Surrey Board of Trade backs sugary drink tax, NDP government sour on the idea
B.C.’s NDP government may not be too sweet on the idea, but the Surrey Board of Trade (SBoT) is backing a proposal to put a tax on sugary drinks.
The idea was one of several pitched by B.C.’s MSP task force as a way to recoup revenue lost by scrapping MSP healthcare premiums.
Under the proposal, drinks other than still water and milk would have their PST exemption removed, bringing in an estimated $120 million annually.
LISTEN: MSP Task Force recommends tax on sugary drink
SBoT CEO Anita Huberman called eliminating the PST “a good first step,” and said her organization has supported the sugar tax idea for a long time.
“Three years ago we put forward a policy recommendation to both the province and the federal government to introduce an excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and use the revenue from that to promote the health of Canadians,” she told Global News.
While it may be unusual to hear a business group call for more taxes, Huberman argued that it makes good sense from a business perspective.
“In a workplace survey that was conducted with employees with type-2 diabetes, it was found [they] cost employers an estimated $412 per person annually due to reduced productivity at work and just over $1,000 due to missed work,” she said.
“So really we’re talking about increasing the health of our workplaces, thus enhancing productivity and thus enhancing the bottom line.”
WATCH: World Health Organization urging for taxation of sugary drinks
A study commissioned by a number of Canadian health organizations last year concurred, arguing a similar tax could save 13,000 lives, slash rates of obesity and diabetes and raise $43 billion nationally over 25 years.
But not everyone agrees.
Speaking on CKNW’s The Simi Sara Show, Kris Sims with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) said her group’s research suggests applying the PST to sugary drinks will raise money but won’t actually change people’s habits.
And she said lower income people will pay the bill.
“All it is is a tax grab to raise money, and by and large it’s raising money off of the lowest income people,” she said.
“They’ll go after your can of Coke, but they won’t go after your grande mocha from Starbucks. They have exactly the same amount of sugar… this usually amounts to food snobbery, and they end up taxing poor people.”
For the time being, the debate may be a moot point, with Health Minister Adrian Dix throwing cold water on the tax idea Friday.
“Right now we’re not considering the PST on sugary drinks,” Dix said.
However, he did say the government is interested in finding ways to encourage the public to make healthier choices.
“Every year we reach out to groups, and these excellent and thoughtful suggestions, they’re made in absolute good faith,” he said.
“More than 400,000 British Columbians have type-2 diabetes, drinking sugary drinks is a problem and something we need to discourage,” he said.
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