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Bill S-228 (Ban Advertising of Junk Food to Kids) - Message from Commons

I’m happy to rise to speak on this issue this afternoon. It’s very important. I rise as an independent senator to support an initiative that was launched by a highly respected Conservative senator just shy of three years ago, Senator Nancy Greene Raine’s private members’ bill.

I’m speaking to the subamendment now and I want to say this, that we know that this is a bill that has been debated and been processed extensively by committees in the House of Commons and in the Senate. We know that the issues raised by Senator Wallin and my other colleague Senator Black, Ontario, were canvassed extensively in those committee hearings already and received a significant degree of attention.

We know that this is a bill designed to protect kids. To protect kids from consuming at an early age — those kids particularly under 12 — drinks and food that could potentially be harmful to them. We know that this is done in the context of a public health crisis in Canada resulting from the consumption of foods that are high in saturated fats, sugar and salt.

I was at the Social Affairs Committee when this bill was considered. I know that consideration was given to the issues raised by Senator Wallin and Senator Black. Just like everybody else in this chamber I know this: That any conceivable amendments that come back from committee that are relevant to the issues raised will be out of order because of the narrow scope of the message we are debating. We all know this. We all know this going in. Senator Wallin knows it. Senator Black, Ontario, knows it. That does not mean to say this should not go to committee. What it does mean to say is that there is only one purpose to send this bill to committee, one thing that can result from it, and that is that the bill will not see passage in the Senate.

I think it is important to name that. I think it’s important to be clear about that. I think that’s important, that despite the virtuous interests that Senator Wallin and Senator Black, Ontario, and Senator Smith have, that it is not conceivable — and I think we all know this — that this bill will see passage.

So at this moment, with this amendment, we’re talking about the difference between a bill or no bill. Let’s look that in the face. Let’s look one another in the face. Let’s recognize that that’s what this amendment is about, about no bill to protect kids, about three years of hard work on behalf of Senator Greene Raine, of my friend Senator Petitclerc and of my friend Senator Seidman at Social Affairs Committee.

That is what we’re talking about. We’re talking about abandoning kids and the health of kids. We’re talking about ignoring the advice of the medical community, community health specialists and the concerns of parents. That is what we are doing. I think it’s important that everybody in this room understand that this is the fulcrum point. Let’s get that on the table.

I understand the concerns that are raised. I understand them because I heard them raised months and months ago, if not a year or so ago when I was sitting on the Social Affairs Committee. I understand the interest in getting this bill to a committee for further consideration despite the fact that any amendments that come back we know will be ruled out of order. I understand all that.

But my appeal is let’s not do all of that in a way that knowingly defeats an important piece of public health legislation. Let’s not do that. I’m uncomfortable about that. Our former colleague in B.C. would be uncomfortable about that. There are people around this chamber in all groups who are uncomfortable about that. I know it. You know it. That’s the subtext here. I’m naming that.

Here’s what I’m suggesting, and this is in the spirit of compromise. This is in the spirit of actually raising ourselves up in this place. I might use calling on the angels of our better nature, for example. How about that? How about setting aside our normal partisan, independent selves or Liberal selves and thinking about children and thinking about public health and thinking about Senator Greene Raine. I think it’s important to do that.

I was going to propose an amendment, but here’s what I’m going to do. I say this knowing that anything that I did today, if Senator Smith hadn’t spoken — and I deferred to Senator Smith to go first. We talked. I would have proposed an amendment that would have put a time limitation on the time at Social Affairs Committee. I would have proposed an amendment that would have given oxygen to a bill that is right now, as I stand here, dying on the vine and you know it.

So we have a motion in front of us and I commend Senator Smith for adding texture to it. I’m going to ask you, Senator Smith — I had no idea what you were going to propose. I’m going to ask if you would accept a friendly amendment. Yes, I did talk about angels of our better nature, Senator Plett, and I wanted to include you in that. I really wanted to include you in that. So here is my request of Senator Smith. It is a friendly amendment. I would ask you to consider reconsidering your subamendment to the effect that the committee would report back to the Senate no later than Wednesday, June 5. I think that would give time for the Agriculture Committee to meet, to deliberate and to get back here in due course.

This is responsive to Senator Wallin’s concept and to Senator Smith’s concept. I am not going the other way; I am not going the way of rallying my friends over here, over here and over there towards defeating the motion. I am asking you to consider amending it so that we can achieve the dual purpose of getting this to committee and having another discussion about it, proposing amendments if we have to and want to and have determined whether they’re in order or not, and get the Senate to a final vote on Bill S-228, which kids deserve, which the health community deserves, which the senators in here who want and need a vote deserve, and that Canadians deserve.

I am simply saying that after two, almost three years, let us have a free vote in this place on Bill S-228. We can achieve that if we are sensible, if we are thoughtful, if we’re prepared to find middle, sensible ground and get this in and out of committee very quickly.

I believe that this is entirely reasonable. I believe that the Heart and Stroke Foundation and other health proponents and advocates in this country would support it. I believe Canadians would broadly support it. Why wouldn’t they? This is about the health of kids and public health.

I ask you, Senator Smith — in fact, I’m going to actually plead with you — to consider this very carefully because this is about whether an important public health bill lives or dies. It’s fundamentally about whether senators in this place have an opportunity to vote on an important piece of legislation. I believe that we should have that right. I would ask you to reconsider. Thank you.