Montreal is moving towards a ban on selling sugary drinks in all its municipal buildings, with city councilors hoping neighbouring communities follow in the city’s footsteps.
A motion passed this week targets prohibiting sodas, sport drinks, and other sweetened beverages from being sold in municipal buildings, including administrative buildings, public libraries, and arenas.
The ban came from the motion tabled by longtime Coun. Marvin Rotrand, who’s been fighting the good fight for years. In 2014, he pushed a motion that asked Quebec to give the city power to tax sugary drinks, but it didn’t reach consensus.
This time around, his motion garnered wide-spread support when presented to his colleagues in Ottawa.
“This time, everyone was on board with the idea of a national excise tax,” Rotrand said. “The feeling at Montreal council was it was legitimate for us to be the first to directly appeal to the government of Canada for this solution.”
Though sugary drinks have been strongly linked to obesity, and obesity-related, chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, the Canadian Beverage Association still expressed disappointment with the move. They’re salty the industry wasn’t consulted before the decision was reached, and that studies show sugar-sweetened beverage calorie consumption has dropped by at least 30 per cent since 2004, even if obesity rates showing an inclination over the same period.
The CBA plans to contact Mayor Valerie Plante and council members about their concerns.
“It’s disheartening because it’s based on several false narratives,” said association president Jim Goetz. “There’s real change going on in the beverage landscape in Canada without placing a tax on consumers.”
Rotrand, however, maintains that this tax, as proposed by the World Health Organization (WHO), is still the best way to limit and reduce sugar consumption.
Montreal has yet to settle on the tax, though the WHO recommended in 2016 one of at least 20 per cent.
With Montreal hopefully settled, Rotrand is now calling on his colleagues in Canada to see if they’ll follow suit.
“Elsewhere, it has become a national movement,” he noted. “It’s not just France and Mexico and Norway. Developing countries like Barbados, Mauritius and Fiji have also adopted the same strategy and it works.”
As of today, only two out of Montreal’s 19 boroughs have a ban on soft drinks. They’ll work to figure out how to slowly implement the tax in the other districts when contracts with distributors expire.
The motion was passed with overwhelming 54-5 margin on Monday, with the ban extending to sport drinks, energy drinks, and even flavoured water.
Rotrand says the debate has two sides that must be weighed and considered – on one side, there’s the collective good and public health of the city, and the issues of taxation and the freedom of individual choice on the other.
Some councilors who lobbied against the motion wondered whether the city would now need ‘sugar police’ – but as Rotrand points out, you can still bring your own beverages from outside, into the municipal buildings. No need for extra law enforcement!
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