Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Devious Health Canada

It looks like somebody from the Prime Minister's Office in Canada is going to have to have a quiet chat with the healthists over at Health Canada. Terrence Corcoran reports that Health Canada gave the Prime Minister a nice little candy-coated landmine.

In last year's election campaign, Harper promised to crack down on flavoured tobacco products which he characterized as being marketed to children. The campaign promise was to knock out bubble gum flavoured tobacco. The legislation crafted by Health Canada wound up banning the majority of imported cigarettes, including Marlborough and Camels, most of which use some flavouring agents which are on the list of 5,000 now banned ingredients.
While this may look like another case of unintended consequences run amok, it more likely is part of deliberate scheming by Health Canada officials and others who are consciously using fruit-flavoured smokes to create a global tobacco trade bomb against the U.S. and tobacco industries in Europe, South America and Asia.

There is certainly evidence that Health Canada officials misled Parliament on the trade implications of the flavoured tobacco ban.

On Sept. 30, Diane Labelle, Health Canada’s general counsel, legal services unit, appeared before the Senate social affairs committee to review the bill. Several committee members — including Senators Michel Rivard and Hugh Segal — became concerned about the implications of the flavoured tobacco law on Canada’s World Trade Organization commitments. Committee chair Art Eggleton asked: “Is this [bill] compliant with various trade agreements and international obligations that we have on trade?”

Senator Rivard repeated the question: “The WTO assured you that we were in compliance?”

Ms. Labelle: “Yes.”

But when Canadian officials appeared earlier this month before the WTO’s Technical Barriers to Trade Committee in Geneva, they came prepared with briefing notes on what to say when WTO members raised questions “On Canada not notifying Bill C-32 at WTO.” The briefing notes, obtained by Financial Post, suggest a weaselly Canadian response: “We thank you for raising this concern and are talking note of the systemic issues that have been raised.”

In other words, it is not true, as the Senate committee was told, that the WTO had been advised in advance of Bill C-32 and had determined the new child tobacco measure to be compliant with trade law.

Were the Tories snookered by Health Canada officials? It looks like it. It also looks like the Prime Minister’s original campaign gambit, to protect children from flavoured tobacco, was a ruse. Whether Mr. Harper knew that he was getting into is another matter. The zeal with which his staff pushed the issue suggests they were eager to score political points but less keen on understanding what Health Canada was up to.
New Zealand ought to watch out for the sure-to-come ASH/SFC campaign against flavoured tobacco, backed by folks from Otago's Wellington School of Medicine Department of Public Health. And we ought not let the Ministry of Health be the ones providing advice as to the consistency of any such recommendations with our WTO obligations; they have a habit of commissioning shonky analysis.

Recall also that the WHO offers assistance for countries wanting to get around tricky WTO obligations....

No comments:

Post a comment