North

Sugary drink tax gets mostly negative reception in Inuvik

Some people spoke in favour of the territorial tax at the public engagement session on Monday, while many others expressed misgivings.

Proposed tax would cost people an additional 5 cents per 100 millilitres for pre-packaged drinks

Inuvik had a public engagement session on the proposed N.W.T. sugar-sweetened beverage tax on Monday night. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC )

At a public meeting in Inuvik on a proposed new tax on sugary drinks, no one raised their hand when asked if a tax would motivate them to change their behaviour.

Some people spoke in favour of the territorial tax at the public engagement session on Monday, while many others expressed misgivings.

Lesa Semmler said she's "not in favour of any new taxes."

She pointed out that the economy in Inuvik in the last five to 10 years has gone downhill, and she's concerned that families with tighter budgets won't be dissuaded from buying pop.

"So is that going to come from what they bring home in food?"

Lesa Semmler says she doesn't believe the tax will prevent people from buying sugary drinks. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC )

The Northwest Territories government is hosting engagement sessions in communities across the territory to seek their opinion on the proposed tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.

In 2017, Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod proposed the idea of the tax as a way to discourage consumption and reduce obesity and diabetes rates.

According to 2015 data, more than 39 per cent of the adult population in the Northwest Territories is considered obese, compared to a national rate of 26 per cent.

Semmler said when she was in Sachs Harbour recently it cost her $15 for a can of pop and a bag of chips, "and I bought it!"

"This tax for the amount of money that it's going to generate, won't even touch on the edge of obesity," she said, noting she comes from a health background.

Dietician Jullian MacLean says he's in favour of the proposed tax, but that it needs to be part of a 'multi-pronged approach.' (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

"I'm of the opinion that sugar-sweetened beverages are contributing to the health of the population in a negative way and then ultimately the taxpayer bears the costs," said local dietician Jullian MacLean, who supports the tax.

The proposed tax would see people paying an additional 5 cents per 100 millilitres for pre-packaged drinks.

MacLean said he supports the tax but it has to be a "multi-pronged approach."

Sugar-sweetened beverages are contributing to the health of the population in a negative way.- Jullian MacLean, dietician

He said there needs to be continuous education, particularly for children, which he says is already in place, along with making sugary drinks "inconvenient" for people to buy.

"This is going to put more stress on the healthcare system and our taxes go towards the healthcare system."

Marnie Bell says tackling obesity is more complicated than a tax. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC )

Marnie Bell, a member of the N.W.T. and Nunavut Public Health Association, told attendees that she doesn't believe the tax will make much of an impact.

"Being overweight and being obese is more complicated. It's not as simple as just taxing something to try and curtail people's consumption of beverages."

She said many major health organizations, such as the Canadian Cancer Society, have spoken in favour of taxation on the condition that money from revenues "would be then redirected into the promotion of health initiatives in order to address obesity in a more comprehensive way."

It's not as simple as just taxing something to try and curtail people's consumption of beverages.- Marnie Bell

When asked what would happen with the money generated from the tax, Kelly Bluck, director of fiscal policy with the territorial government's Department of Finance, said that hasn't been decided yet.

A session was also held in Tuktoyaktuk on Monday afternoon, where the public received information and asked questions from representatives of the Canadian Beverage Association, Yellowknife Beverages Division, Territorial Beverages, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Public Health Association and the Department of Finance.

An engagement session is planned to take place in Yellowknife Tuesday from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the Nova Hotel.

The proposed tax would see people paying an additional 5 cents per 100 millilitres for pre-packaged drinks. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

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