Tag Archives: canada

Tom Stringham: Jim Prentice and alcohol policy

Last week I attended a local citizen’s meeting conducted by Jim Prentice, former MP and member of Stephen Harper’s cabinet, and leading candidate for the leadership of Alberta’s ruling Progressive Conservative Party. I took the opportunity to ask Mr. Prentice whether he was in favor of new policies to fight excessive alcohol consumption: specifically, restrictions on alcohol advertising and higher alcohol taxes.

I asked this question because over the last few months, I’ve discovered that the most recent epidemiological literature on alcohol paints a bleaker picture of the drug’s harms than anyone used to think. Earlier this year in its report on alcohol and world health, the World Health Organization attributed 5.9% of worldwide deaths (3.3 million per year) to alcohol consumption. As recently as 2004, the WHO had reported the figure as 3.2%: almost certainly an underestimate. This year, the WHO reports, in a highest-ever statistic, that 6.8% of Canadians—more than two million people—have an alcohol use disorder.

Furthermore, the link between alcohol and cancer has recently become clearer: we now know that even in low doses, ethanol has a carcinogenic effect on every internal tissue it touches as it decays into acetaldehyde during digestion. Alcohol is linked to esophageal cancer, stomach cancer and liver cancer, along with others.

The WHO recommends restrictions on alcohol advertising and high alcohol taxes. This would diminish the public health impact of alcohol without compromising the ability of adults to purchase and drink it. These proposals were my suggestion to Mr. Prentice.

Not to my surprise, he was caught off guard by my question. While he acknowledged some of the societal harm caused by alcohol, he did not appear to have in his platform a plan for addressing it. Prentice turned down the policies I suggested without explaining why.

If Prentice has a blind spot on alcohol harm, however, he isn’t unique. While Jim Prentice is an intelligent, principled and even visionary politician (I plan to vote for him), he’s like any other public intellectual in Canada. He’s likely never seriously considered the idea of meaningful changes to alcohol laws, and is probably unacquainted with the literature on the medical and social harms of the drug.

Like all Canadians, Prentice hopes for a better Canada, and intends to leave a richer inheritance to the next generation. He and other people of influence have an opportunity to make this happen: they can turn the tide of policy on our society’s last, and deadliest, acceptable drug.

The Hustings

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Tom Stringham: What would the Hobby Lobby case look like in Canada?

If you are a Canadian who has not closely followed Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, you might be surprised to find out what everyone is so upset about.

The US Supreme Court ruled today in favor of the retail chain Hobby Lobby in one of its highest-profile cases this year. While the family which owns the chain has complied with a new mandate that requires them to provide employees with insurance coverage for contraceptives, they have objected on religious grounds to paying for abortifacients (drugs that prevent or disrupt embryonic implantation).

Their objections stood in court, as a decision written by Justice Samuel Alito contended that the US government had failed to show that the mandate was the “least restrictive means” of enforcing the state’s interest in providing access to birth control.

There is a legitimate debate to be had whether the US could provide access to popular birth control methods in less restrictive ways, although it appears the court ruled correctly (Justice Kennedy, concurring, suggested the government could just directly fund these drugs). But the media has avoided that discussion for the most part, instead framing the case as part of some larger conflict of religious freedom and women’s health. Some progressive groups see the decision as an assault on women.

The extreme politicization of a relatively narrow issue is unfortunate, but even more regrettable is that not a single voice in the American media appears to have looked outside the US for broader context.

In Canada, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs are not generally covered by the public health system. These drugs can be purchased, like most drugs, at the patient’s expense. Some private insurance plans cover birth control, but this is not a requirement. It goes without saying that employers are not required to pay for abortifacients as part of their benefits packages to employees. It’s a quirk of the American health care system that a woman’s employer is the first party responsible for her birth control choices.

One protester’s sign at the Supreme Court today read “Keep bosses out of bedrooms!”—the implication being that employers should not be allowed to withhold abortifacient coverage. But the slogan could be used in defense of a much different message. Employers would be happy to stay out of bedrooms and, in all likelihood, would rather not be forced into the situation of making sensitive health care decisions at all. If they lived in Canada, they wouldn’t be.

The Hustings

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Geoffrey Wale: The NRA and the Canadian gun debate

A tired old canard tossed out by gun prohibitionists in the debate over gun ownership in Canada is that the U.S. National Rifle Association (NRA) is somehow undermining their efforts to advance gun prohibition. Michael Bryant (Attorney General for Ontario from 2003-2007) commented in 2010:

I got elected in 1999 and I became aware soon after of the NRA’s involvement in the debate — not in a huge way, but in a significant way. Canadians need to know the role the NRA has played in the gun registry debate. For a lot of people in Canada, if they knew that the NRA was part of the effort to get rid of the gun registry, they would think more about their views. And they would think, ‘well, wait a minute, I thought this was about, you know, wasting taxpayer dollars. The NRA’s involved? Really? That makes me very uncomfortable … “

As to NRA involvement in the gun debate in Canada, Tony Bernardo, Executive Director of the Canadian Institute for Legislative Action/Canadian Shooting Sports Association (CILA/CSSA) observed in 2010, the NRA provides “tremendous amounts of logistical support, and while the NRA’s constitution prevents them from providing money, they freely give us anything else.”

Beyond offering logistical support to CILA/CSSA, NRA publications on the safe use of guns have found their way in to government publications in Canada. The Hunter’s Guide, the textbook published in 1982 and used for many years by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources for the Hunter Education Program incorporated material published by the NRA on the proper handling of guns, notably pistols. The Hunter’s Guide was distributed by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH). It is a comprehensive guide to hunting, hunting regulations, wildlife management, hunter safety, proper and safe gun use and the science of wildlife management.

That the NRA allowed for some of its copyrighted materials to be used in the Hunter’s Guide shows its involvement in Canada has been benign, if not having provided a valuable public service. That Canada’s hunting and shooting sports organizations are offered logistical and moral support from the NRA is fine also. You can be sure that Canadian gun prohibitionists are receiving the same support from their U.S. counterparts. That involvement of the NRA in Canada may undermine the efforts of gun prohibitionists such as Michael Bryant and like minded people in our society pleases me to no end.

The Hustings

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