Wednesday: In the House and In Committee

Wednesday: In the House and In Committee

UPDATED May 23, 2018 10:20amET

The proposed ban on “unhealthy food” advertising aimed at children is considered at report stage.

The Commons health committee has called for two changes to Bill S-228: defining “children” as under 13 instead of under 17, and adding a five-year review  to look at any increase to advertising aimed at teenagers.

Introduced in 2016 by former senator Nancy Greene Raine, S-228 passed the upper chamber in September 2017. It passed 220 to 86 at second reading in the House of Commons, with Conservatives voting against.

The bill is aimed at preventing obesity, high cholesterol and blood pressure, diabetes, and other chronic conditions in children. Its main clause orders: “no person shall advertise unhealthy food in a manner that is directed primarily at children.”

Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary for justice and health, rose in support in December, telling the House that Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor would “advance regulations … to exempt the sponsorship of community sporting activities from marketing restrictions.” Restaurants that sponsor minor hockey teams, for example.

Conservative Phil McColeman, meanwhile, called S-228 “a distraction from the urgent need to explore the real causes of childhood obesity, namely, the lack of balance between diet, screen time, and physical activity. Evidence does not support that marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages is the true cause of childhood obesity in Canada … 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 government is looking at marketing, junk food, and children as part of a larger plan on nutrition and healthy eating.

Health Canada held a public consultation this past summer, reporting in December 2017 that its proposals were “well received by members of the public and health professionals.”

The government had proposed a ban that includes:

  • a strict definition for “unhealthy food” containing salt, sugar, and saturated fats. The list includes french fries, soda, potato chips, cheese, juice, chocolate, ice cream, frozen waffles, instant oatmeal, and “most cookies, cakes, pies and sweets.”
  • a focus on TV time slots more likely to have young viewers: weekdays from 6am to 9am and 3pm to 9pm, and weekends from 6am to 9pm.
  • regulation of all unhealthy food marketing on websites, apps, and Internet platforms popular with children.

Some of the 1,146 respondents called for stricter measures.

Opponents countered that such a ban would:

  • reduce revenue for children’s programming;
  • restrict freedom of speech;
  • harm Canadian companies while having no effect on foreign advertising seen by Canadian children;
  • remove responsibility and choice from parents;
  • have little effect on eating habits since children themselves have little spending power.

2016 Senate report called increasing childhood obesity rates a “crisis,” but “not the product of a collective loss of willpower”. Senators blamed in part a “proliferation of fast and processed foods”.

Quebec has had a provincial ban on advertising aimed at children under 13 since 1980.


Also in the House

Time allocation is expected on the elections bill (C-76) at second reading.

Elections Bill: Government Seeks Changes to Spending, Voting Process

Two private member’s bills have scheduled votes: C-326 and C-354.

The parties hold their regular caucus meetings on Parliament Hill this morning.


In Committee

-Andrew Thomson