Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of my constituents, many of whom are restaurateurs, to speak to Bill C-398. Many have said that the objectives of the bill are worthy. I would tend to agree.
As a veteran of the battle of the bulge myself, I appreciate restaurants that provide nutritional information so that I can make more healthy choices when I dine out, which is very frequently given our job. Many of us are veteran customers and consumers of restaurant and food services. I certainly am and I resemble that remark as well.
I believe that there is a good and worthwhile intent for restaurateurs to provide more complete information. The fact of the matter is that it is already happening. One can go down Bank Street to the local Subway franchise and get a brochure filled with nutritional information on the various choices that it offers.
However, it is information that is provided in a way that is plausible for that company. The problem with the bill, as with all similar efforts to impose massive government regulation on a free market economy, is that it would have enormous unintended consequences, and huge additional costs that would be borne by entrepreneurs and ultimately consumers.
My colleague across has pointed out that the food and restaurant business in Canada is one of the largest and most dynamic employers in the country now employing over a million Canadians. Thousands of Canadians have invested their life savings in starting restaurants that have become successful, growing them into chains and becoming franchises.
These are business people who have created wealth, jobs and opportunity for millions of young Canadians, particularly, to get their first rung up the labour market ladder in their work experience for their entire careers. This is an industry which we must support and not burden through unnecessary regulation, the likes of which is contemplated in the bill.
The cost of performing a full nutritional analysis of a menu item could be up to $500 for one item. Restaurants offer dozens of choices and all would have to be outsourced to a lab for testing and analysis. This would present an immediate cost to all restaurants of tens of thousands of dollars.
Furthermore, every time a new special comes in, it would need to be analyzed if an ingredient were switched. A new analysis would need to be performed. This burden would quickly become unbearable for restaurant and franchise owners across the country.
There are other costs as well that are implicit in the bill. Consider the cost of reprinting menus with the specified nutritional information. Adding in the required details to the existing menus would result in doubling their size. This could cost thousands of dollars, not to mention the additional cost of reprinting if an ingredient is substituted or a recipe modified.
Large restaurant chains would be forced to manufacture new and bigger menu boards that include calorie counts. This would be an investment for each outlet of tens of thousands of dollars or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The return on this investment of course would be zero. Presumably, the nutrition police would stop the harassment, but there is no other tangible benefit for the restaurant.
The restaurant owners are already in a tough marketplace. Why would we want to burden them with this ridiculous extra cost?
The effects of the bill on the food services industry would be detrimental to consumers. Instead of providing them with extra helpful information, Bill C-398 would only serve to limit the choices available to consumers. Daily specials would be too costly for restaurants to introduce. Restaurant owners and managers would have to think twice before adding to the menu. Substitutions and combos would be a huge headache for both the consumers and restaurant staff. Overall, would consumers really benefit from this legislation? I doubt it.
Besides being inefficient, the bill is also inequitable. The regulations imposed by the bill apply only to restaurants with over $10 million in annual revenues. This unfairly discriminates against the owners of franchise restaurants that have branches all over the country. The bill penalizes one group of business people over another without any justification. It picks winners and losers and the government should not do that.
Even if we ignore all the flaws that I have mentioned, the bill is completely unworkable and impossible to implement. Let us think about the regulations for just a second. The bill would force restaurants to list the number of calories in a menu item next to its price on the menu board.
Consider for example a pizza store. Hon. members should imagine they would like to order a medium pizza, but first they have to choose their toppings. Would they like mushrooms, green peppers, onions, double cheese, or tomatoes? The combinations are endless.
Using simple mathematics it is possible to calculate that the number of different possible combinations for Pizza Pizza, for example, which carries 28 different toppings, would mean 268,435,455 different options for pizza toppings. Can hon. members imagine a menu board with 268 million entries? That is ridiculous.
A simple sandwich store with five possible toppings would imply 120 combinations which would require specific posted information. A Subway store with 10 toppings has 3.628 million possible total combinations. That is why the bill is not workable.
If we go down to the local Subway store, it will give us information that is practical and responds to the market demand in an efficient way. It provides the information with a market advantage over its competitors who are not providing that basic information. However, if we pass this law, we will require them to post 3.6 million caloric entries on a menu board.
This is not just a problem for pizza stores. It is a problem for fast food outlets and for virtually every kind of food service. I would urge all of my colleagues to vote against this ill-conceived bill. The economic effects would be far reaching and there is really no discernible benefit.
I would like to second the view of my colleague. I received dozens of letters from restaurateurs across the country who were very concerned about the bill.
For example, Jean-Pierre Léger, president of St. Hubert Bar-BQ, a Quebec restaurant chain, wrote:
We feel that Bill C-398 is neither realistic nor applicable to the food service industry, and would not help educate the consumer about better food choices.
Stéphane Breault, president of the Van Houtte cafe-bistro division, in Quebec, wrote:
Promoting healthy eating habits and a healthy lifestyle is a big job. Choices have to be made, but one has to count on the consumer's ability to decide what he or she wants to eat. As restaurateurs, we have to adjust to changes when they originate with the customer. Our survival depends on it.
Patty Jameson, vice-president of Tim Hortons, wrote:
We are also concerned about the inequities apparent in this bill. Our store owners are independent franchised operators who have put their life savings into their Tim Hortons operations, the same as most “Mom & Pop” type operators do. This bill would create an uneven playing field by dictating that our store owners comply with these regulations, while at the same time exempting the “Mom & Pop” operators.
Joan Overin, from ABC Country Restaurants, wrote:
Sure hope the government does not take the heart out of this business by making unreasonable, poorly thought out demands on the restaurant industry. That is what I would call this bill to force some restaurants, (not all) to label the caloric content of their products on menu boards and menus.
Serge Simard of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts wrote:
--introducing such a process would not only be extremely costly, but operationally short of impossible.
I know the sponsor of the bill has been furnished with these and dozens of other letters by the hardworking business people who risk their capital, who work hard to create wealth, and employ hundreds of thousands, over a million Canadians. I wish he would listen to what these people had to say about how the bill is completely unworkable and would take the heart out of businesses of tens of thousands of restaurateurs in this country.
In closing, they need our support through tax relief, lower payroll taxes, and more efficient labour practices. They do not need government imposing yet more burdensome, job killing regulations on a vital Canadian industry.