Straight Talk
PAIGE T. MACPHERSON - Junk food taxes hurt the poor

Credits: REUTERS/JOSHUA LOTT

PAIGE T. MACPHERSON | QMI AGENCY

The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) has proposed a tax on the province's poor.

I'm sure they didn't mean to do that when they proposed increased taxes on junk foods recently.

It's part of a strategy to combat our youth obesity "epidemic".

Our kids have become fatter over the past few decades, which apparently means we must fatten our tax burden as well.

The OMA wants scary graphic labels on treats - like those on cigarettes. They want the government to limit where junk food can be sold, and restrict its marketing to children.

It's also calling to increase taxes on junk foods and decrease taxes on healthy foods.

Reducing youth obesity is something we should work toward. It's important to improve our health and bring down health care costs.

But the way the OMA wants to do it will result in an unfair tax burden on low-income families.

This isn't the first time an elite group of (well-intentioned) high-income earners has decided they know what's best for us. It won't be the last time they tell you the government knows how to raise your kids better than you do.

Those naturally opposed to big government will hate this. But to others, it might sound reasonable. It helps our kids. It makes us healthier. Great.

But who will it really affect?

"Junk" food is the cheapest kind of food.

It's not hard to stay in shape if you can afford a gym membership and eat quinoa salad from Pusateri's.

A tax hike on junk food is a tax hike on the most accessible food. It would make food in general harder to buy.

Gregory Thomas at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation put it simply: It's absurd to think slapping higher taxes on any food will make life better for Ontarians.

But the OMA didn't just propose a tax hike - they also want lower taxes on healthy foods.

This would be great - if groceries were taxed in the first place.

Picture your grocery bill. Affordable grocery "inputs" (like broccoli and rice) aren't taxed. Only convenient "outputs" (like prepared sandwiches) are.

So which affordable "healthy" foods does the OMA think the government can reduce taxes on? They didn't respond to my request for clarification.

We can assume the only healthy foods that would become slightly cheaper are prepared foods like salads and sushi, which still won't be in reach for struggling single moms.

The overall result would be a tax grab on the poor.

There's also the fact one-fifth of young workers are employed in food services - jobs that could see a decline if the government over-taxed fast food.

Plus, our "healthy foods" Bible, the Canada Food Guide, is a hotbed for lobbyists vying to get their foods on the good list, making it questionable at best.

But what really rubs salt in the wound - can I still say salt? - is that the healthy "tax decrease" will only help people who can afford expensive foods.

The surely well-intentioned OMA is set to urge the provincial government to pass these reforms.

If it does, life will become even harder for Ontario taxpayers.

It's nice to want to make our kids healthier. But an unfair tax on poor Ontarians isn't the way to do it.

- MacPherson is a Web Producer at Sun News Network

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