Taxation could actually mean a sweet deal for citizens of NWT

by Karen Boyd, regional executive director for Dietitians of Canada for the Northwest Territories 

Karen Boyd

Earlier this week the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) invited the public to weigh in on its proposal to introduce a tax on sugary drinks as a means to reduce sugar intake in the territory and support healthier drink choices. Dietitians across the territory will be showing their support at public forums, explaining how the tax could actually mean a sweet deal for citizens.

The mayor of Tuktoyatuk has called the proposed tax ‘plain stupid’, a statement that ignores the evidence and fails to consider that school-aged children in NWT reach for soft drinks at rates higher than the Canadian average. As a country, Canadians are drinking sugary drinks at near historic rates, due in part to the emergence of beverages such as sport and energy drinks, sweetened teas and flavoured water. The average Canadian youth consumes over half a litre of sugary drinks per day.

The time to act is now.

The money raised by this tax when reinvested in schools and community programs would help to further improve the health of children and communities.

The list of jurisdictions opting to implement some form of tax on sugary drinks is growing with the United Kingdom the latest addition to a list that includes Finland, France, Hungary, Mexico, the Cook Islands, St Helena, India, Chile, Belgium, Philadelphia and Berkley. Taxation is having a positive impact on drink choices in these countries and cities.

As dietitians, we see the negative health effects of consuming excess sugar, fat and salt combined with a sedentary lifestyle and the resulting obesity and chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The recently-released Canada’s Food Guide encourages us to drink water as the beverage of choice, and highlights the health risks associated with sugary drinks. This is why Dietitians of Canada and our members are in full support the GNWT’s commitment to the health of its citizens by taxing these drinks. They offer little nutritional benefits and have been linked to serious health risks including overweight and obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Illnesses that have a tremendous impact on our quality of life, our economy and our healthcare system and are largely preventable if effective measures are taken well in advance to encourage healthier behaviours.


GNWT sugar tax is bittersweet

by Kieron Testart, MLA for Kam Lake

In 2016 Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod announced that the GNWT intended to introduce a Sugary Drink Tax in 2019 as a price incentive to discourage the consumption of sugary drinks.

Kieron Testart

At the time I was relieved that the new tax seemed to have fizzled out, as his department focused on cannabis and carbon pricing. Unfortunately, here we are and McLeod is preparing to impose another tax the people of the NWT. I do not support this new tax – here’s why.

Consumption taxes must have a clear public policy objective; otherwise they are just a tax-grab on those who are already having a tough time making ends meet. So, when considering this new tax it’s important to evaluate what the public policy goals are and for us to question whether it will address the root of the suspected problem.

If this government wants to impose a new sugar tax to improve public health outcomes, such as diabetes and obesity, then it must consider the evidence of existing Sugary Drink Taxes and what effects these taxes have had. When reviewing the available evidence, there simply isn’t a factual case that this sugary drinks tax will have any meaningful results other than adding another source of revenue to the GNWT’s pocket.

This is a form of regressive taxation that will most heavily affects those living in small and remote communities and, those already struggling to make ends meet.

In some NWT communities the price of milk can be more than four times what someone would pay in Vancouver or Edmonton. Countries that have imposed sugary drink taxes have not seen a decline in the consumption of sugary beverages or the desired public health outcomes. Using this government’s logic, the high taxes on alcohol in the NWT should be decreasing alcohol consumption and yet we have the highest per capita rates of alcohol sales and consumption in Canada. Simply put, there is no evidence that these new taxes would reduce consumption and improve public health outcomes as this government would have you believe.

If added sugar has the GNWT and Mr. McLeod so concerned, why has the government ignored other forms of added sugar such as candy, breakfast cereals, lattes and most other processed foods? If they start down this path, where does it end?

According to the Conference Board of Canada, the consumption of sugary drinks has declined by 20 per cent between 2004-2014. To contrast this again with alcohol, Northern consumption of alcohol exceeds the recommended guidelines by 16.2 per cent. These facts show that taxes fail to reduce consumption, whereas Canadians are making healthier balanced choices without any need for a new tax.

To say that the proposed sugar tax is ‘bittersweet’ is putting it lightly. The evidence is lacking to support the tax and, quite frankly, Northerners already pay too much living and working in the NWT. I do not support this sugary drinks tax and will oppose it in the legislative assembly.

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