Not sweet on a sugar tax

A sugar tax would only make our bank accounts smaller and our government fatter.

Some people believe politicians and governments can solve all the problems of the world. They believe that by simply passing the right laws and imposing the right regulations, leaders can solve complex social issues and cure society of its bad habits.

Despite this instinct, and as much as they try, politicians cannot change human nature. They cannot simply legislate away unwanted behaviour such as meanness, laziness or evil. If they could, they would have done so already.

That is why the recent proposal from the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation calling for a $1.8 billion tax grab on sugar is particularly naive. The Heart and Stroke Foundation calls for a series of bizarre and aggressive recommendations in a misguided attempt to solve the obesity problem in Canada. Its recommendations range from a steep tax hike on sugary beverages, to a new layer of bureaucracy to implement education programs. It even calls for the federal government to “conduct surveillance” to “measure the free sugars intake of Canadians.”

That sounds downright creepy. Do they want the government to spy on us to make sure we don’t supersize our meals?

Besides, are sugary beverages really the cause of obesity in Canada? Facts would suggest otherwise. For instance, there has actually been a 35% decrease in the consumption of soft drinks in Canada since 1998, but obesity levels have not followed suit.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation’s paper recommends Canada should follow the lead of Denmark in mandating a tax on soft drinks and sugary foods. This is a strange suggestion, since Denmark recently repealed this tax due to its massive unpopularity. Denmark has been a leading crusader in the public fight against obesity. The Danish government targeted sugary drinks and beer as the culprits, and imposed new taxes to discourage consumption of these “bad” drinks. But these items were so heavily taxed that as much as 57% of the Danish population crossed the border into Germany to buy their beer and pop.

Much like Denmark’s failed flat tax — which was revoked only 13 months after being introduced — its sugar tax will also be repealed by the end of this year. Denmark’s experiments with fat and sugar taxes should serve as a warning. These taxes don’t work.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has long served as a trusted voice for Canadians on nutrition and health standards. Its suggestions, such as the recommended individual sugar and calorie intake, are followed by millions. But this latest paper crosses the line.

It appears to be calling for Orwellian policies to insert the government into our kitchens and mandate what we eat. Higher taxes will not end obesity. As in Denmark, they will just encourage people to find a way around the tax. Implementing these recommendations would result in nothing but a tax grab to help fund our indebted governments and enable spendthrift politicians. Obesity can only be addressed through more information and education, and ultimately more balance and moderation in diet. But individuals — not governments — should decide what they buy and eat.

The policies recommended by the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation will not make Canadians thinner; they will only make our bank accounts smaller and our government fatter.