London city council will hold a special meeting next month to debate which local transit projects will go into an application for $374 million in infrastructure money from senior levels of government.
Mayor Ed Holder told the civic works committee Tuesday that council has a limited time to apply for the money, which includes $204 million from the federal government and $170 million from the province.
Holder pointed out “time is of the essence,” with a federal election coming in October.
Staff will present a number of different projects that would fit the parameters of the funding program.
Staff have said the applications may include elements of London’s proposed $500 million bus rapid transit (BRT) plan, but may also include other local transit projects.
The decision will happen the week of March 18 with council sitting as the strategic priorities and policy committee. The meeting will also include a public participation portion so members of the public can weigh in.
But with this council appearing to be divided on BRT, a big question will be whether council can agree on which projects should go into the application in time for the federal government deadline.
Committee chair Coun. Phil Squire tried to keep Tuesday’s discussion, which was essentially about setting a meeting, from tumbling down a rabbit hole of debates about specific transit projects.
Civic works voted 5-1 — Coun. Elizabeth Peloza opposed — to recommend that staff bring forward a list of transit projects to the March meeting.
Lewis asks staff what other items might be on the list. Squire, who’s chairing this meeting, is trying to move things along and keep committee focused on this vote. City engineer Kelly Scherr says a number of projects are ready and can draw from existing plans.
Mackie makes case for fluoridation
Civic works also had to wade into what is always a thorny issue for municipal governments: fluoridation of the water supply.
The previous council was unable to deal with a referral on the issue, so it was up to London’s medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie to speak in its favour Tuesday.
Mackie said fluoridation of drinking water ranks with seatbelts and vaccinations as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the last century.
He said fluoridation helps prevent tooth decay but its opponents, including a handful who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, say its use is harmful and its benefit is unproven.
But Mackie said dental outcomes in cities that have stopped putting fluoride in their water are poorer, particularly for children.
For example Mackie pointed to Windsor, which voted to stop fluoridation in 2013, before voting last month to bring it back.
“We saw a 50 per cent increase in cavities a few years after water fluoridation was discontinued,” said Mackie.
“Each time water fluoridation is discontinued, you see an epidemic of children’s cavities coming into a community,” he added.
“I’ve been closely watching water fluoridation for the past decade and you do see that literature is becoming stronger and stronger each year,” he said. “The claims of health risks are not supported by science.”
London began to fluoridate its water in 1967 after a plebiscite on the issue the previous year.
A handful of people spoke against fluoridation. Among them Kathy Millier with the group Safe Water London,
She described fluoride as a “toxic waste product” and said putting it in the city’s water is a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Councillors asked staff why London fluoridates at a rate of 0.7 milligrams per litre, which is the rate set by Health Canada.
In the end, committee voted to have staff report back on reducing fluoridation levels to 0.6 milligrams per litre.
Coun. van Holst compares fluoridation … to Bill Cosby
I don’t fully understand his argument, I’ll cop to that, but this is Ward 1 Coun. Michael Van Holst speaking to council about fluoridation while using many boxes of cinnamon hearts as a prop. <a href=”https://t.co/OiotbTI0Kj”>pic.twitter.com/OiotbTI0Kj</a>
There were a few strange moments during the discussion about fluoride, two of them from Coun. Michael van Holst.
At one point he began dropping cinnamon heart candies into a jar to illustrate the difference between the amount of fluoride absorbed in the body from drinking water compared to using toothpaste.
Van Holst also spoke about his skepticism about the safety and effectiveness of fluoride, based on studies he’d seen produced in other countries.
Then the Ward 1 councillor said this:
“I have a fear that fluoridation is going to turn out to be the Bill Cosby of water treatment processes because it’s something that we have thought was irreproachable but maybe behind the scenes, it’s actually doing great harm.”
That prompted Squire, who was chairing the meeting, to respond:
“I almost jumped in on that comment about Bill Cosby,” he said to van Holst. “I’m not sure that’s appropriate … but we’ll leave it at that.”
Once one of the most popular figures in entertainment due to his television roles as a loveable father, Cosby was found guilty last year of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman.