Opinion: The kids are not all right when it comes to what they eat

The kids are not all right

Most people would agree that protecting children should be our country’s utmost priority. Protecting children from unhealthy food products and fast-food chains has been the subject of many conversations.

Ads for sugary food products geared towards children have been contested for years and some countries have opted to ban them, one way or another. The United Kingdom, the latest country to do so, banned TV advertising for food products high in fat, salt and sugar between the hours of 5:30 a.m. and 9 p.m.

In Canada, an attempt was made to regulate ads aimed at children. Bill S-228, known as the Child Health Protection Act, was introduced with the intention of restricting the marketing of food and beverage products high in salt, saturated fat and sugar to children aged 12 years and younger. However, the bill never received further consideration by the federal government due to the 2019 election.

While Parliament hasn’t done anything on the issue since, Health Canada has provided guidelines for industry to consider and is examining the new U.K. rules on advertising.

Meanwhile, our food industry recently released a Code for the Responsible Advertising of Food and Beverage Products to Children. A coalition that includes most major processors and restaurants in Canada chose not to wait for the federal government to regulate this advertising.

The announcement mentions that the code exceeds Health Canada’s recommendations. Perhaps, but many Canadians are skeptical of self-regulating proposals from industry. When it comes to public health issues, Canadians tend to trust governments more than industry.

There’s some science to not allowing marketing to persuade young consumers. Recent developments in neuroscience show that younger children’s cognitive development prevents them from making rational decisions when watching advertising and can skew judgment on what products are desirable. And marketing is all about creating desires.

Many countries have recognized this and regulated industry and its marketing practices, including Mexico, Iran, Chile and several in Europe.

According to Statistics Canada, nearly a third of Canadian children are overweight or obese, and the number of obese children may have gone up in recent months. COVID-19 lockdowns and continuing public safety measures have kept many children from organized sports and physical activities, putting a toll on their overall health.

This is one challenge regulators will have to keep in mind, whether they decide to regulate advertising to children or not.

But regulating advertising to children isn’t as simple as you may think. First, television isn’t how most children take in information these days. Internet streaming services and social media are the main vehicles used by many. Regulating anything on these platforms can be difficult.

In 1980, Quebec imposed a ban on advertisements for toys and food aimed at children under age 13 in print and electronic media. That ban has had mixed results since many people in Quebec watch media content broadcasted from outside the province. Also, food companies now advertise to older children, which makes the 13-year-old threshold difficult to implement in many social and commercial settings.

Bill C-10, aimed at updating Canada’s Broadcasting Act would have given the federal government more power to regulate more popular internet streaming services, such as Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Netflix. Compliance would be expected of everyone, as it is now for traditional broadcasters such as CTV, Global and private radio stations.

Regulating the content of many media will be challenging, if not impossible. That’s just the way it is today. And with a federal election looming, Bill C-10 may suffer the same fate as Bill S-228 and never see the light of day.

Beyond regulations, however, is one of the most powerful tools we have when it comes to promoting sound nutrition: education. Kids don’t buy these products, their parents do. Given that children are highly vulnerable, parents should continue to act as gatekeepers of fridges and cupboards in their homes.

It’s critical we don’t let parents off the hook, especially now. Industry will always innovate and be ahead of policy and regulations aimed at banning certain practices. When it comes to food, our best defence is good, responsible parenting.

Over time, society gets to decide the rights and wrongs by asking governments to act. Food advertising aimed at children may be one of these cases.

In the meantime, industry undoubtedly recognized we have a problem and released its code to limit advertising to children. We ought to give it a shot and see what happens over the next few years.

But the government should certainly put industry on notice. There’s nothing more precious than our children.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

Opinion: Underappreciated and overworked in Okanagan kitchens

Farewell to the kitchen

I am a chef in the Okanagan and I have been hearing/reading a lot about the lack of employees in the Okanagan. I keep hearing from owners and heads of businesses complaining about lack of staff. I would like to respond to these people but was unsure where to begin so I wrote something that hopefully can help explain what, and why, and hopefully we can get some forward movement in the industry.

My name is Roger (it isn't but names have been changed to protect the innocent) and I have been in the restaurant industry for the majority of my life. I started working at a local restaurants when I was 15 years old. Since then I have worked for many prominent restaurants. Some still in operation, other closing for a variety of reasons.

I wanted to share my experience because I represent the other side of this story, the line cook side. The narrative that many employees have disappeared due to unemployment is partly true, however is not the cause.

It is the symptom of a much deeper issue. It is my opinion that many have become burnt and therefore jaded to the current state of our food service industry.

I have held a variety of positions from line cook in chain restaurants to kitchen manager for local small businesses and I personally have watched the industry I love torn apart from the inside out. I do believe that Covid-19 has had a huge impact on sales, however this pandemic has only served to open the eyes of those who have been left behind by greed, mismanagement and failed ownership.

As restaurant employees we have sacrificed our bodies and minds, going underpaid and underappreciated. I have seen friends succumb to addictions far beyond cigarettes and alcohol. I have experienced relationship failures because of the amount of time and mental capacity that are required of me for a job that could close it's doors at any moment and has in fact done so with little to no notice.

I think Covid has awoken the next generation to the duplicitous behavior of owners and GM's telling staff that employees are their most valuable asset as they stand aside and watch the workforce binge on illicit activities and self harm. "Our company believes in promotion from within," is probably the most egregious lie that has been told to so many people. We struggle to survive hoping to rise to the top, but there is no top. Only a great reset as businesses routinely close and neglectful ownership drives us to pursue other opportunities to only start the cycle anew.

This is not an indictment of all business owners, as I will never name those who have scorned me and my small circle of friends. Friends whom I would go to war for. Friends forgotten by the world. Lost to suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, and jail when failing to overcome the burden of mental health collapse.

There have been great ones in the past. Owners like the (redacted) family who gave me a purpose, they saw within me a potential to lead that few others had nurtured. They brought me in as family. Or (redacted) from the local food truck who literally gave me a place to call home when I was ready to become homeless. But these are the exceptions, and frankly the kindness that they showed with liveable wages and a less than militaristic approach to staffing and performance was a weakness. Not a flaw in their personalities, but a weakness in a savage, cutthroat competitive industry.

I wanted to write this as a sort of homage and farewell to the industry I chose to pursue for over 20 years of my life. I, like many others, have decided to have one last reset. A reset to leave the industry I loved and steer my destiny toward something more meaningful where I am no longer overlooked. If you walk into any kitchen in the Okanagan, you will meet some of the toughest men and women. Resilience that will serve them well elsewhere. I started a new journey. I hope that many others follow suit.

I do not know who, if anyone, will ever see this or care to share. I do not expect some great journalist to run with a story that will shift the industry toward normality, because what is normal? I believe that myself and many others I have worked with have the capacity to bring greatness to the world, but it will never be behind a hot stove, dishwasher, or black apron ever again. Those are the tools of the forgotten, and I want to be remembered.

Roger, a pseudonym, is leaving the kitchen after spending decades in the restaurant industry in the Okanagan

Opinion: Glacier Media signs deal with Google Canada's News Showcase

Google, Glacier sign deal

As has been communicated extensively over the last while in Canada and around the world, the ability to publish credible and reliable news has become seriously challenged. Newspapers, television and radio have all experienced significant declines in revenue as advertising has migrated online.

The majority of advertising dollars have moved to Facebook’s social media platform and Google’s search platform. This has significantly impacted the ability of news media to employ the journalists required to publish news.

This poses a problem for Canadians and citizens around the world. Credible and reliable news is critical to a functioning democracy. We have witnessed the impact “fake” news can have on elections. The 2016 U.S. election was a primary case in point and caused the U.S. federal government and others around the world to waken to the issue. Misinformation continues to plague both the United States and other locales.

A healthy news media industry keeps people informed daily regarding matters important to their lives, be it issues regarding politics, health care, education, the environment, their local community, business, the economy and much more. It’s comforting to know that what you’re reading is true, has been researched and thought through in proper context. This is important for society to function properly. COVID has highlighted this need more than ever.

Countries around the world are recognizing that a solid and workable foundation is necessary to ensure news publishing is viable over the long-term, and that changes need to be made.

The solution is several fold.

Legislation needs to be enacted that creates a fair and accountable long-term framework for the publishing of news. The legislation must ensure that publishers small and large are protected, as Canadians in all communities across the country need access to credible and reliable news. Large media chains need assistance as much as small, as they face the same challenges, just at greater scale. The reality is news has significant societal value and is more than a business.

Both Google and Facebook have recognized the role they play in the news eco-system and the impact the internet has had on news media. They support paying publishers through products that increase awareness of news stories and direct audience to publishers’ websites through links. The publishers keep all the revenue derived from the content.

But we cannot expect Google and Facebook alone to provide the financial support necessary for a viable digital news transformation. In many communities, the digital audience is too small to justify Google and Facebook paying sufficient amounts to fund news. The federal government recognized this last year and provided increased funding through the enhanced Aid to Publishers program. These funds were essential for the survival of news in many small communities during COVID when advertising revenues were significantly impacted. It is essential this funding continues.

The good news is that change is beginning to happen.

The Canadian government has recognized what is at stake. It has indicated its intention to announce legislation supporting the news industry. The need for this legislation is urgent.

The government is providing assistance through other programs including the Local Journalism Initiative, which supports journalists in a variety of Canadian communities. These programs are helpful, but require the larger scale of the enhanced Aid to Publishers program to be sufficient.

Google announced today agreements for News Showcase product and licensing program with publishers including Black Press, FP Newspapers, Glacier Media, Globe and Mail, Métro Media, Narcity Media, SaltWire Network and Village Media. The program will enable publishers to build deeper relationships with readers across the country and provide funding for news in these communities.

Google also announced through its Google News Initiative that it will train 5,000 Canadian journalists and journalism students in Canada over the next three years to enhance their digital skills. It will be providing bilingual business-oriented workshops for small and mid-sized news organizations to help with audience development and revenue generation.

These initiatives are part of Google’s previously announced intention to spend US$1 billion globally over three years to pay for news partnerships and Google News Showcase, or US$333 million annually. Google has in fact made significant efforts historically to support the survival of news. The Google News Initiative is a $300-million operation that runs a wide variety of programs worldwide helping local news. It also provided funding to help news publishers with editorial expenses during COVID.

Google has indicated its desire to work with government towards a workable regulatory environment.

Facebook also recently announced partnerships in Canada through which they will begin paying participating publishers for the ability to link to additional news stories not already posted on Facebook. It has also been offering programs to assist news media with digital publishing.

These initiatives reflect market based solutions. They are direct and practical. They reflect the fact that the digital platforms and news media are integrally connected. News is of significant value to Google and Facebook, which in turn generate significant audience for news publishers. The monetization of this audience by publishers through sale of advertising and lead generation for subscribers is as important as payment for content.

These initiatives are part of the solution. A solution where content is paid for, a regulatory code of content enshrines a long-term governance framework, and government assistance through Aid to Publishers and other programs helps facilitate the transition to a healthy news ecosystem in communities across the country.

We are seeing progress being made by many publishers in the digital transformation. But it takes time and investment. The challenge is one of scale. If the government acts quickly and agreements between publishers and the platforms expand and their relationship deepens, we can expect significant progress toward a future in which Canadians are assured access to comprehensive credible and reliable news. Technology moves forward continuously. We need to ensure that news content advances abreast of this march. This is important for our democracy and the impact on our daily lives.

Majority of British Columbians say let's play major league ball: poll

Let's play major league ball

Earlier this year, the notion of Vancouver becoming the host of a Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise began to be taken a bit more seriously.

The Oakland Athletics are facing a formidable task in replacing their aging stadium – originally named Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum – and the team’s owners may be looking at a different city to call home.

There is widespread speculation that the Athletics will end up in Nevada. Las Vegas has already adopted another team that was housed in Oakland: the Raiders of the National Football League (NFL). Just like the MLB’s Athletics, the Raiders essentially walked away from the Coliseum after failing to garner interest from local politicians in their quest to build a new stadium.

Current MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has talked about five other cities that could be considered for expansion. Two are in Canada: Vancouver and Montreal, which was home to the Expos from 1969 to 2004. The three other cities are in the United States and have never hosted an MLB franchise: Portland, Oregon; Nashville, Tennessee; and Charlotte, North Carolina.

At this moment, there are a few hints on the way professional sports will return to British Columbia’s venues after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, as well as questions about possible bids for the Commonwealth and Olympic games. Research Co. and Glacier Media asked British Columbians about the possibility of having an MLB team in Vancouver, and the results are overwhelmingly positive. Three in five of the province’s residents (61%) consider this a “very good” or “good” idea.

The presence of an MLB franchise in Vancouver would guarantee 81 home contests from April to September, significantly more than those afforded by standard seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL), the Canadian Football League (CFL) and Major League Soccer (MLS).

The opportunity to see professional baseball players is appealing enough to guarantee early success at the box office. Across the province, 46% of British Columbians say they would attend at least one home game a year if an MLB team played in Vancouver. The purchase of season tickets would be considered by 22% of British Columbians, including 28% of Metro Vancouverites.

British Columbians would also enjoy the sport outside the stadium. More than a third (37%) say they are likely to watch the Vancouver MLB team’s games at a bar or pub, while a majority (51%) are willing to tune in on television. In addition, 40% of the province’s residents would buy merchandise or apparel with the franchise’s logo – including 48% of those aged 18 to 34.

It is fair to say that MLB is not currently followed religiously in the province. More than three in five British Columbians (62%) do not have a favourite franchise in the oldest professional sports league in North America. The Toronto Blue Jays are the most liked team (28%), followed by the Seattle Mariners (7%) and with 2% of the province’s residents choosing one of the remaining 28 squads.

If a team relocates to Vancouver, we might see many of those Toronto and Seattle hats and caps going back to their drawers. Practically seven in 10 British Columbians who have a favourite MLB team now (69%) say they would support the team from Vancouver instead.

Any formal discussions about the viability of an MLB franchise in Vancouver would entail establishing a suitable venue for games. Nat Bailey Stadium, the home of the High-A Vancouver Canadians and well regarded among the baseball-loving community, seats fewer than 6,500 people. A temporary solution could be found at BC Place, which hosted a weekend exhibition series featuring four MLB franchises in April 1994.

It is too soon to know if an MLB expansion into Vancouver will happen. Whether it involves the relocation of the Oakland Athletics or the addition of more teams to the existing league, the appetite from current fans and would-be fans is there. B.C. would require a perfect combination of capital and political will to see this through. The benefits, especially for industries such as tourism and food services that have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, would be long-lasting. •

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from June 6 to June 8 among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Federal election prospects stay strong for Liberals: poll

Liberals still lead in polls

Speculation about a fall post-pandemic election continues in Canada, as the vaccination rates increase across the country and the electorate gets ready for a glimpse of life after COVID-19.

All political parties have been busy with nomination battles and discussions about how to run their respective campaigns, if and when the writs are dropped.

When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians who they would vote for if the next federal election took place tomorrow, the Liberal Party remains in first place with the backing of 38% of decided voters, up one point since our last quarterly examination in March. The scenario is particularly bright for the Liberals in Atlantic Canada (49%), Ontario (42%) and Quebec (39%).

The Conservative Party gained two points to reach 30%, an important psychological milestone for an official opposition that was trapped in the twenties just a few weeks ago. Two concerns for the Tories are their third-place showing in British Columbia (27%) and seeing the Liberals with a 10-point advantage among decided voters in Ontario (42% to 32%).

The New Democratic Party (NDP) remains at 20% across Canada, with support climbing steadily in British Columbia (34%) and Alberta (25%). The Bloc Québécois and the Green Party are tied with 5% at the national level, with the People’s Party barely registering again at 1%.

This survey would point to a Liberal victory with the possibility of a majority government that would hinge on individual outcomes in British Columbia. In 2019, the Conservatives managed to defeat six Liberal incumbents in ridings located in the Interior and the Fraser Valley. Those seats could flip back if Tory support remains low.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval rating fell six points to 50%, but is still decidedly more impressive than the number posted by Conservative leader Erin O’Toole (34%, up one point). O’Toole has lost ground when Canadians are asked who would make the best prime minister. Trudeau is first with 37% (down three points), but NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is now in second place (17%, up five points). O’Toole is third with 12%, down three points.

O’Toole’s approval did not change markedly over the past two months – an issue that should worry Tory supporters. His rating stands at 36% in Alberta, a low number in a province where half of decided voters are Conservatives. There has not been a true identification between the party and its leader, although the prospect of a federal campaign that would feature rallies and live appearances could change that.

Another troubling matter is the gender gap. O’Toole’s rating among women is 30%, a paltry sum when compared to what Trudeau (52%) and Singh (51%) are getting. Among female decided voters, the Liberals hold a comfortable lead over the Conservatives (40% to 25%).

One issue that O’Toole does not currently have to fret about is the People’s Party. The approval rating for Maxime Bernier fell to 14%, with 52% of Canadians disapproving of his performance and 34% oblivious to it.

Singh will be headed to his second campaign as leader of the NDP. At this stage, his personal numbers are strong, with 51% of Canadians approving of his performance. He has overtaken O’Toole as the preferred head of government, but is still 20 points behind Trudeau. Even in British Columbia, where the New Democrats are outperforming all other parties on voting intention, Singh trails Trudeau on the “Best PM” question (35% to 23%).

The fortunes of the federal New Democrats are sometimes tied to the performance of their provincial cousins, whether in government or opposition. This might be partly the case in British Columbia and Alberta, but it is too soon to tell if this will result in more seats for the party. The fluctuation would need to be more dramatic for the New Democrats to defeat Conservative incumbents in Alberta. In British Columbia, the Fraser Valley turned its back on the BC Liberals in the 2020 provincial election. These same voters could be looking at the Liberals, and not the New Democrats, as the party that has handled the pandemic well and deserves their vote, at the expense of Conservative incumbents.

The Green Party, which recently lost one of its three Members of Parliament to the Liberals, can count of the support of 5% of decided voters across the country. British Columbia (7%) and Quebec (6%) are the two areas where the Greens are doing slightly better.

The next three months will be crucial for the realignment of the political battlefield in Canada, if indeed we are headed for a fall election. The Liberals will continue to tout their management of the pandemic, especially if stories about vaccine shortages disappear from the airwaves. The Conservatives will have to rekindle with voters outside of their areas of dominance and be convincing enough to reach those in their traditional base, who right now are not entirely convinced about O’Toole.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from June 12 to June 14, 2021, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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