Health expert holds out hope for B.C. tax on sugary drinks

A proposal to charge PST on almost all drinks in B.C. seems to be dead on arrival, but advocates say they’ll keep pushing a more limited plan for taxing sugary drinks.

Province not considering proposal to charge PST on most non-alcoholic beverages

The B.C. finance ministry is not considering changes to how PST is charged on beverages. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

A proposal to charge PST on almost all drinks in B.C. seems to be dead on arrival, but health advocates say they'll keep pushing a more limited plan for taxing sugary drinks.

The province's MedIcal Services Plan task force recommended this week that B.C. begin charging PST on pop and juice — along with any non-alcoholic drinks that aren't flat water and unflavoured milk. The extra sales tax revenue would help make up for some of the funds lost through elimination of MSP premiums.

"There is little justification for exemption of most non-alcoholic beverages from PST because of their limited nutritional value, compared to other food," the task force's final report said.

The Finance Ministry is reviewing the report, but the beverage tax is not on the table — nor are suggestions that B.C. reintroduce the HST or make adjustments to tax credits for new homeowners.

But Dr. Tom Warshawski is still hoping the province will consider a slightly more modest proposal.

"I think there's very sound financial and health benefit rationale for a tax on sugary drinks," said Warshawski, the chair of the Childhood Obesity Foundation.

His group, and other advocates for healthy eating, would like to see PST charged on a much smaller range of drinks than the MSP task force proposed.

Only sugar-sweetened beverages would be subject to the tax — diet drinks and unsweetened juices, for example, would not.

The idea is to reduce consumption of drinks that can be associated with health problems including obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and it's a concept that's been promoted by the World Health Organization.

"In jurisdictions, such as countries like Mexico, Hungary and France, which tax sugary drinks, you see a decrease in purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages and an increase in purchases of water," Warshawski said.

"It's very real. You do get shifts in consumption."

The provincial government isn't currently considering any changes to how the PST is charged on beverages, but the idea has gained traction with MLAs in recent years.

During consultations for the 2018 B.C. budget, the legislative committee on finance recommended charging PST on sugar-sweetened drinks to fund healthy living projects.

Warshawski said he hopes the province eventually turns those recommendations into reality.

"I think it's time for government to align their principles with their actions," he said.