by Michelle Sandsmark, BCHC Program Coordinator
Discussing the management of alcohol and gambling at the local level is a difficult job to do, but this is the kind of work Gerald Thomas lives and breathes. “One of my mentors once said to me I needed to pick my fights better,” Thomas joked, “I take on large social issues and am quite passionate about improving things.”
As the Director of Alcohol and Gambling Policy at the Ministry of Health, Thomas is all about creating the conditions within communities to support the, sometimes gritty, dialogue around alcohol and gambling. To do this Thomas helps administer the Municipal Alcohol Policy (MAP) program, which has supported over 20 municipalities in BC since 2012 to reduce alcohol related harm and costs.
A big part of my job is bringing alcohol into peoples’ conscious awareness so they can engage in productive and open discussions about how they relate to drinking and what that means for their health and safety.
MAP is a useful tool to reduce the health and financial costs caused by alcohol at the local level. MAP is administered by BC Healthy Communities in partnership with the Ministry of Health. Communities can receive up to $7,000 in financial support, a workshop to stimulate deeper dialogue around MAP, and evidence based resources.
“Helping BC as a society consciously consider their relationship with alcohol and improve public health and safety is a work in progress, and MAP is part of that,” Thomas explained, “At the municipal level those 20 communities are trailblazers in a sense. We really want to honour the courage of those folks because alcohol is often not an easy topic to take on.”
Thomas is also a collaborating scientist at the University of Victoria, Centre for Addictions Research of BC. He has published several research papers and is an accomplished academic in addition to working for the Provincial government.
Thomas uses his background in Political Science, Economics, and Public Policy to increase awareness and enhance decision makers’ abilities to address difficult social issues. “Taking an empowerment approach to education [is important]…instead of telling them what to do, so people can make healthy choices," described Thomas. “Social justice is in my DNA - looking out for the underdog, and taking an equity [approach] are also part of my principles.”
Thomas has always been devoted to improving social conditions. His previous research and policy work with such entities as the John Howard Society of Canada, and the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse have helped cultivate Thomas’ passion for social issues. With Thomas’ experience of working across the country to address alcohol and gambling issues he has seen the power that dedicated individuals can have on the community.
Thomas’ ability to draw upon research to influence policy changes, his passion for social justice, and his vision for better health and well-being for British Columbians is catalytic, to say the least.
“You have to have a strong backbone and a strong constitution to take on these kinds of issues”, Thomas said as he reflected on some of the challenges he has encountered regarding alcohol and gambling policies, “You have to stick to your principles in these kinds of issues and believe at your core that you can make a difference”.
To learn more about MAP click here.
To access a list of Gerald Thomas’ academic publications click here.