Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and join in this debate. Senator Greene Raine, who has presented this bill, is part of my B.C. caucus. Overall today, I want to point out my admiration for her, for her past achievements, and also for her contributions since then, including bringing forward ideas that she thinks are important. That being said, my role today is to ask questions about how this will be interpreted, questions that industry and those who have to work under such rules will be asking, and to make sure they are included in any kind of contemplation and examination.
I used to be a martial arts instructor. I taught hundreds, if not thousands, of young people how to protect themselves. The very act of enabling our youth to make wise decisions, and to be strong, whether it be in self-confidence or in body, is very important. I also have children. I have three girls under the age of 17 that this bill would apply to, and one child who has reached the age of majority. Certainly, I have been a parent. I have worked with children to help them make better choices. I have helped parents to work with their children and become aware of these things. A sound body creates a sound mind, which helps someone to be able to give their time to their country.
Specifically, I would like to ask a few questions in relation to the bill.
The bill would amend the Food and Drugs Act to prohibit food and beverage marketing directed at persons under 17 years of age.
When a piece of legislation is put into place where officials, who are not a specific minister or Governor in Council, i.e., the cabinet, are not authorized to make further changes, it undercuts the ability of parliamentarians and the constituents we represent to make a direct connection with elected leaders to express their concerns. One just has to look at what brouhaha happened at CRA when, unbeknownst to the minister, CRA officials put forward a folio which changed how employees would be taxed on their benefits, such as receiving a lunch, or a discount on a pair of jeans or whatnot. The outrage we heard was particularly because this affected everyday Canadians in their lives, and we had a minister of the crown who basically said she knew nothing about it and it was the fault of the officials.
Our system works best when we have ministers who allow themselves to be accountable. I am happy to see a minister of the crown here today. It is not often that we see someone joining a private member's debate. I think that this is good. He can hear some of the thoughts on the other side. I welcome that.
The second thing I would raise is the lack of definition on what is unhealthy. We know that everyday members of Parliament from the Conservative side have been asking the Minister of Health specifically about stakeholder concerns about the Canada food guide. Stakeholders have not been allowed to participate directly with government officials at Health Canada. They were forced to attend regular public sessions to give their feedback. Stakeholders are worried, particularly in the dairy farming sector, that products like milk or cheese may be deemed to not be as healthy as traditionally we have seen in Canada. They are concerned because of what might happen under this piece of legislation if health officials decide, “Cheese is not as good as we thought. We are going to put that where it is no longer considered as a healthy food.” What does that mean for our grocery stores? Are store owners going to have to start hiding cheese?
That brings me to my next point. The bill talks about advertising. Advertising is “the act or practice of calling public attention to one's product, service, need, etc..”. Product placement, as we know, is a major part of our everyday life. If we go into convenient stores, what is displayed where on the shelves is highly subject to government regulation. Obviously, cigarettes should be tucked away and not seen, because we know unambiguously that they are not healthy products, but what does that mean for what we consider to be everyday products? If someone under the age of 17, let us say six years old, walks into a store, will he or she no longer be able to go down the aisle, count their nickels and dimes, and be able to buy gumdrops and all of those things? These are pertinent questions, and so far we have not heard substantive answers.
Advertising is not just what we see on posters or on TV. Advertising is product placement, even the labelling of such things. We have heard a lot of concerns regarding the government's new rules on labels. We may disagree or agree on those things, but, whatever we do, we should be practical and upfront with people.
The last thing I would like to raise is the government's ability to put these rules in place. We can agree to disagree on whether government officials do a good enough job of engaging with Canadians and stakeholders to put forward reasonable regulations, but every time the federal government tries to do something more, especially with regard to convenience stores, movie theatres, or businesses in remote and rural areas, it will be expected to apply these laws the same as for anyone in urban centres. Will the government have to hire more people to carry out these regulations?
When I was a city councillor in Penticton, one of the things we talked about was why we would have a bylaw that is unenforceable. Some people will follow the law, and other people, who know there is very little enforcement, will break it knowingly. That is especially so if there is competition. There may be one grocer down the way following the rules versus another one not following the rules. It creates an uneven playing field, and that is not right in Canadian law.
I again salute the senator who put this idea forward. It is always good for us to talk about these things, but we should be aware of what we are asking for. Sometimes we ask for too much. Sometimes the government should at least hear the concerns of the opposition and then make practical changes. I hope that is what will happen in this case, because there is far from a ready-to-go, pan-Canadian consensus on this.