By Tom Lochner Oakland Tribune
BERKELEY -- When Berkeley became the first city in the nation in November to impose a soda tax, boosters predicted it would spawn copycat tax drives all over the nation. But detractors, led by the American Beverage Association, said quirky Berkeley is too far outside the mainstream to set a national trend.
Who's right? A partial answer may come soon, not from a U.S. city, but from North of the Border, where on Tuesday a Montreal City councilman introduced a proposal to tax boissons gazeuses sucrées to combat diabetes and obesity.
As Le Journal de Montréal reported on Nov. 28, "City Councilman Marvin Rotrand believes Montreal must take the lead and draw inspiration from the city of Berkeley, in California."
Rotrand wants the provincial government of Quebec, where taxation authority rests, to enact a provincewide tax on boissons sucrées.
In an Op-Ed piece in Le Huffington Post Québec, Michel Kelly-Gagnon, president of the Montreal Economic Institute, huffed that taxing boissons gazeuses would be "ineffective, not to say counterproductive." There's no proven cause-and-effect link between obesity and soda consumption, Kelly-Gagnon argued; he questioned whether a levy would significantly reduce soda consumption.
Meanwhile, the Soda Bottlers Association of Quebec, which represents Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Redbull, said taxing the drinks will not stop young people from buying them, according to Le Journal de Montréal.
What the Montreal council did Tuesday was a matter of some confusion. City Council President Frantz Benjamin, in an email Thursday, said Rotrand's motion passed on Tuesday, with an amendment, but he did not elaborate. An aide in the city clerk's office said she would send the text as soon as it is redacted, but had not sent it as of early Friday.
Jim Goetz, president of the Canadian Beverage Association, said the motion was changed at the last minute to a simple recommendation to the provincial government to urge the soda industry to adopt a program to reduce calories in sodas by 20 percent over 10 years.
Rotrand could not be reached for comment.