 billion for operating costs this year – the beginning of a steady upward trajectory towards $30 billion in 2019-2020. In the past, we have compared this approach to paying the mortgage with a credit card or selling the family farm to pay the monthly bills. It simply does not make financial sense.

“Of course, anything is possible when you’re paying by credit, but this is not sustainable in the long-term. In this budget, as with every previous budget since this government took power, we see more spending with no plan to pay it back. Alberta’s total liabilities now sit at $85.7 billion, and higher interest rates associated with further credit rating downgrades will make this task even more difficult. I have no confidence that the NDP approach will do anything but add to the $1.4 billion in debt servicing costs Albertans are already paying.

“Fairness to future generations is a Liberal value. The NDP legacy of debt is anything but fair. We need to have an adult conversation about spending and revenue. The government cannot continue to spend at this rate while relying on volatile resource revenue.

“We would like to see the government make strategic decisions and targeted investments in areas that will reduce costs in the long run. Getting ahead of the cost curve is preferable to bending it.

“This is particularly the case for our province’s health care system. We need massive investments in home care, disease and injury prevention, wellness and mental health. This will not only save money and lower wait times by reducing the strain on the acute care system, but it will also improve quality of care and patient outcomes.

“Alberta’s legal system also needs an injection of cash to remove barriers and improve access to justice. Alberta Liberals have championed increasing funding to Legal Aid Alberta. Chronic underfunding has led to unnecessary backlogs, delays, and slower trial process when people try to self-represent. The government has committed some money to this program, but not enough to bring it out of its $10-million deficit.

“Alberta Liberals also support expanding the Drug Treatment Court program, which received no mention in this budget. The program badly underfunded for the valuable results it delivers in terms of keeping addicts out of prison and getting them back on the road to recovery.

“The Metta Clinic, which is the only specialized clinic for transgender youth, only receives enough funding to operate for half a day per month. This is totally unacceptable. We urge the government to increase funding so that these vulnerable youth can get the services they so desperately need.

“Finally, we need a savings plan. Over the last number of years, we have seen our trust and contingency funds depleted at an alarming rate – the contingency account will be gone by this time next year. We need to reverse this trend today and start saving for tomorrow.

“Overall, Alberta Liberals support the government’s attempt at protecting public goods and services, but we are calling on the NDP to show more fiscal restraint, make better investments and savings, and produce a plan to diversify our revenue and pay down the debt.”

Federal funding welcome relief for opioid crisis and health system

Calgary, AB (March 10, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann welcomed the announcement of federal government funding for the opioid crisis, mental health and home care.

“This is good news,” says Swann. “The opioid-crisis urgently needed these resources. However, money alone will not solve this. We must have better, focused leadership and a more comprehensive, cross-jurisdictional strategy.”

In addition to the $6 million in immediate support to Alberta’s opioid-crisis response, the federal government is offering targeted investments of $703.2 million for home care and $586 million for mental health initiatives over the next decade.

“Mental health is certainly an area in desperate need of substantial further investment,” says Swann. “And doubling the investment in home care is a long-standing Alberta Liberal policy.”

“We believe these measures will help improve care, reduce costs, and lower wait times by alleviating pressure on our acute care system.”

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.

NAIT Board of Governors appointment echoes previous government patronage appointments

Edmonton, AB (March 9, 2017): Ray Martin’s appointment as Chair of the Board of Governors of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) reeks of NDP political patronage.

“This does not pass the smell test,” says Swann. “The NDP are clearly continuing the Tory legacy of posting party insiders to important public positions.”

The Order in Council, approved on March 7th, appoints Ray Martin as a member and designates him as chair of the Board of Governors of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, for a term to expire on March 6, 2020.

Alberta Liberals have been staunch advocates of the creation of an independent appointments commission that would ensure these appointments are based solely on merit and not personal or political connections.

“The NDP has only made symbolic changes to the appointments process, which amounts to advertising the position on the government’s job board,” says Swann, “It still lacks the necessary independence and transparency that only an arms-length organization would afford.”

Swann is calling on the government to put an immediate stop to political patronage by establishing an independent commission to oversee the appointments process.

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.

Swann questions government on fentanyl-related crime

Edmonton, AB (March 8, 2017): In Question Period today, Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann questioned the NDP government about recently-obtained statistics from the Calgary Police Service (CPS).

Swann received a briefing note from the CPS indicating a steady increase in fentanyl-related calls to police, charges being laid, and property crimes attributed to addictions.
“A briefing note I obtained from the Calgary Police Service shows the further impact fentanyl is having on policing resources and in the community. In 2016, CPS responded to 223 overdose calls, resulting in 111 fentanyl-related charges. These numbers have risen dramatically over the last 5 years. There has also been a corresponding spike in property crime driven by addiction. If the government has all the resources it needs, why do these numbers keep going up?”
Swann also questioned the government on the 10 Albertans who died while in police custody in 2016. Two of their deaths have been confirmed to be the result of overdoses, and six more cases remain pending investigation.

Finally, Swann argued that the pervasive nature of the opioid crisis requires leadership and a comprehensive, cross-jurisdictional plan, one that would have to be provided in a state of emergency. He questioned when the government would make such a plan available to the public.

A copy of the briefing note obtained by Swann, as well as a letter from Justice Minister Ganley regarding opioid deaths in remand centres, can be found on our website here