Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak to Bill S-228, a bill that would prohibit the marketing of unhealthy foods to children.
I would like to thank Senator Nancy Green Raine for her continued dedication in this area and for her hard work on this bill. I would also like to thank the member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley for introducing this bill in the House.
When we talk about the bill, it is important we take a fact and evidence-based approach. I think everyone in the House would agree that we would like to see obesity reduced in Canadians, and that is the goal. However, one of the troubling things is the bill would likely not do that.
First, let us look at the current situation. We have witnessed a decline in childhood and adolescent obesity levels in Canada from 2004 to 2015. This finding is based on the most recent Statistics Canada data from the 2015 Canadian Community Health Survey. Therefore, rates are declining and people are starting to become aware about what they eat and the effect it has on them.
We have heard in the House how other countries have implemented similar legislation to what is proposed here. In fact, the province of Quebec has had this type of legislation in place for the last 40 years. Unfortunately, there has not been a reduction in obesity rates in Quebec. Its rates have been flat for the last 10 years. Therefore, when we look at addressing obesity, it is important to address all of the factors and ensure that what we do will have an impact.
I know the member who has sponsored the bill is a runner and very fit. I am a triathlete and, in full disclosure to the House, I do from time to time eat chips. I do consume McDonald's, Tim Hortons, and a variety of things that might be categorized under the legislation as being unhealthy. However, I do not think members would say I am obese. Certainly, I am quite healthy. It is a balance.
If I look to how I grew up, I remember we ate Lucky Charms, Cap'n Crunch, and a myriad of candied cereals that would make the unhealthy list. In fact, my mother used to give us toast that we dipped in maple syrup. However, there was not a large amount of obesity then, because we ran around all day, played outside, and got our physical activity. Physical activity is probably a stronger factor than what we see here.
One of the problems I have with the bill is the vague definition of “unhealthy” food. Who will decide that? As we pointed out, everything in moderation can contribute to one's diet. That is problematic.
The other thing is the unintended consequences of the bill. I was pleased to hear, with some of the amendments the member has proposed, about the age requirement being held to 13. Although I do not think the bill would have the intended effect of reducing obesity, it is clear that it is problematic with respect to court challenges and also with respect to what we allow people 15 and 16 years old to do. We allow them to fly planes, to get their driver's licence, and all kinds of things. It seems like we need to err on the side of personal choice and individual responsibility.
Also, there will be an impact for many of the folks who have businesses, McDonald's and Tim Hortons I mentioned. Pop is another controversial topic of conversation. However, all of these businesses will receive an unintended consequence. Therefore, I was happy to hear that the health minister recognized there would be an impact on the community support that these organizations provided with respect to sporting events and those kinds of things. It is important that we keep those up, and all the other things they do to support the community, such as the Ronald McDonald houses and the camps that Tim Hortons run. There are numerous beneficial things.
Therefore, I do not think we want to implement legislation that would not actually address the obesity issue but have these other negative consequences, which may not be intended.
One of the concerns that has been brought up as well, which would be addressed by the amendment of reducing the age, is with respect to the kids who work in restaurants or convenience stores and would be exposed to marketing.
The advertising part of this also looks to be difficult to implement. I am not sure what we expect to happen with billboards, because young children will see the billboards. Is that marketing directed at children? Who will make those calls? I think it is unreasonable to assume that the people at Health Canada are going to be able to determine whether advertising is directed at children, and to enforce it. How would they enforce that? How many resources are required to enforce something like that? Those are questions that still need to be answered.
The other concerns that have been raised to me have to do with predominantly adult audiences. If the audience is 95% adult, would we allow unhealthy foods to be advertised there or not? Some of these things seem a little hypocritical. If we look at the government allowing 12- to 17-year-olds to possess up to five grams of marijuana, it seems ridiculous and very hypocritical that we do not want them to see ads for unhealthy foods. There are things of that nature that need to be addressed in this legislation.
There are also going to be economic impacts from this. Estimates from a recent industry study indicate that a ban on food and beverage advertising would result in a GDP reduction of over $10 billion a year, tens of thousands of lost employment person-years, and reductions in income, payroll, and corporate revenues of nearly $1 billion. These unintended consequences will be very bad for the country. As I said, I do not believe the legislation is actually going to get to the heart of the issue, which is reducing obesity.
The other thing that is problematic from my perspective is this. I grew up enjoying Christmas calendars and Easter bunnies. I really think that there is a time and a place where the marketing of treats does not result in obesity. They happen occasionally and are not a chronic part of an everyday diet. That needs to be looked at as well, and exemptions would have to be put forward for those.
I do not know how one would measure whether or not marketing is primarily directed at children. I am not clear on the definition of that. If we look to other places that have implemented similar programs, I know that the data from Chile suggests that it has not seen a reduction in obesity, even though it put in place some very stringent measures. The boxes of Lucky Charms and Cap'n Crunch that I talked about have to be packaged in a white sack in Chile, yet it is still not seeing a reduction in obesity. Similar results exist in the U.K. as well. Therefore, we need to be fact-based and evidence-based when it comes to how we view this legislation.
One of the things that I would like to see is a focus on the activity level of children. I talked about how there was no obesity around our neighbourhood because we were all very active. We have to educate our children and Canadians on the food that they eat and how to live a healthy lifestyle. That is good education and I have certainly changed some of my eating habits over time. It is better for us to educate and then allow people to make their personal choices. If they are taking their kids out, they should be able to take them to McDonald's. I do not think we want to get into a situation where we have a nanny state and we are influencing the personal choices of people. Individuals have a responsibility. Parents have a responsibility.
Those are my comments. I look forward to being at the health committee to talk about this, to look at the amendments that are put forward, and to further discussion.