Ready to vote again on water fluoridation? Calgary to hold 7th plebiscite on issue

Calgary will hold yet another plebiscite on whether to restore fluoride to the city's drinking water this fall.

Question will be put to the public in October municipal election

Calgarians will once again have the opportunity to vote on whether fluoride should be added to the city's drinking water. (iStock)

Calgary will hold yet another plebiscite on whether to restore fluoride to the city's drinking water this fall.

Council voted 10-4 in favour of allowing the electors to decide the issue on Monday. It will be put to the public during the 2021 municipal election in October.

Council chose to stop adding fluoride to its water supply in 2011, against the opinion of Calgarians who had voted in favour of fluoridation in 1998 and 1989 plebiscites. The city has held plebiscites on the issue dating back to the 1950s. 

Fluoride naturally occurs in some foods and is found in the Bow and Elbow Rivers at a concentration between 0.1 and 0.4 mg/L. Health Canada recommends water be fluoridated to a level of 0.7 mg/L to prevent tooth decay.

The city has said it saves about $750,000 a year by not adding fluoride to the water — and some councillors have argued in the past that if it's an important factor to public health, the province should pay for it.

Coun. Jyoti Gondek made a version of that case on Monday, putting forth a motion that the plebiscite should ask the public if the province's chief medical officer of health should make the decision on fluoride.

That motion was defeated. Coun. Evan Woolley also brought forward a motion — arguing council should vote then and there on whether to reintroduce fluoride — which after a flurry of debate was also defeated. 

The controversial fluoride debate may be taking a turn across Canada

4 years ago
Duration 2:48
The U.S. Centres for Disease Control calls it one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. Fluoridated drinking water is credited with lowering levels of tooth decay in children. And yet Canadians are a lot less likely than Americans to have it in their tap water. In recent years cities across this country have been removing the substance, but there are signs that trend is changing.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said that anecdotally, when he was a child his family couldn't afford regular dental visits. But living in Red Deer, where the water is fluoridated, he only had one cavity as a child — since the city stopped adding fluoride to its water, he's had two more. 

"It is absolutely true that universal dental care, especially for low-income children, is a disgrace that we don't have," the mayor said. 

He said the city's control over its water supply gives it one avenue of supporting dental health, especially for those without access to benefits. The mayor cited the World Health Organization, which has called water fluoridation one of the most impactful public health interventions of the 20th century. 

Last year, city council received a report from the O'Brien Institute of Public Health at the University of Calgary, which independently reviewed the existing science on community water fluoridation. 

Among the benefits of fluoride presented in the report, were 50 per cent lower rates of hospital admissions for tooth decay surgeries for children, and a 37 per cent reduction in children's permanent teeth affected by cavities. It also said systematic reviews suggest a 35 per cent reduction in the number of teeth in adults affected by decay and cavities. 

City administration said the costs of reintroducing fluoride would be absorbed into the city's water utility rate. It's expected it would take 18 to 24 months if the city decides to reintroduce fluoride. 


  • An earlier version of this story stated that Calgary was set to hold its sixth plebiscite on the fluoride issue this fall. However, this was based on incorrect information available on the city's website — it will actually be the seventh plebiscite on the topic.
    Feb 02, 2021 2:21 PM MT