Sugar-tax voted down by Edmonton public school board

Trustees with the Edmonton public school board aren’t sweet on the idea of taxing sugary drinks.

Edmonton public school board chair proposes province-wide sugar tax

Edmonton public school board chair, Michael Janz, is in favour of a fifty cent per litre tax on soft drinks. (CBC)

Trustees with the Edmonton public school board aren't sweet on the idea of taxing sugary drinks.

On Tuesday night, in a 5-3 vote, the board defeated a motion supporting a provincial fifty-cent-per-litre tax on soft drinks and other sugar-laden beverages sold anywhere in Alberta.

"Just as in society we tax alcohol and tobacco, I see this as another opportunity to work proactively to support better health outcomes for our citizens," said board chair Michael Janz, who advocated for the tax.  

Janz tried to sell the idea of the tax, saying it will bring in an additional $158 million in revenue to the provincial government, money  he said could be spent on health and wellness programs for schools.

The call for a sugar tax comes as school boards are feeling the crunch of the most recent provincial budget, with Edmonton public's budget being cut by 2.7 per cent, said Janz.

Those opposed to the motion agreed the budget will be tight but said they shouldn't dictate what children eat outside of school hours.

"Ultimately, is this an issue we want to weigh in on?" asked trustee Nathan Ipp. "When it's so tangentially related to education."  

Schools have often been at the forefront of promoting healthy choices for students. In 2011, Edmonton public schools banned junk food, including pop, from cafeterias and vending machines.

Janz doesn't expect the idea of a sugar tax to come up again for at least another year. He said winning the argument wasn't the point, just having the conversation was important.

The idea of adding a special tax on sugared drinks has been suggested by some health researchers, citing a 2001 study that found each extra daily can or glass of sugared beverage drank increases a child's risk of obesity by 60 per cent.