By Rachel Lau
MONTREAL – There’s a controversy brewing at city hall after Montreal city councillor Marvin Rotrand proposed a motion to tax sugary drinks province-wide.
“I’m not saying ban the product; I’m just saying control the product,” he says. “I think people are open to that.”
Rotrand believes the tax is important to combat what he calls the “obesity epidemic.” It’s a stance the Quebec Weight Coalition seconds.
“There is an association between obesity and sugary beverages and also with diabetes and decay,” explains Corinne Voyer, the coalition’s director.
“We have lots of science to demonstrate that. All the health community will also defend that.”
Rotrand and two other municipal councillors — Elsie Lefebvre and Steve Shanahan — say they were inspired by a recent referendum in California where 75 per cent of residents voted in favour of a tax on unhealthy drinks.
“Clearly there’s an obesity epidemic in North America,” says Rotrand.
“In fact, it’s getting worse, not better, and science has proven that there are chronic diseases related to overconsumption of sugar.”
He has been working to garner support from other fellow councillors.
“I’m hoping it will go through Montreal council,” says Rotrand.
“Right now, I’m receiving positive signals from the official opposition and from some of the other groups on council. I’m waiting to hear back from the leader of the majority as well.”
But, the motion isn’t sitting well with everyone.
The Quebec Soft Drink Bottlers Association is hoping it will fall flat.
“I don’t think by imposing a tax will solve the problem of obesity,” says Martin Pierre Pelletier, an association spokesperson.
“I think it’s a short-sighted solution to a very complex problem.”
Nevertheless, nutritionist Vanessa Perrone points out a tax could deter young people from buying soft drinks — something that can change their drinking habits as they get older.
“Especially for children between nine and 18, imposing a soda tax when the buying power is more important in the deciding factor can definitely have a positive impact,” she says.
Marvin Rotrand says he’s confident his motion will pass unanimously.
He’s presenting it at the next city council meeting on Monday, Dec. 15.