Dr. Swann Debates Bill 29 – An Act to Reduce Cannabis and Alcohol Impaired Driving (Second Reading) – 15 November 2017

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

Bill 29 – An Act to Reduce Cannabis and Alcohol Impaired Driving (Second Reading)

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. Like many others, I haven’t had a great opportunity to research this important bill yet. I think it’s one that we’re going to have some lengthy discussions about, with, hopefully, more and more of the evidence brought to bear on the whole question of the timing of substance use, the combination of alcohol and marijuana and other drugs and their impact on capacity to drive safely, the age at which we in Alberta are going to see legalized use of cannabis.

What I am aware of, mostly through medical journal articles and interviews that I’ve heard, especially around the whole use of opiates and the combination, often, of some of these opiates with marijuana and indeed the synergistic effects of alcohol and cannabis, is that they are real concerns.

Having said that, I think we’re all aware that we’re embarking on new territory in Canada, including Alberta. I am one of those who feel that it was important to move towards legalization of cannabis, that prohibition has not historically been effective, and that the criminalization of this drug has contributed to a lot of suffering, a lot of crime, and a lot of damaged individuals when, in fact, it’s a very mixed bag. Cannabis has some significant medical benefits, and it has some significant harms when it’s misused and when it’s started too early.

I guess I’m influenced to some extent by the recent Canadian Medical Association Journal reporting that there appears to be very limited support for legalizing cannabis use or for regular use of cannabis under the age of 25 in the medical literature. That’s partly because, especially in males, the frontal cortex development is slower than in females. It is the area of administrative control. It’s the area of judgment. It’s the area of second thought. There is evidence that under 25, especially in males, there is much more significant risk of cannabis use. So I think it’s an area that we’re going to have to hear more research on, I hope, and have more discussions about.

Certainly, 18 is the very minimum where one would consider legalizing this, and I would argue and will argue that we should be having a very serious conversation about moving that up beyond 18 simply because of the immature brain and the susceptibility of that brain to the harmful effects, in some cases psychiatric effects, certainly serious psychological impairment associated in younger people with regular use of cannabis. It’s an important discussion to have.

I think it’s timely that the government has brought this forward, and it’s important that we have some pretty solid evidence presented here in this bill to help us make rational decisions about how we’re going to monitor and enforce standards of safety on the roads, measurements and penalties associated with the use and abuse of these substances.

There’s no question in my mind that our culture has come to the point where we have to take responsibility for the array of substances that we’re all having access to that have the potential for addiction, have the potential for harm, have the potential for some benefits. It’s finding that balance and ensuring that we invest really well in the educational process, both for young people and for older folks, who maybe think they know something about cannabis, who think they know something about the combinations and impacts of the combination of alcohol and other substances. I’m here referring to some of the psychiatric meds – sedatives, hypnotics, painkillers – that are being consumed by people in conjunction with, for example, alcohol or cannabis. Tobacco: another one that’s increasingly being associated with cannabis, with the mixing of the two and some of the harmful effects there that may or may not be recognized.

We’re in a brave new world. We’ve got a lot of important risks and benefits associated with this new wave of tolerance, I guess, and permissive use of these substances, and it behooves us to take our time to hear the best of the evidence.

It’s certainly increasingly being researched around North America. I heard a researcher recently at the University of Calgary speak about the fact that there is no safe level that she’s aware of of cannabis use in young people. She was referring to under the age of 25. She said that the evidence simply isn’t there yet that we know how to predict safe levels of cannabis in youth under the age of 25. That’s somebody who has spent her life researching primarily adolescent addictions and rehab programs for young people with mental health and addictions problems, including cannabis. She was very cautious in her recommendations at the nursing school about the earlier onset of cannabis use in young people.

While we’re debating the principle of the bill, I can fully support the direction we’re taking. I hope we can take the time to pull in some of the very latest evidence and that we will seriously look at the age of restriction and that this government might consider extending beyond the age of 18 because I think the evidence is not there for safe use at that age. Understandably, with the alcohol legal age being 18, it may in some ways send an inconsistent message, but until we know more about some of the negative impacts of cannabis on the young brain, I think it behooves us to really be careful and consider raising the age beyond 18 at this stage. We can always lower it later. It’ll be a lot tougher to raise it in the future.

I think erring on the side of caution would be my one recommendation, that we look at all the evidence and start to address the whole question of: what is the appropriate age, and what’s the evidence from around the world where they have had some different age legalization standards?

I look forward to the debate. I think it’s one of the most important bills that I’ve seen come before this Legislature, and it’s going to have long-term implications, as we’re all aware, since there’s nothing that has caused more suffering and death on our highways than alcohol and drugs. We’re now being asked to look very critically at this new dispensation under federal law that’s going to allow legal access to cannabis.

Thank you, Madam Speaker. I look forward to further debate.


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

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

Methane Gas Monitoring

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

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

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

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

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

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

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

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

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


Minister must step in to save Edmonton’s only public fertility clinic

EDMONTON, AB (November 3, 2017): Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann has released the following statement on the Edmonton Regional Fertility and Women’s Endocrine Clinic at the Royal Alexandra Hospital:

“Yesterday, I was immediately concerned when we were contacted by email raising concerns about the closure of the Edmonton Regional Fertility and Women’s Endocrine Clinic at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

“My staff reached out to AHS communications and to the Minister of Health, but did not receive a reply. However, later that evening, a document surfaced on Twitter appearing to confirm this rumour.

“Today, I join with affected patients and the Friends of Medicare in expressing my displeasure with this decision, and I am calling on Minister of Health Sarah Hoffman to step up for public health care and step in to save this clinic.

“According to the federal government, roughly 16 per cent, or 1 in 6, of couples in Canada experience infertility. This number has doubled since the 1980s. In Alberta, the cost associated with fertility treatments are completely borne by patients.

“That is why, prior to the 2015 provincial election, Alberta Liberals identified infertility funding as a major policy priority and recognized that funding of fertility treatments such as Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) was necessary to ensure families who require treatment have reasonable and fair access to treatment.

“The decision to close this public fertility clinic is unfair and puts unreasonable additional demands on Albertans who simply want the chance to have a family by natural birth.

“Not only does the Minister need to save this clinic, but the NDP must do more to help Albertans facing infertility in the public health care system, instead of offloading them onto the private sector.”


Dr. Swann Debates Bill 20 – Beaver River Basin Water Authorization Act (Second Reading) – 31 October 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, October 31, 2017.

Bill 20 – Beaver River Basin Water Authorization Act (Second Reading)

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. I’m pleased to rise and speak to Bill 20, on the face of it a logical and sensible and, obviously, critical thing to do for health and for sustainability of communities, including a First Nations community. I want to add my caution, though, to that of the mover of this bill. The reason these bills come to the Legislature is because it’s a big decision. Transferring water from one basin to another has costs, and it has benefits.

I don’t think we in the Legislature necessarily appreciate the costs of continuing to transfer water from one basin to another. We’ve had five in the past. I was part of those decisions. They were in southern Alberta and related to some groundwater quality issues and quantity issues.

I think it behooves us to think about why we are continuing to have to provide interbasin transfers, which have some ecological risks. Those are contamination of certain species going into another ecosystem and potentially becoming invasive species, overriding certain species of fish, dominating the fish mix, and certain potential toxins, obviously, whether plant toxins or industrial toxins.

So there’s that dimension, and there’s the other dimension, which has to do with whether we’re conserving appropriately the water that we’re currently using in a particular basin.

The third aspect is: do we understand what’s happening to our groundwater? Why is the groundwater declining in that area? What are the factors that are contributing to its decline? Is it population demand, agricultural demand? Is it industrial demand? Is it a failure to conserve in places where we could be conserving?

Are we seeing the kinds of issues related to the Rosebud area, where fracking and coal-bed methane actually contaminated quite a significant number of people’s groundwater wells and therefore required trucked-in water and eventual new sources of water for these folks? What do we know about our groundwater? What do we know about what’s happening, especially in the new shale gas developments? We seem to have learned nothing from the 2006 fiasco in Rosebud, where after all this volume and this gas was coming up in people’s water wells, we suddenly realized that we didn’t know what the baseline gas was in those wells because we hadn’t been doing baseline groundwater monitoring.

We did 12,000 samples in that area, and 10 years later we don’t have meaningful results from those groundwater tests because the sampling techniques were different, the laboratories were different, the standards were different, and we can draw almost no conclusions from that whole Rosebud fiasco. Are we doing baseline groundwater monitoring now in relation to the shale gas developments? No. We’re leaving it up to the industry to decide whether groundwater is being protected or not, and only on complaints do we actually get in there and sample the water.

So I have serious concerns about our groundwater. I’m not saying that this particular transfer is wrong. I’m saying that we haven’t yet taken seriously the growing threat to both surface and groundwater in terms of our demands: agricultural, industrial, residential, municipal. We haven’t taken seriously the fact that, especially in the southern and eastern parts of this province, we’re headed for real trouble with climate change. We don’t know what we should know about our groundwater, we don’t know what the industrial impacts are, and I don’t think any of us believe that we’re conserving our water and using it to the best available opportunities.

Again, a note of caution that these issues come to the Legislature because we have the final say, and I don’t know how much information we have to make these decisions. We continue to pass them. This will be the sixth interbasin transfer. I don’t know if we’re asking the right questions of our ministry, and that includes the Energy ministry because the industrial activity in this province is second to none under the surface. Over 450,000 wells puncture through our water tables, and we don’t know what we need to know.

I met with a groundwater expert last week at the University of Calgary. He’s still trying to sift through and get some semblance of conclusions, some reliable conclusions from those 12,000 samplings that were done in 2006 and ’07 in the Rosebud area. He’s having a great deal of difficulty because of the problems I mentioned.

We don’t know the volumes of water available in our groundwater, which is the ultimate source of our surface water. We need to start asking some hard questions of our Energy and Environment ministries and ensure that we know what we’re leaving for the next seven generations.

I will be supporting this transfer but with great concern that we don’t know what we need to know to make these decisions. Thank you, Madam Speaker.


Spectre of dark money haunts Alberta political landscape

EDMONTON, AB (October 31, 2017): Alberta Liberals are seeking to exorcise the spectre of dark money currently haunting Alberta’s political landscape.

“Alberta politics is being possessed by political action committees,” says Liberal MLA David Swann. “Unregulated third-party fundraising and spending has political parties and leadership contests firmly in its clutches.

“We need to drive a stake into its heart so that it cannot suck the lifeblood of our democracy: the ability of Albertans alone to decide who represents them.”

Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan first raised the issue of political action committees (PACs) in June 2017, calling on the NDP government to take bold action to reduce the impact of dark money on Alberta’s political processes. He repeated his call in July, in response to the release of Jason Kenney’s leadership financial statements.

The NDP government repeatedly refused to address the issue, and in his pre-session news conference, Government House Leader Brain Mason admitted PACs are not on the NDP legislative agenda this fall sitting.

“Perhaps the NDP has its own skeletons in the closet when it comes to PACs, which would explain why it is dragging its feet,” says Swann. “Alberta Liberals have no such fears and are boldly lighting the way against this shadowy threat.”

Swann’s Bill 214 will seek to define what constitutes a political action committee, expand restrictions on third-party activities beyond the limited category of advertising, and subject PACs to the same election finance rules as every other corporation, union, and individual.


Statement on announcement of approval of safe injection sites in Calgary

CALGARY, AB (October 27, 2017): Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann released the following statement in reaction to the government’s announcement on supervised injection sites in Calgary today:

“Calgary is the city that has been hardest-hit by Alberta’s opioid crisis. As such, harm reduction measures like safe consumption sites is welcome news. And, certainly, the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre is an excellent choice for this important work.

“Finally, we are seeing this critical service that is long overdue. These sites will undoubtedly improve safety and save lives.”

“However, one is not enough, we need more of these harm reduction and treatment measures in Calgary and throughout the province, especially in smaller urban centres.

“We also need more culturally appropriate services since Indigenous peoples are a significantly impacted community.

“When nearly two lives are lost each day to this scourge, there is a clear need to move more quickly and effectively.

“We need to increase and integrate more resource if we hope to get ahead of this crisis.”


Health and safety of farm and ranch workers must be Government’s priority

CALGARY, AB (October 26, 2017): Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann says the NDP need to ensure farm and ranch workers get further protections following today’s release of the technical working groups’ occupational health and safety reports.

“This must be about protecting the lives and livelihoods of farm and ranch workers and their families, not just the business concerns of the agricultural industry,” says Swann. “Changes need to be aimed at enhancing safety and equity for these marginalized workers.

“For example, there needs to be a service centre dedicated solely to farm and ranch workers to help them understand their rights and protections. Fear of reprisal is a big concern for the workers when it comes to reporting an injury or refusing an unsafe practice.”

Last spring, Swann criticized the NDP government when it exempted farm and ranch workers from mandatory rest periods and overtime in Bill 17, the Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act, which Swann sought to amend twice, but the NDP refused.

“The NDP chose politics over people when it denied farmers and ranchers the same basic rights and benefits as every other worker in Alberta,” says Swann. “It was a big step back for a party that is supposed to support labour rights.

“The technical working groups gave the NDP some degree of political cover, but further action is needed now, especially since conservative factions are eager to turn back the clocks on these issues.”

Swann has been a tireless advocate for farm and ranch workers’ rights and safety. Recently, he wrote to the Ministers of Labour and Agriculture and Forestry to improve labour rules, regulations and practices in Alberta’s agricultural sector.

“It took us decades to come this far,” says Swann. “We cannot stop or turn back now.

“Farm and ranch workers deserve more workplace protections, safety standards and inspections need to be applied consistently to all equipment, and agricultural injuries and deaths need to be investigated regardless of where they occur and who is involved.”


Statement from Dr. David Swann on supervised consumption site approvals

Calgary, AB (October 18, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann released the following statement in reaction to the approval of supervised consumption sites in Edmonton and Lethbridge:

“These approvals are welcome news. I have long called for harm-reduction measures to be implemented in this province as a key component of a coordinated plan to manage the steadily worsening opioid crisis.

“However, the continued delays are deeply disappointing. I find myself asking: if federal approval was the only hold-up for a supervised consumption site, why the months-long gap between the site being approved and opening its doors?

“The lack of sites for Calgary, where opioid overdoses continue to claim the most lives, is troubling. As I’ve said before, access to harm reduction measures must be further expanded. While I’m glad to see a site opening in Lethbridge, other smaller urban centres and rural areas, where wait times are still too long and mental health care much less available, are badly in need of these facilities.”


Reflections on Serenity

Opinion/Editorial by Dr. David Swann, MLA Calgary-Mountain View

For almost 9 months, I have been part of the Ministerial Panel on Child Intervention, which has been hearing from families and children who have been involved in the child intervention process at some stage or another.

This experience has done much to heighten my admiration and respect for the many front-line workers in the Children’s Services department, who are sent into extremely complex situations and must make extremely difficult decisions about the safety and well-being of the children involved.
It is also brought me closer to the grief these children and their families feel after having come in contact with the system.

All of us are concerned and seeking answers such as: how does a compassionate, well-intentioned move meant to keep children from harm ultimately end in their death, and how can we stop this from happening again?

These were the very questions brought to the forefront in the tragic case of Serenity, a four year-old Indigenous child, who died three years ago while in the care of a foster family. Her death triggered a two-fold inquiry aimed at improving the death review process and reducing the need to remove children from their homes in the first place.

While analyzing these issues, a troubling fact emerged, which is that Indigenous children make up the vast majority of people who are brought into the child intervention system – approximately 7,000 of the 10,000 children currently in government care are Indigenous.

Two years ago, as the Co-chair of the Mental Health Review Committee, I heard similar stories about weaknesses in Alberta’s mental health system, and, once again, Indigenous people were among those who were struggling the most.

We have also seen similar statistics in the criminal justice, social housing, and health systems. But, why?

One of the main reasons can be found in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). It identified the ongoing legacies from the terrible trauma of residential schools as perpetuating these inescapable cycles of poverty, violence, addiction and illness.

The report shows, in order to have a reasonable chance at success, Indigenous peoples must have self-determination and truly be able to influence decisions made about them and their families, and that these decisions must honour and reinforce their cultural identities. Not surprisingly, this finding was echoed in the two provincial reviews I have been a part of.

This is a tall order, especially since our modern society is creating many additional sources of stress, which even relatively healthy people are struggling to overcome.

Is it possible that through a joint commitment to each other’s well-being both cultures can be healed? Can a positive exchange of values and a spirit of humility today replace and repair the negative colonial interactions of the past?  It can, and it must. Besides, what other choice do we have?

Our two cultures got to where we are in the 21st Century together, and must find a way to move forward together. After all, we are all treaty people.


Condo Act regulations should allow more stakeholder input, clarity

Calgary, AB (October 12, 2017): Alberta Liberals say the final version of the Condominium Property Act regulations should allow for more stakeholder input and clarify areas of concern.

“After many years, several different ministers, and two governing parties, I am pleased the province is finally moving ahead on updating Alberta’s condominium legislation,” says David Swann,” However, now that we have come this far, we cannot afford to make mistakes by rushing this across the finish line. We need to take the time to get it right.

Alberta Liberals have been hearing from constituents and stakeholders seeking clarity about the dispute resolution system between condo boards, property management companies and individual owners, as well as how changes to the Alberta Human Rights Act will affect adult-only condominiums.

“There are many unanswered questions,” says Swann. “The government needs to be upfront with Albertans and put everything it is planning on the table for discussion before moving ahead.”

Orders in Council released yesterday indicate that several sections of the Condominium Property Act have been proclaimed, without releasing the draft regulations for public input, as Dr. Swann requested this month in a letter to the Minister of Service Alberta.

Likewise, the Alberta Condo Act Team (ACAT) recently surveyed 162 provincial and municipal representatives and received only three responses, two of which came from ministerial offices and were classified as “non-responsive.” ACAT said in an email that only the Alberta Liberals provided a credible response:

“Dr. David Swann, MLA, Calgary-Mountain View, Alberta Liberal Opposition Leader, provided the one and only single credible response.  Dr. Swann took specific, observable and measurable action by writing to Minister McLean in support of our condo owner advocacy work and our Improvement Ideas.”

Dr. June A Donaldson, ACAT 
“While the views of industry are undoubtedly important, there are more voices that need to be heard,” says Swann. “The government should listen to the suggestions made by interest groups such as the Alberta Condo Act Team with the same intensity and give them equal standing in the consultation process.”