Comment: Delay in passing bill is affecting children’s health

“Delay always breeds danger; and to protract a great design is often to ruin it.”

Miguel de Cervantes put this astute observation in the mouth of his most famous literary character, Don Quixote. Though written more than 400 years ago, the lesson applies very well right now to the Senate of Canada.

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Senators are not serving Canadians by long delays in one vital piece of legislation that awaits their approval.

This delay could ruin a “great design” to help Canadian children.

The bill is S-228, the Child Health Protection Act. Its aim is “prohibiting food and beverage marketing directed at children.”

It would restrict such marketing aimed at children age 12 years and under, bringing all of Canada into step with similar restrictions in many other jurisdictions, including, for almost 40 years, the province of Quebec.

Canadians want this law and there’s a compelling reason why. According to a Pollara Strategic Insights public opinion poll conducted in May 2018 with 1,500 Canadians aged 18 years and older, 82 per cent of Canadians support restrictions on the marketing of foods and beverages to children.

The law will give our children an environment in which they aren’t pressured by industry to consume high levels of sugar, saturated fat and salt.

Right now, more than 90 per cent of food and beverage product ads viewed by kids online and on TV are high in one or more of these three items. Almost all the advertised foods are highly processed, such as sugary cereals or snack foods.

It’s important to remember that such advertising comes in many forms, including attractive sponsored online games.

We know from the experience in Quebec and elsewhere that limiting such advertising to children leads to better eating habits and there is no harm caused to the food industry.

It can help set children up for a lifetime of healthier eating, rather than a lifetime of of having to fight Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, some cancers and obesity.

A new study from the Canadian Cancer Society shows that unless Canada is able to make changes — such as proposed in this legislation — excess weight will become the second leading preventable cause of cancer, following tobacco.

Health is precious and poor health is costly in so many ways, for individuals, families and society. It’s our collective duty to ensure our kids have the best possible chance for good health throughout their lives so they can have the most fulfilling lives and be productive members of society.

The food and beverage industry knows restricting its ability to advertise to children would cut consumption of those products that are high in sugar, salt and saturated fats.

That industry wants to delay the legislation for just a few more weeks until the Senate rises for the summer; then it will die on the order paper as Parliament is dissolved for this fall’s general election.

In all likelihood, this would mean the end of the bill for possibly 25 years — all at the expense of our children’s health.

The sad irony is that this progressive legislation originated in the Senate. It was introduced by now-retired senator Nancy Greene Raine almost three years ago.

After rigorous study, it was approved.

It then went to the House of Commons, where it was reviewed again and important amendments and commitments made, such as ensuring it will not limit companies’ ability to sponsor kids’ community sports teams and programs.

The revised legislation was passed by the House of Commons in September 2018 and sent back to the Senate for its final approval before becoming law.

Eight months later, that’s where it still sits — almost 1,000 days since the Senate first approved it.

Debate around the bill has been adjourned four times by four senators. It’s now caught up in the partisan politics of the Senate.

What should have been a fast second approval by the Senate to protect our children is now in very real danger of not becoming law at all — unless the senators act.

This was — and still could be — a much-needed occasion for the Senate to demonstrate that it can be a meaningful and constructive body that works for Canadians by championing vital legislation to make us healthier.

They should finish the work they admirably started three years ago by ensuring passage of this legislation.

Peter Mansbridge is Heart & Stroke Ambassador for Heart Health. Yves Savoie is CEO of Heart & Stroke.e

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