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Food for Thought: Dead on the Order Paper

Nancy Greene-Raine didn’t become an Olympic ski champion, a successful businesswoman, a Senator, and Canada’s top female Athlete of the 20th Century, by being a quitter. And she isn’t about to start now. 

While Greene-Raine was disappointed that her private member’s legislation to outlaw the marketing of junk food to Canada’s youth died on the federal order paper, she vowed it would come back.

“My bill’s not dead, my bill is absolutely needed,” Greene-Raine said.

Bill S-228, introduced in 2016, was approved by Parliament but ran into non-stop, proposed amendments in the Senate. Opponents of the bill ran out the clock, and, as a result, the bill strongly opposed by Canada’s food manufacturing industry probably won’t be passed into law now that the House of Commons and Senate have risen for the summer.

“More and more people are concerned about brainwashing kids,” said Greene-Raine, who insisted her battle against junk-food advertising isn’t over, despite the setback. She argued that while her Senate colleagues failed to grant final approval of new rules which would have restricted the marketing of unhealthy food and drinks to children, she is extremely confident that the matter will be raised again in the post-election session of the new Parliament.

But while the now-retired Senator refused to blame her former Conservative colleagues for the apparent demise of Bill S-228, the Kelowna-based chairman of Canada’s Childhood Obesity Foundation pulled no punches.

“I’ll speak more frankly than others are prepared to,” says Dr. Tom Warshawski. “This bill to protect kids was furiously opposed by the big food industry and they lobbied heavily against it.”

Warshawski said one-third of Canada’s young people are overweight or obese, thanks largely to poor eating habits. He also hopeful that following the October federal election, another attempt to limit the marketing of unhealthy food to children will be born in the House of Commons and not in the Upper Chamber.

“The Senate can’t be trusted with consequential legislation,” he said.

Not surprisingly, with obesity-related concerns costing the Canadian health care system an estimated $7 billion per year, Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation was also disappointed by the failure of bill S-228.

“We know that 90% of the food and beverages that are marketed to kids on-line and on TV are foods that are high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat,” lamented Manuel Arango, director of policy, advocacy and engagement at Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation. The Foundation is a leading member of the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition, which lobbied for the bill.

Arango notes that while strongly criticizing proposed marketing limits contained in Bill S-228, Canada’s food, beverage, advertising, media and retail industries submitted a report to Health Canada describing the proposed new rules as “unrealistic,” “punitive,” and “commercially catastrophic.”

Arango said the food industry and food processors gave bad information to Senators. “They told them that this was somehow going to restrict bread and the bread industry. This bill would not have restricted access to any type of food or beverage… but was only going to restrict the marketing of certain foods and beverages to kids.”

The Heart and Stroke Foundation research provides overwhelming evidence that childhood dietary habits continue into adulthood. Canada’s health experts have also noted that Type 2 Diabetes is now being diagnosed at an earlier age than ever, and the primary cause is a poor diet and lack of exercise.

As nearly every parent knows, it’s a given that most kids will choose doughnuts or chocolate bars over apples and carrots. For Nancy Greene-Raine, who has championed physical activity and healthy eating for most of her life, there is absolutely no doubt that limiting junk food advertising directed at impressionable young people would make a huge difference by giving parents a fighting chance against the power of marketing.

The question, however, is whether Canada’s lawmakers have the political willpower to follow her advice.

As always, I welcome your comments and criticism on Twitter @kammornanchor and email [email protected].

Bob Price is a veteran B.C. broadcaster who anchored the morning news on CHNL radio in Kamloops for the past 30 years. Bob is also a past Webster Award winner whose previous stops included Vancouver and Calgary.