Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to once again speak to Bill S-228, which is about marketing to children. I only had the chance to speak to this motion for about two minutes when the bill was last debated. I will use my remaining eight minutes to comment on some new developments that have taken place since the bill was last debated.
The bill is being sponsored by the government as part of its healthy eating strategy and is one of four key pillars of this strategy. This objective is also outlined in the Minister of Health's mandate letter. Furthermore, her letter stated that she would introduce “new restrictions on the commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children, similar to those now in place in Quebec”.
When I was speaking to the legislation in December, I had a great deal of concern that the government was not, in fact, following the Quebec model. The model in Quebec, when it comes to marketing food and drink products to children, is based on an age limit of 13. Originally, Bill S-228 set out that companies would be prohibited from advertising to any children under the age of 17, which is certainly far off from the model in Quebec.
Since then, the minister has announced that the government would be looking to amend the legislation so that the age limit would be 13. I am very pleased to see that the government will move forward with that amendment. It is important. An age limit of 13 is far more reasonable and is more reflective of the model I believe we are aiming for. I look forward to seeing those amendments brought forward.
However, the Quebec model focuses solely on advertising and does not contain labelling and packaging bans, bans on testimonials and endorsements, bans on sales promotions, or bans on sales. All of these are currently possible restrictions in Bill S-228. They would certainly create a system that was far more restrictive than the one in Quebec. Therefore, the bill goes beyond the minister's mandate letter and does not truly accomplish the goal of introducing a model similar to Quebec's.
I would welcome amendments to Bill S-228 that would ensure that the legislation did not include the activities I just outlined. We need to be as close to the Quebec model as possible, and that would certainly help the bill get much closer.
I also have a number of concerns about how vague Bill S-228 is. The bill would essentially pave the way for the Department of Health to create regulations for marketing to children. In fact, the only truly defined aspect of the bill is the age limit. Everything else is left to the discretion of Health Canada. This is concerning, because we have already seen Health Canada deem foods like milk and beef unhealthy in its review of Canada's food guide.
Bill S-228 would amend the Food and Drugs Act to give Health Canada the power to define unhealthy food or to set out the criteria for determining whether a food is unhealthy. It is unclear what kinds of food would actually fall under the scope of this legislation. Over-consumption of anything, instead of moderation, is not good, but to define milk and beef as unhealthy is absolutely not true and is very insulting to the dairy and red meat industries.
Furthermore, the bill is vague about what kinds of advertising would be deemed to be targeting children. This would again be left completely to Health Canada to implement through regulations. Given that the bill is so broad, it is difficult to know what exactly we would be agreeing to in passing Bill S-228. The bill needs to be more clearly defined so that we can be sure that Health Canada would not have the power to unilaterally start regulating our food and beverage industries without evidence to suggest that these regulations would have a positive impact.
Further still, the legislation would leave Canadian food and beverage companies at an unfair disadvantage. Under this legislation, Canadian companies would be unable to advertise on websites, social media, and apps that may be intended for adults but are popular with children. However, foreign companies would not face these same restrictions. This is unfair and could have significant economic impacts. It is another attack on Canadian small businesses.
There is also some significant hypocrisy when it comes to this legislation. I find it interesting that on the one hand, the government is hell-bent on eliminating advertising to children for food and beverages, while on the other hand, it is allowing our children to possess certain amounts of marijuana.
Furthermore, under this legislation, marketing to children by the food and beverage industry would be prohibited, but alcoholic beverages would not face the same restrictions. It does not make sense at all. For example, a 13-year-old watching Hockey Night in Canada would be able to watch a commercial for Budweiser, but Tim Hortons would be prohibited from advertising hot chocolate or Timbits. It does not make sense.
In closing, I am fully in support of measures that promote healthy eating and good nutrition for our children. However, I am not supportive of broad and unclear legislation that would put significant regulatory power in the hands of Health Canada without any legislative direction.
The minister made a number of promises in relation to this legislation. She said that the bill would not target companies that sponsor sports programs, such as Timbits hockey and soccer. I am pleased that the minister has made this promise. However, until I see it included in the bill, I am sceptical and do not trust that this will in fact be the case. I want to see it first.
I support the intent of the legislation. However, the bill needs some significant work at committee to ensure that there are clear and defined objectives. The current draft of the bill would leave uncertainty, and it would leave all decision-making power in the hands of Health Canada. We need more direction.
I have another concern. One of the government MPs has said that we should go beyond the legalization of marijuana and that all drugs should be decriminalized. It just blows my mind. We are talking about the health and safety of kids, and everything the Liberals say and do contradicts that.
With that, I am done for the day.