BY IAN PATTISON

Opioid addiction is getting a lot of attention in Canada these days. Rightly so. It’s the latest version of substance abuse and considered to be the deadliest. But is it?

Data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information show 10 Canadians die in hospital every day from harm caused by substance use, and 75 per cent of those deaths are related to alcohol. There are more than 250 alcohol-related hospitalizations in Canada every day per 100,000 people. Alcohol contributes to more than half of all substance-use hospitalizations, which are 13 times more common than for opioid poisonings. Canadians drink more than 50 per cent above the global average.

The Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research says that compared with opioids, the economic costs of alcohol use are up to 10 times higher and related to criminal justice issues, lost productivity and health care.

But alcohol is perfectly legal – society’s popular drug of choice. Who doesn’t like a couple of drinks after a hard day, or socializing at night, or just about anytime, anywhere? That seems to be Doug Ford’s mindset. Oddly enough, Ontario’s premier is a teetotaler. But you’d never know it from his legislative fixation with alcohol.

Building on the former Liberal government’s relaxation of regulations allowing grocery stores to begin selling beer, wine and cider, the Ford government committed to allowing alcohol sales in corner stores, introduced “buck-a-beer” last September to decrease the minimum price of beer by 25 per cent, cancelled a planned 4-per-cent increase in beer prices in October, and increased the weekly legal limit on the hours of alcohol sales at the LCBO and Beer Store.

The government’s spring budget promised a large expansion of the number and type of alcohol stores across Ontario with a focus on privatization. LCBO workers are pushing back, arguing they’re more likely to challenge under-age or inebriated customers than a youthful store clerk or owner intent on maximizing sales.

The government will also allow drinking alcohol in parks, tailgating at sporting events, earlier opening hours for bars, and relaxing alcohol-advertising rules – all described as “wins for the people.” Well, unless you’re among the 4 per cent of people who are addicted to booze and the millions more whose lives are troubled by others’ heavy drinking, from families to people killed by drunk drivers.

Who in this city and region – infamous for unenviable drinking statistics -- doesn’t know someone whose life, if not their own, has been irrevocably altered by someone else’s heavy drinking?

Ontario was long known as a nanny state for its strict rules on purchase and consumption of alcohol. Remember filling out those blue slips at the LCBO?

A more liberalized approach to alcohol has been a part of society’s relaxation of standards of all kinds. But hadn’t we in Ontario reached an agreeable level of convenience in terms of alcohol availability, considering its egregious effects on our lives?

Ford – whose own brother, Rob, suffered alcohol and drug addiction -- has heard these arguments but he’s not fazed by them. Instead, he’s pushing ahead with his latest plan to allow 24-hour alcohol consumption at Ontario’s international airports. Apparently, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. isn’t enough time for passengers between planes to toss back a few drinks before boarding again.

What is with Doug Ford’s obsession with alcohol? And what will it mean for our communities and health-care costs?

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Although he was largely invisible during the federal election campaign, to avoid any connection to federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, Ontario Premier Doug Ford did pop up – twice – in Northern Ontario.

In Kenora earlier this month he announced roads funding, though not the long-promised four-lane highway to Manitoba. In Thunder Bay he repeated a pledge by the former Liberal government to fund broadband connections to northern First Nations, but he didn’t mention the long-promised Thunder Bay Expressway expansion. Contrast that with the Regina bypass announced this month – 40 km of four-lane highway and 12 overpasses, completed in four years.

Then, on Tuesday, on the self-serving Ford Nation website, there appeared a video that begins, “You have no idea about the great people of the North.” They are “real and down-to-earth,” Ford intones, promising to “create great opportunity for jobs and careers for people to stay in this community.” We are “instrumental” in building cities (showing a shot of Toronto). “That’s the role the North plays, no matter if it’s mining or forestry.” Or say, the fast-emerging knowledge-based economy around health-care research in Thunder Bay. In Ford’s mind we seem to be inevitably and solely tied to extracting resources for the greater good of Ontario.

Then comes the grand finale: “Together, we will make this the most prosperous region in the country to work, live and play.”

Well. That’s quite a promise. Northern Ontario will be more prosperous than the GTA, than Greater Vancouver or Calgary.

We look forward to the many more provincial initiatives that it will take for us to get to this exalted place in Canada

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California is again suffering massive forest fires driven by steroidal Santa Ana winds gusting to 160 km/h. Increasing wind speeds and decreasing precipitation tied to changing climate are forecast to grow future fire danger throughout the state.

Stronger winds are a factor in most climate change scenarios, including Lake Superior’s. Here, according to the 2014 study Lake Superior Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation, warmer air and surface water temperatures are causing winds to increase – by 12 per cent from 1985-2008 alone.

Twice this summer, wind-whipped gales have wreaked havoc upon the Superior shore, most recently on Oct. 11 when 26-foot waves were measured at some weather buoys. Combined with near-record lake levels, a wind-driven seiche clobbered the entire North Shore, badly eroding shorelines and ripping away docks. It was a powerful reminder that time is growing short to address the realities of a changing climate.

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.

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