Nfld. & Labrador·Video

Junk food tax considered, ruled out says Cathy Bennett

Cathy Bennett revealed new details about a (rejected) sugar tax, provincial tax brackets and her own reaction to the budget backlash in a special edition of Here & Now on Monday.

Finance Minister answered questions during special edition of Here & Now

Dwight Ball and Cathy Bennett talk to protesters as they arrive for a live Here and Now broadcast Monday. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Premier Dwight Ball and Finance Minister Cathy Bennett say they considered, but ruled out, a tax on junk food as they drew up the 2016 budget. 

Ball and Bennett faced your questions Monday night in a special edition of Here & Now.

They defended this year's budget, and the unpopular Deficit Reduction Levy, and said there will be no changes to the province's financial plan.

But the premier and finance minister did reveal some interesting details about this year's budget process.

Sugar tax shaken

Finance minister says government had considered but rejected a 'sugar tax' 1:23

Many of the audience-submitted questions focused on a potential "fast-food tax," which would raise the cost on unhealthy, sugary foods.

Advocates say that it would reduce junk-food consumption, which would make the province healthier. It would also raise some revenues for a cash-strapped government.

But no other province in Canada currently collects a "fast-food tax."

Bennett, who owns some of the McDonald's franchises in the St. John's area, said her government did consider implementing a sugar tax during the prelude to this year's provincial budget, but ruled it out.

Protesters were outside a fast food restaurant owned by cathy Bennett on Saturday. The Finance Minister said a tax on sugary products would be complicated to administer. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

She said the job of collecting the tax would be too much.

"As a province, we would have to take on the administrative responsibilities that would be equal to the functions of the Canada Revenue Agency," Bennett said.

"It wasn't something that we thought a province of 500,000 could take on."

Personal attacks

The roll-out of the provincial budget has been met with harsh reaction around the province.

Protesters have marched in a number of towns, and rallied once again in front of the CBC Studios in St. John's on Monday night.

Bennett and Ball met the crowd and were faced with boos, attacks and cursing.

Some of the criticism has turned personal — protests outside McDonald's restaurants and comments that Minister Dale Kirby says border on sexism.

Some MHAs say the protests are getting personal, but the minister of finance says she'll take the heat. (CBC)

But Bennett said she'll take the heat if it helps the province move forward.

"I understand that the people of the province...need to have a focal point for that anger," she said.

"And if that's my job as finance minister, to be that person right now, then I'll take that on for my province."

Bennett added the budget process is the hardest thing she's ever done.

"Happy" to tax the rich

Deflecting criticism about the government's tax increases, Bennett told the CBC audience on Monday that her government was "happy" to tax the rich in the province.

Finance Minister Cathy Bennett says her government was happy to increase income taxes on high earners 0:51

"We were very happy to increase those rates to the highest they've been since 2001," Bennett said.

"They had dropped to the lowest they've ever been under the Conservatives."

Ball and Bennett have faced criticism from protesters that their government is only Liberal in name. They say the tax changes announced in this year's budget spare the rich at the expense of poorer residents.

"Tax the rich!" has even become a chant at demonstrations in the province.

The criticism has centred around the Deficit Reduction Levy, but Ball has said if you look at all the tax changes in this year's budget, it's fair.

About the Author

Garrett Barry

Journalist

Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.