From time to time, people say that community water fluoridation is the responsibility of the provincial government not the city government.

While it is correct to argue about whether federal government or provincial governments have the power to regulate a particular matter, it is a mistake to trot out such an argument with respect to provinces and cities.  

It makes no sense with respect to water fluoridation, which is what municipalities do (not provinces). Just as we treat water locally with chlorine to prevent gastro-intestinal illness like e-coli, so do we treat water to avoid dental decay, which is the most common chronic disease of childhood.  Preventing dental decay by local water treatment is a municipal matter.  

The argument that fluoridation is a provincial matter is misguided because under the Canadian Constitution, municipalities exist only because they have been created by the provinces to perform some of the tasks that provinces have, but which can be best performed more locally.

In Alberta, cities, towns and villages have been created by the Alberta Municipal Government Act.  The province creates such municipalities and has the power to wind them up.

The Municipal Government Act grants general authority to municipalities, such as the City of Calgary, (a) to provide good government; (b) to provide services, facilities or other things that […] are necessary for all or a part of the municipality; and (c) to develop and maintain safe and viable communities. These are a municipality’s “municipal purposes.”

Clearly, developing and maintain safe and viable communities is an important provincial responsibility that Alberta has delegated to Calgary.  So how can Calgary develop and maintain Calgary as a safe and viable community?  By, among other ways, ensuring the health of the population by doing things that cities can do.  

For this reason, Calgary provides, for example, safe roads and bridges; it requires reduced speed limits for school and playground zones and in neighbourhoods; and it staffs city pools with lifeguards.  All of these city activities promote health by helping to prevent harm.

Likewise, a municipality can use its water treatment facilities to ensure that the water both avoids disease.  When it comes to protecting Calgarians from infectious disease through water treatment, Calgary can chlorinate and fluoridate the water.  

Still, people claim that “health” is in provincial jurisdiction, not municipal?  Yet, to be precise, “health” is not exclusively provincial or exclusively federal.  Our Constitution assigns to each province, authority over the establishment, maintenance and management of hospitals, asylums, charities and charitable institutions in and for the province other than marine hospitals. Provinces are also assigned “all matters of a merely local or private nature”.

Water treatment is a local matter.  With the Municipal Government Act, Alberta has delegated this responsibility.  It has giving municipalities the authority to act on matters of a merely local nature within each municipality. 

Just as we treat water locally to prevent gastro-intestinal illness like e-coli, so do we treat water to avoid dental decay, which is the most common chronic disease of childhood.

Preventing dental decay by local water treatment is a municipal matter.