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Council rejects ballot question on fluoride, but 10 per cent of electors can force it

Posted March 25, 2014

Pending a change in voting intentions when the matter hits council for ratification next Monday night, New Tecumseth's municipal ballot in October will not include a question about fluoridation of the urban water system.

The issue came to a head last night, because ballot questions have timelines, and in this case, a bylaw to hold a plebiscite has to be approved by April 31, including a public notice period, and a public meeting.

Ward 8 councillor Jim Stone, whose made the removal of fluoride from the Tottenham water his top priority, succeeding after several tries, last fall, said last night he did not want to see the question on the ballot.

"The Clean Water Act basically tells us as councillors and staff, we're all responsible personally for the integrity of our water system, and we could not knowingly put anything in the water that can harm people," said Mr. Stone. "There is a lot of evidence that fluoride causes harm. All these things I've been saying about fluoride, if you don't agree with what I've said, you should find out for yourself."

Mayor Mike MacEachern pointed to his confusion about the notion that a majority vote in a ballot question is binding on the municipality when fluoride was removed from Tottenham by council resolution.

"I just don't understand, if it's binding, why that's a big deal, because we could wait a month and just take it out," said the mayor, seeking clarification from CAO Terri Caron.

Ms. Caron said the provision did contradict itself in the sense that, "if you ask the question, if fluoride is to be added, and the answer from the majority from the electors is yes, it's binding on the municipality, and it must be added. But subsequently, if a decision taken later to remove it, the Act provides a process for that and it does not include a mandate to go back to the electors for that. So the process followed in Tottenham  was in conformity With the Act."

"It's not really binding then," added the mayor. "I think binding as meaning you have to do it."

"You do have to do it," replied Ms. Caron. "You do have to implement it. And you have to take all the necessary steps to implement the decision of the electors, but it doesn't have to be forever, and there is no time period around which it has to be, but you do have to do it."

The report to council laying out the various options, estimated the cost to fluoridate the water system in the three urban areas, at more than $164,000. The Town received concerns from local industry about the unknown impact fluoride would have on their own processes, and because they are corporate, would not have a vote, or say in its outcome.

Ward 1 councillor Bob Marrs echoed Mr. Stone's concerns, suggesting that he would need to add a filter to his tap water because of his health issues.

"I think there's good reason to sit back and say, 'why are we putting medication in the water? If we're putting medication in the water, let's put heart medication, let's put stuff in for dogs to get rid of rabies shots, just throw everything in the water to make sure everyone's medicated up. It's a medication," said Mr. Marrs. "I'd be happy if we just let the system die."

Ward 4 councillor Fran Sainsbury, added, "I think its been on the books for so long, and its been debated and debated, and if you don't do it, that's the end of it."

Ward 2 councillor Jamie Smith said he disagreed with Mr. Stone and Marrs' position, siding with the medical community that supports fluoride as a key element in fighting tooth decay.

One of the options presented, that was also supported by Ward 3 councillor Paul Whiteside, was the provision that forces a ballot question if 10 per cent of the eligible electorate in the municipality petitions for one. But that's an option available on any matter.

"I don't think it's our position to put fluoride in the water or take it out," said Mr. Smith. "Seems to me the only reasonable thing to do is adopt option three. If 10 per cent of the population want to vote on it, let us have a vote, if they don't then we can presume they don't want fluoridation and just go on into the future."

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