Nov 072007

 Politics is public service.  It is (ummm-  SHOULD be) a noble calling that requires us to go beyond ourselves. 

Some of us ran in the election.  The Green Party aspires to a leadership role in government.  Sometimes you don’t have to get elected; you can still make a difference by putting the issues forth.

Jane Jacobs, in her book “Systems of Survival.  A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics” makes it clear that leadership comes from the top down.  It is not the fault of “the family” or the failure of parenting if morals are in decline.  It is the fault of the leadership in the community. 

We are all leaders, in different ways, in our communities. In small ways.


 The President of Uganda, Museveni, will not attend any function at which alcohol is served.  He knows the value of role models.  Uganda doesn’t have the problems with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome that Saskatchewan has.  

GOAL:  the percentage of children under age 5 with fetal alcohol syndrome decreases from a current level of XX%  to  YY% by the year 2015.   

If the number of children with Fetal Alcohol Effect continues to grow, we know that our programmes are ineffective.  Someone is responsible and accountable for that.

(Excerpts from March 4, 2002  Verbal and written submission to Romanow Healthcare Review.) 

We have developed a research and treatment industry around children with FAS. 

Every child born with FAS is testament to our failure.  With the right measurements and accountability, we can begin to reverse the trend. 


(from my Submission to Romanow Healthcare Review) 

10.         Alcohol and Addictions 

Addictions are known to be terribly costly to society.   Healthcare expenditures are ever-increasing. 

Use the example of Saskatchewan.  Saskatoon Star Phoenix Feb 21, 2002:   “…revenue shortfall over $150 million”. 

The Government knows that tax hikes will be extremely unpopular.  Is it coincidental that I read in another newspaper where Premier Calvert announces 400 new video lottery terminal licenses will be issued?  

In conversation with Robert Ducan, Mayor of the small town of Val Marie (remembered among other things for organizing a road crew of local citizens to fix their own roads; the roads had fallen into intolerable disrepair) he lamented about some of the residents who couldn’t stay away from the VLT’s and the harm that was doing to their family finances, which in turn affects the health of the family.  He asked one of the ranchers,  “What would your reaction be if we were able to shut down the VLTs in the town?”  (If you know and care about the individuals in a community,  you want to help them.) 

The man’s shame-faced response was, “Great.  If I had to drive an hour to get to one, I wouldn’t be doing it, or at least not nearly so much.”  What do VLTs contribute to the life and health of the individual community? 

Beyond the Influence: Understanding and Defeating Alcoholism“, Ketchum and Asbury, April 2000, establishes that addictions are an illness.  The man that Robert Ducan talked with, or the lawyer that has a “drinking problem”, have more than a lack of self-discipline.  Addictions come in different forms, to gambling, to alcohol, to shopping, etc.  Some forms are more destructive than others.  It is also established that if you merely shut down (as opposed to working on the cause of) an addiction it will most often surface in the individual, later, in another form.  Understood in this light, in the VLTs there is an element of preying on the weaknesses of another person.  

A fellow in the banking business in the town of Kerrobert shook his head and said, “You wouldn’t believe the amount of money that goes out of this town to the (government) lotteries.  Thousands of dollars out of individual bank accounts.”  In small towns a bank manager knows the people and sees where the money goes. 

I spoke with Maxine Wiebe from the Central Plains Health District (Humboldt).  The Humboldt Journal stated that in 1997 $1,300,786 left the area through VLT’s.  One year.  I don’t have the updated figures. 

The existing system is actually very destructive of community, and therefore of health:  the Government siphons the money out of communities where it is needed to fund the maintenance and building of facilities such as skating rinks and swimming pools that contribute greatly to the health of a community (kids and families engaged in healthy pursuits).  Money given directly to local volunteer organizations has a great deal more purchasing power than the same dollars sent in to a central bureaucracy where it is used to pay the salaries and overhead of people to whom the municipality must then submit written plans in order to get the money back to do the community work,  IF some one in Regina deems the project desirable. 

Through the siphoning off of money through Income Taxes (Federal, Provincial), consumption taxes (GST, PST), and gambling revenues, communities become dependent.  And they lose control over the decisions that affect the work that will be done in their community.  

85-year-old Jane Jacobs, author whose works are taught in many different university courses, began meeting with the mayors of 5 major Canadian cities in the summer of 2001.  Their work is based on Jacobs’ premise that the present system whereby the Federal Government rakes in the tax booty and the municipalities then beg hat-in-hand from the mandarins for alms is ludicrous.  Cities don’t have money for public transportation, sewage treatment (Halifax, Victoria, Vancouver dump untreated sewage complete with toxic industrial effluent into waterways), Regina doesn’t have money for garbage disposal, Humboldt doesn’t have money to fund local economic development. The answer is for ALL municipalities to join the 5 major Cities that are negotiating a re-balance with Ottawa. 

Communities can compete with the Government for the money and many do:    local service organizations raffle, for example, airfare to Hawaii for two to raise funds for the community hall.  A much larger portion of the money stays in the community.  Local people decide what the community needs and they grow strong as they work together and see the fruits of their joint labour.   

It is clear to me that the people of Saskatchewan, and especially people in the health professions, should boycott the Government’s attempts to extend gambling.  The relationship between healthy communities and healthy individuals is well known.  Oh yes, we all know that.  But our actions don’t support our empty and meaningless rhetoric. 

Peter Gzowski contributed to the book “Addicted:  Notes from the Belly of the Beast” edited by Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane 2001 (Gzowski was killed by his addiction to cigarettes).  Moving personal stories of writers and poets who have gone public with their experience.  An all too- common theme is  abuse of the person as a child in one sad way or another.  Also drinking that started at a young age (adults giving booze to very young children). 

You either want to cry or string somebody up.  (I don’t know the biographies of all 10 Canadian contributors to the book, but at least 3 of them are from Saskatchewan (Lois Simmie, Lorna Crozier and John Newlove).  Hopefully that’s a bias introduced by Lorna Crozier who edited the book, and not a consequence of the higher levels of alcoholism in Saskatchewan. 

I think of a friend from a Saskatchewan town.  Alan was given his first drink at age 8 and was known for his partying by his teens.  Father was a drinker who beat his children.  Alan quit school and headed for the city at the first opportunity.  This gifted and generous individual did well and made it onto the list of Canada’s top ten business people one year, in spite of his drinking.  His life today is a daily struggle to remain sober. Sometimes on the wagon, sometimes off. (UPDATE:  2007:  Alan is 61 years old and hasn’t much longer to live.  . . .   He’s dead.) 

What existed side-by-side with the neglect and abuse of the child was a community that chose not to see, that chose not to help the child.  A worker hired by the Government, sitting in an office will never know what goes on in back alleys and behind closed doors.  But people in the community know.  

Among my Grandfather’s old newspaper clippings was a letter-to-the-editor from one Arch Winegarden in Saskatoon.  He wrote “In the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, written in 1788 by Edward Gibbons, five basic reasons why that civilization withered and died, are stated thus:

“…. when the real reason was within – the decay of individual responsibility.” 

We as citizens are part of the problem, and the Government is part of the problem.  The attitude developed has been:  the Government will look after it:  turn all the money over to them.  But they can’t carry out our responsibilities and they don’t.  We move backwards.  

The cost of addictions (alcohol, gambling, etc.) on healthcare costs (let alone in other fields) is well documented.  Alcohol is a factor in half the admittances to emergency rooms.  People are treated for the injury, discharged, and once again  the system does not address cause.  The problem is alcoholism, not a broken nose from getting in a fight.   Anyone that comes into an emergency room with alcohol-related injuries should be diverted directly into an alcohol-related programme.  

I have spoken with the Drug and Alcohol Addiction Centre in Regina.  They are greatly under-funded.  A friend in Regina whose husband developed a gambling problem phoned the gambling addiction help line in Regina to obtain the package of information promised to families that face gambling problems.  She was told it would take two weeks before the information would get to her.  (I can send a message to Uganda in minutes.  It takes 2 weeks to get a package across town in Regina.)  The wife of the addicted person was highly anxious.  You don’t wait two weeks to deal with crisis situations.  In spite of all the rhetoric we have very ineffective programmes related to addictions.   

There are effective models to combat the horrendous effects of addiction (reference the above book – “Beyond the Influence).  Other jurisdictions implement alcohol programmes at great saving to the medical system.   We don’t need to re-invent the wheel  – – couldn’t we at least recognize value and adopt it?  It is unacceptable that Saskatchewan should have a high per capita rate of alcohol consumption. Not when we have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome babies. 

In the long term health-care costs will remain unnecessarily high if we don’t adopt more effective programming.   We need a specific target (e.g. Saskatchewan will have the lowest rate of alcohol consumption in Canada by 2010), a strategy to accomplish that, and regular assessment of progress.

We need LONG TERM plans.  

Included in the assault on alcoholism should be an assault on the alcohol industry, the same as there has been on the tobacco industry.  

I wonder if a group of fetal alcohol syndrome people will take somebody to court one day?  But in the interests of healthcare, I challenge you to tell me why it is not the responsibility of Government to implement effective programmes?   They match Monsanto $1 for $1 to help the company develop transgenic wheat, with the added bonus of access to Federal laboratory facilities.  Meanwhile they continue to contribute to the problem of addictions through the extensions of gambling and through negligence in relation to the policing of alcohol consumption (which generates more revenues for them).  “Beyond the Influence …” documents the effectiveness of the industry lobby, and the lack of uncompromised politicians.   The industry has bought and continues to buy itself into a position where no one will challenge their presence.   

Free beer for underage teen-agers at the Rock Festival in Craven.  Many, many examples of the acceptance of the alcohol culture, when it should be aggressively weeded out.  

The Temperance Society in Saskatoon just after the turn-of-the-century made a large difference in alcohol consumption.  Women in the community cared about the women and children who were going without food while the money went to the bottle to be passed out in urine.  Today we have less incentive to address the problems created by alcohol addiction because the women and children will be looked after by social assistance.  Is that really an answer?  We are once again in need of a Temperance Society. 

When I attended the University of Saskatchewan in the late sixties it was not possible to buy alcohol on the east side of the River because the land for the university was endowed by a woman who set a condition: there could be no alcohol available for sale on the side of the River where the land for the University was situated.  Her terms were honoured for many decades.  Students still got beer, to be sure, but they went to a few pains to get it. 

Eventually the City found a way around the by-laws and booze was available on the East side, off-campus.  And eventually the University and the liquor sellers got around the lady’s wishes altogether.  Today there is a pub on campus. And initiation into the booze cult. 

The President of Uganda, Museveni,  will not attend any function at which alcohol is served, simply because he knows the value of role models.  Uganda doesn’t have the problems with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome that Canada has. 


Not one penny of money raised through taxation should be used to purchase alcohol; it doesn’t matter how “dignified” the state functions or visitors are.  We need a strong stand and a visible role model that says “you can choose not to drink”.  

Also, I don’t think it’s fair that families who themselves can’t afford a bottle of wine for dinner should have to provide the money (through taxation) to buy the wine and other spirits that are served at innumerable Government functions across the country, free-of-charge to the participants, all of whom can afford to buy their own booze. 

Saskatchewan’s national standing on alcohol consumption is a sign of incompetence, a sign that Saskatchewan is not progressive, a cause for embarrassment, a sign that we do not have effective programmes.

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