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July 2018 Mayor Column

We're more than halfway through 2018, and we are making excellent progress on many strategic priorities.

One that is very significant for our organization is the appointment earlier this week of Bramwell (Bram) Strain as our new city manager. We began our recruitment process seven months ago, and through this rigorous process, we found a person who embodies the qualities we were seeking to lead our organization into the future. Bram has an outstanding breadth of experience in leadership, innovation and change management that will serve City Council, our organization and our community very well.

Bram is coming to Lethbridge from Winnipeg, MB, where he has worked in provincial and federal government as a deputy minister and assistant deputy minister. His first day on the job will be Aug. 15. As Council, we are extremely grateful for the support Interim City Manager Kathy Hopkins has provided to Council and the strong leadership she has provided for our organization during this transition.

This week, the City of Lethbridge formally assumed ownership of the Lethbridge Airport from Lethbridge County.

The Lethbridge Airport is an economic asset for our city and region that we believe has tremendous potential. I encourage you, whether you're a leisure and business traveler, to take advantage of the increased flight options, competitive pricing and convenience of using the Lethbridge Airport. We are seeking federal and provincial grants to make the improvements and expansion that are necessary to enhance the airport's viability and help foster the development of a distribution hub for our region.

Near-term goals are to improve the passenger experience on inbound and outbound flights, which will require upgrades and expansion of the air terminal building. The longer-term vision for the airport is to establish a strategy for the development of land adjacent to the air terminal building that takes full advantage of the close proximity to the airport, the city and highway transportation routes.

A City Council task force has also begun work on developing a municipal housing strategy that addresses the full spectrum of social and affordable housing needs in Lethbridge. The housing spectrum includes housing and support for those who are homeless but also extends to permanent supportive housing, transitional housing, social housing, and affordable housing, and ultimately to home ownership. Previous plans approved by Council have focused primarily on assisting those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

A municipal housing strategy that aligns with the federal government's National Housing Strategy will help Lethbridge leverage provincial and federal resources and enable City Council to strategically allocate those resources to projects that best meet the range of housing needs in the community.

City Council is also committed to working meaningfully with our Indigenous community through the Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Committee. We're committed to fostering trusting relationships as well as awareness and understanding of Indigenous histories, traditions and cultures. This 17-member committee includes representation from City Council, the Lethbridge Indigenous Sharing Network (LISN), neighbouring First Nations, the business and education sectors, and community members at large.

If you haven't already, I hope you'll take time in the next week or two to help refine our community's long-term vision for the Civic Common, the four-square-block area that includes land occupied by City Hall south to the Civic Ice Centre as well as the Civic Field, the Yates Theatre, the Old Courthouse, the YMCA, the Fritz Sick Centre and the Lethbridge RCMP detachment.

The results of the community engagement activities to date can be viewed in Section 4 of the Draft Civic Common Master Plan, which is available at www.lethbridge.ca/CivicPlan. Once you've viewed the draft plan, I hope you'll complete the online questionnaire that will be available until Aug. 10 at the web link above.

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The drug crisis and its effects on our community continue to make headlines. We learned a great deal at the community meeting Council held July 9 on the drug crisis and needle debris. You can view the presentations and the question-and-answer session at www.lethbridge.ca/DrugCrisis.

Dr. Nic Etches, the Lead Provincial Medical Officer of Health for Harm Reduction, presented jarring data that illustrated the unprecedented and rapidly-escalating number of overdose deaths across North America from the use of opioids. He reported that opioid overdose deaths in North America are nine times higher than in Europe and three times higher than in Australia. This is a public health crisis that is not going away any time soon.   

Dr. Etches stressed the importance of harm reduction, including the provision of sterile needles to drug users in order to prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C from needle sharing or reuse. He emphasized that, like other diseases, it requires a public health approach: prevention, harm reduction and treatment. Evidence was also discussed that shows that when diseases such as these are allowed to spread within a sub-population, they eventually spread into the general population. 

We also heard from Dr. Elaine Hyshka, Assistant Professor in the University of Alberta's School of Public Health, who is also Co-Chair of the Ministers Opioid Emergency Response Commission.  She addressed needle and syringe distribution programs and advised there is evidence that these programs help drug users access healthcare and treatment, encourage safer needle disposal, and do not increase injection drug use. Dr. Hyshka spoke about supervised consumption services and provided statistics on the number of these services operating in 10 countries worldwide.  

There is no denying the tension that exists between the need for public safety and the needle-distribution aspect of harm reduction efforts that prevent disease transmission among those who use to drugs. In the interests of trying to balance these important interests, ARCHES recently suspended temporarily the distribution of drug-related harm reduction supplies, including sterile needles, through their walking outreach program.

As a municipality, we are not involved in the delivery of provincially and federally-mandated public health or harm reduction programs. But we remain diligent in our efforts to minimize the incidence of needle debris in our public places in order to keep our community safe for everyone.

Mayor Chris Spearman
July 20, 2018