Chronic diseases and other illnesses cost the Canadian economy close to $200 billion annually, with $125 billion in indirect income and productivity losses, and $75 billion in direct health care costs. Many of these can be prevented by improving our diet.
As a healthcare professional for 18 years before I got into politics, I worked very closely with patients who were suffering from chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease that could have been prevented with a healthier diet. After being elected in Brampton South, it was an honour for me to continue to make a difference in improving the health of Canadians as the Chair of the All Party Diabetes Caucus and a member of the Standing Committee on Health, where we closely examined the revised Canada Food Guide.
That’s why it was so disappointing to hear last week the Leader of the Conservatives, Mr. Andrew Scheer, attempt to discredit and undermine the fact-based revisions made by our government by claiming that the changes are “ideologically driven by people who have a philosophical perspective and a bias against certain types of healthy food products”. I can assure Mr. Scheer that they are not, and that his efforts to politicize the Food Guide, in order to win favour with those who feel threatened by science-based recommendations, will not deceive Canadians.
In the Health Committee, I heard testimonies from Health Canada, the Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, Diabetes Canada, and Université Laval, and I can say with confidence that Canada’s Food Guide is one of the best in the world. Many experts agree, such as Mary L’Abbe, the director of the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Centre for Nutrition Policy for Chronic Disease Prevention. The guide highlights the importance of consuming fruits and vegetables as well as plant-based proteins. For the first time in history, these suggestions are made solely on scientific evidence and facts, and not influenced by industries hoping to benefit financially.
I was also very proud to recently join our Minister of Health for Canada, the Honourable Ginette Petipas Taylor, in Brampton as we launched the translations of the guide into 26 additional languages. This will allow all Canadians to fully benefit from the guide, especially those whose mother tongue is not English or French, including Indigenous languages, and in some cases these Canadians already have far different dietary preferences than Mr. Scheer.
The Conservative Leader also claims that this guide removed dairy products as a category. This is more misinformation. We did not suggest to anyone that they shouldn’t consume dairy products. The Minister has stated on the record that “dairy foods like lower-fat milk, lower-fat yogurts, and cheeses that are lower in fat and sodium are considered protein foods and are excellent foods to include in a healthy diet.”Our government has spent the past four years in office working to encourage and support dairy farmers in Canada, as we recognize that the dairy industry is vital to Canada’s prosperity. Since 2015, we have implemented the Dairy Investment Program and the Dairy Processing Investment fund, investing $350 million into strengthening the productivity of our dairy farms.
So why would Andrew Scheer attempt to vilify our government by describing the work we have done to improve Canada’s Food Guide as “biased” and “ideologically driven”?
These remarks are a blatant attempt at scaring dairy farmers into believing that we don’t support their industry, although the facts and numbers show we do. His interest in the revised guide is not driven by a concern for the health of Canadians, but it is a calculated attempt at winning votes for the upcoming federal election. What Conservatives are forgetting is that the health of our children, seniors, families, and friends is not something to be used for political gain.
We have worked hard, and our officials have worked extremely hard to make sure that we present a great tool for Canadians to use. Canada is not a country that makes decision based on politics driven by fear and we should not tolerate the tactics used by Conservatives to win votes. Every food guide before this one was made to benefit large corporations who profited from it. This revision of the guide, the first in over ten years, is solely based on science and facts, and was created only to protect and improve the health of Canadians, and for no other reason.
I encourage all Canadians to do their own research on topics that matter to them and not trust politicians like Mr. Scheer who is questioning the science and trying to impose his own ideology instead of relying on the facts. His comments have been largely rebutted by health experts and dieticians, with many saying that his position is one not based in evidence. Some said that Scheer’s remarks were made in an attempt to secure the support of the supply-managed dairy sector, which has been credited with helping him secure his positon in a closely-fought Conservative leadership bid. The latest version puts a decreased emphasis on the consumption of dairy and meat, recommends that water be the “beverage of choice,” and suggests that plant-based proteins should be consumed more often because that is what the science and experts have told us.
What really concerns me is that this is not just about the Food Guide, but about Mr. Sheer’s positions when it comes to science and evidence. We saw this from the Stephen Harper Conservatives previously when they cancelled the mandatory long form census, and from what Doug Ford is doing in Ontario, and it now seems that Mr. Scheer would follow in their footsteps.
Our government revived the census, issued in 2016, and brought to light new information about Canadian demographics because we believe in making important decisions based on the best information and facts possible. This is what differentiates us from the Conservatives and what we were elected to do.
I urge all Canadians to trust the Canada Food Guide, on not Mr. Scheer and the Conservatives!
By Sonia Sidhu, Member of Parliament for Brampton South