by Pat Edmundston
On October 14th, for the second time in a row, the people of Edmonton voted against fluoridation of that major western city's water supplies. Here is the true story of that vicious and very bitter battle.
It began, as the Edmonton Journal admitted on October 15th, when "the Alberta Dental Association, medical and health groups decided early in the fall to wage a campaign to support fluoridation and counter the barrage of propaganda bound to come from the anti-fluoridation forces."
The latter part of that statement is interesting, since "the anti-fluoridation forces" sent out exactly one printed circular and one four-page booklet; both items in the same mall. More on the booklet later!
The barrage of propaganda came in an ever mounting wave — from dentist's offices, from drug stores, over the one TV station, over Edmonton's four radio stations, from the editorial columns of the weekly Edmonton Sun, but most of all from private citizens (organized into such groups as "The Bicuspid Brigade" an organization of 449 women and one man) university men, and the pages and editorial columns of the city's one daily newspaper, The Journal — circulation 105,000. On the main news pages, the sports pages, the women's pages and numerous times in the editorial pages, The Journal outdid itself to see that Edmonton voters did not repeat their mistake of two years earlier, when fluoridation lost being introduced by one percent of the vote!
To get an idea of who unleashed "the barrage of propaganda," you only have to look through the pages of The Journal for October 13th, the day prior to the vote. In that issue, the following material appears for fluoridation:
15 column inches of editorial text;
5 inches news text (two-column, two-deck head) reporting "Bicuspid Brigade's" success in phoning citizens to vote for fluoridation;
43 inches text "by" Dr. Sanford Fleming (in reality, written by Ron Hayter; staff writer) under three-column heading:
DENTIST SAYS FLUORIDATION IS "PRACTICAL MEASURE"
(Dr. Fleming — a graduate in dentistry — even discussed the appalling state of his children's teeth, because three of them had been drinking Edmonton's unfluoridated water!)
There were, of course, the usual ads, the most prominent being one of an appealing child, under the head:
HELP ME PROTECT MY TEETH!
I CAN'T VOTE — PLEASE VOTE FOR ME
VOTE YES FOR FLUORIDATION
Size of that ad was 135 square inches.
In that same issue, against fluoridation, was one display ad only. Measuring under 72 square inches, it was buried on page 32 of the newspaper. It was inserted by the chiropractors of Alberta; and a page or so further on — just to prove The Journal always airs both sides of a question was an inch or two of news, one column head, stating the chiropractors opposed fluoridation.
Propaganda similar in nature ran steadily for two weeks, or longer, prior to voting day. Small children piped over the radio: "Won't you please vote for me, so I can grow up healthy and happy? Vote for fluoridation, please." Some ads were vicious. One housewife's group attacked the one piece of propaganda mailed by the Edmonton Pure Water Association: "A yellow sheet delivered to every door..."
The second item of the Pure Water Association's propaganda was the booklet referred to earlier. Entitled "'The Case Against Fluoridation," it was written by Robert Newton, M.C., Ph.D., D.Sc., LL.D., F.A.I.C., F.R.S.C., former director of the Biology Division of the National Research Council of Canada, Director of Alberta Research Council, and president of the Universsity of Alberta. A hard man to discredit! But the indefatigable. Journal wasn't to be deterred either by science or integrity in Newton's case, one article on the editorial page was devoted solely to counter-acting his position. Medical students painted "Vote For Fluoridation" on the steps of campus buildings.
Emotionalism was the forte throughout. The little children were always crying for fluoridation. Opponents of the scheme were, as usual, belittled as reactionary and ignorant. Even candidates for civic office were coerced into taking a stand "for" fluoridation (the Journal and others conveniently overlooking, at least for the moment, that their job, if elected, was to implement the will of the people.)
Facts were distorted and tossed about wildly. One group of pro-fluoridationists, for instance, benignly told everybody that fluoridation would cost only 20¢ per capita and save the poor people $50-$70. As if that wasn't inducement enough, the baby-begging ad in the Oct. 13th Journal set the cost at 10¢ per head. It is safe to assert that if the money spent on propaganda for fluoridation had been set aside for buying tablets containing the recommended daily dose of 1.0 m.g. of fluoride (which can be supplied at about 24 cents per child per year) those desiring fluoride so vehemently would be supplied for the next 20 years.
Some day, surely, the University of Alberta will look with shame on the utterances to which some of its members were persuaded to lend their names. Stating flatly that the people had no right to vote on the matter at all, Dr. Sanford Fleming (by way of illustration) wrote: "Who can believe that the inestimable boon of vaccination and inoculation would have been universally adopted had it required a 66% vote of the public in favor?" Perhaps he will now demand compulsory vaccination and inoculation which is certainly of more value (as in Salk vaccine) than fluoridation.
Those for fluoridation tried making it a battle of progress, of little children's helplessness, of dollars and cents, of enlightenment versus ignorance and no tactics were spared. The "university crowd" — So worried about fallout from atom bombs — was all for fluoridation. The type of materialistic businessman (the type all for trade with Red China) who stood to profit from increased sales of sugars, soft drinks, candies, etc. (once the wonderful boon of fluoride removed these items as a threat to children's teeth) backed the campaign heavily.
In the 1957 plebiscite, those voting in favor of fluoridation fell a short one per cent from the required two-thirds majority needed to bring it about. This time, this situation looked gloomy for those who opposed mass fluoridation of public water supplies. Their funds were pitifully low, their propaganda confined to a few public debates and the two items of literature already discussed.
Yet when election returns began coming over the radio, it was apparent by radio silence that the impossible had happened; the stupid voters were turning down fluoridation again! Said one radio announcer utter contempt in his voice: "You, dear public, can now line up for dental treatment!" Though on every other report, the lead vote was given first, on the fluoridation plebiscite, the chagrined and grudging announcements came conversely — "Yes, for fluoridation, 858; No. 1161" — right to the bitter end, when almost complete silence on the subject descended.
The final verdict was 27,946 "yes" votes and 22,166 "no" votes. This time, the percentage for fluoridation had dropped from 64% favoring it in 1957 to 55:7% favoring it in 1959. (There were 1,456 rejected ballots.)
The Journal's "news report on it was quite in keeping with the tone of its reporting throughout. The voting pattern, said they, in their front page news, was much the same as in 1957 when 65% of the voters were in favor of it." Editorially, they railed against the "undemocratic measure passed by the Alberta Legislature," requiring a two-thirds majority before it could be introduced. Likewise in keeping with their objective reporting, they mentioned the barrage of propoganda of the anti-fluoridation forces!
Why so many thousands of people should suddenly start beating the drum for fluoridation never appeared to enter some people's minds. Why everyone living in Edmonton, young or old, healthy or diseased, should be compelled to drink fluoridated water — when if they wished they could buy sodium fluoride for their own use — was also carefully supressed. Nor would anyone suggest that if mass consumption of fluoridated water is in the best public interest, mass lining up for Salk vaccine is even more in the public interest.
Even so, the people of Edmonton sensed something was wrong. Credit for alerting them — for increasing the margin of victory in an even heavier civic vote — belongs to a handful of independent businessmen, to the chiropractors of Alberta, to citizens who are members of the Edmonton Pure Water Association — and, in particular, to a young Edmonton housewife, Mrs. Lois McDermind, who acted as secretary of the Association and who publicly debated the issue with the best professional persuaders money could bring up in front of an audience.
It was almost an anti-climax to discover that, on the same day, another Alberta city, Medicine Hat, also defeated a fluoridation plebiscite — 3,296 against the proposal; 1,369 in favor!