Mr. Speaker, I was at the point of suggesting to my colleagues that they take time to read Bill S-228—about a five-minute investment of their time. They will notice that the bill, as currently drafted, is extremely vague and leaves too many doors open to unintended consequences. We do not know yet what constitutes “unhealthy food”. The definition is not identified. We should disagree with any categorization of any food as unhealthy or bad. If bad or unhealthy, it should not be defined as a food. As well, any food eaten in moderation can form part of a wholesome diet.
Bill S-228 does not provide specifics as to what constitutes marketing for children and types of marketing activities that should be restricted. The bill would likely prohibit an extremely wide range of practices in the form of restrictions on (a) advertising in traditional broadcasting, radio, and print; (b) online and digital content; (c) sponsorships; (d) sales promotions; (e) celebrity and character endorsements; and (f) the use of a brand name, trademark, or logo that is associated with or evokes thoughts of an unhealthy food.
If this is the case, the scope of the marketing revisions under Bill S-228 would likely have negative repercussions on many sectors of business: farming, food manufacturing, advertising, publishing, broadcasting, and retailing, including the small and medium-sized convenience store owners. At no time have we seen a bill before this House with such wide-ranging restrictions on communications and advertising of legal products.
Let me paint a picture of a Canada under this current bill, Bill S-228. A Canada under the bill would mean that youth would be exposed to beer commercials rather than candy bar commercials during the broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada. A Canada under Bill S-228 would also mean that youth could drive a car at age 16 or fly a plane at 15 years of age but still be subjected to restrictions on the marketing of food and beverages. What would happen to Timbits hockey and Tim Hortons summer camps? The very sports teams that keep our children active may struggle to exist.
The lack of differentiation of target audiences for advertising purposes exposes Bill S-228 to a potential constitutional challenge under subsection 2(b) of the charter. The majority of the court in Irwin Toy Ltd. v. Quebec noted that the advertising ban under Quebec's Consumer Protection Act was the least intrusive means, least intrusive on the constitutional right of freedom of commercial speech, including advertising, and was justifiable under section 1 of the charter because the advertisers were still free to direct their message at parents and other adults.
Bill S-228 would give broad discretionary powers to the cabinet to make regulations “setting out the factors to be considered in determining whether unhealthy food is advertised in a manner that is primarily directed at children, including how, when and where an advertisement is communicated”. We must ask ourselves if we as legislators are not abdicating our responsibility when allowing legislation as broadly drafted as is Bill S-228 to enter this House for consideration. The lack of details renders debate and public consultation meaningless, weakening the integrity of our democratic processes and institutions.
With this reversal of roles, with the Senate introducing legislation for consideration by the House, the House must now act as the chamber of sober second thought to reflect the interests of its constituents.
It is also surprising, as my fellow members will notice when they read the bill, to see what is left in the hands of government officials. The definitions in the legislation should be the subject matter of discussion and guidance by this House, not left to the care of others within the bureaucracy, who would be given very wide latitude to address the definition of unhealthy foods.
This would leave Canadian businesses vulnerable to the whims of a few unelected officials who may not appreciate the ramifications of their decisions. I reiterate, who will be impacted by this bill? It will be farmers, small business owners, manufacturers, advertisers, broadcasters, the very heart of job creation, all the way to small convenience store owners.
Our esteemed senators claim that Bill S-228 satisfies the health minister's mandate letter and that similar prohibitions in other jurisdictions, most notably in the province of Quebec, have worked to decrease childhood obesity levels.
It is critical to highlight that Bill S-228 deviates substantially from the Quebec model, despite the Prime Minister's instructions to the health minister in his mandate letter to her to promote public health by introducing new restrictions on commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children, similar to those in Quebec. The bill targets children under the age of 17 rather than under 13, although it has been said that the age will be changed. In fact, I am advised that the original bill introduced in the Senate did provide an initial target age of under 13 years of age, which would be compatible with Quebec.
Bill S-228 will be masked as a means to fight childhood obesity. It will be seen as checking the box in the health minister's mandate letter. I believe the health minister would want to ensure that that piece of her mandate letter is properly addressed with evidence-based solutions. Bill S-228 illustrates the dangers of crafting health policies on the basis of dated and, quite frankly, incomplete data.