In 2016 former Conservative senator and Olympic skiing medalist Nancy Greene Raine was determined to do something to address the high rate of childhood obesity in Canada. So she sponsored legislation (Bill S-228) that would ban the advertising of products high in sugar, salt, and fat from children’s media programming. It would also prevent grocery stores from displaying items like sugar-coated cereals at kids’ eye level.
The bill was passed by the duly elected House of Commons but now faces a quiet death in the Senate because a group of appointed Conservative senators is being influenced by a powerful coalition of advertisers, food processors, and retailers. Even though Canada’s pediatricians, the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, the World Health Organization and the Canadian Cancer Society support the legislation, if it is not approved by the Senate before it adjourns on June 28th the legislation will die.
As much as 90% of food marketed to kids through television, movies, the Internet, video games, and giveaways in restaurants are high in sugar, fat, and salt. Quebec banned all commercial marketing to children thirty years ago. Their childhood obesity rate for 6-11-year-olds is the lowest in Canada. Is that just a coincidence?
The legislation has already been amended to try to address some of the concerns of farmers, retailers, and the media. For example, while the initial legislation banned advertising for most of the daytime hours when children are awake, now it is only banned on programs where children make up more than 15% of the audience. The legislation has also been amended to allow food and beverage companies to continue to sponsor children’s sports’ teams and events targeted at children.
Conservative appointed Senator Pamela Wallin says she is concerned about the impact the legislation will have on Canada’s grain and dairy producers and the baking industry but Nancy Greene Raine is quoted in a Toronto Globe and Mail article saying her bill won’t harm the sale or export of any Canadian products. They can still be sold, but can’t be marketed to children.
Ms. Raine finds it particularly ironic that she herself is a former Conservative-appointed senator and senators from her own party are blocking the legislation because they are worried that its passage might make Liberals look too good just before an election. In a CBC interview, Ms. Raine said she was hurt that her hard work to cross party lines and obtain Liberal support for her bill is now being thwarted by members of her own party.
As far as I’m concerned I’d like to see all commercial advertising aimed at children banned and I think it may be time to abolish Canada’s Senate. Bill S-228 is only one of several important pieces of legislation that have been passed by the House of Commons but the current Senate is blocking.
Bills to protect victims of sexual assault and to protect the rights of Canada’s indigenous people will also likely die because of the ‘sober second thought’ of our appointed Senate. Perhaps its time to see that outdated institution die so it can no longer cause the death of legislation that protects Canada’s most vulnerable citizens.