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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: More information is good for you

Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer (above) has pledged to follow his predecessor Stephen Harper’s lead and not reopen the abortion issue, says Jonathan Malloy.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. — Postmedia News file photo

Let’s be pragmatic for a second.

When Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was fighting for his job against fellow leadership contender Maxime Bernier, one of the issues that brought votes to Scheer’s side (and eventually dispatched Bernier to form his own party) was Bernier’s plan to deregulate and open up the dairy industry.

There were jokes at the time that “Big Milk” was shouldering its way into the campaign in a big way — so it’s not surprising that, last week, when Scheer spoke to the Dairy Farmers of Canada in Saskatoon, he might be receptive to addressing one of their concerns.

The biggest one of those concerns?

That a revamped, simplified version of Canada’s Food Guide dropped the recommendation that Canadians eat dairy products every day. Scheer’s solution? Tear up the new version and go back to the drawing board, and, unlike the new version, allow industry groups to have input.

It’s easy to understand that there could be a bit of “quid-pro-moo” going on there.

But while you can understand that move (even if you don’t agree with it) it’s harder to understand a different part of Scheer’s dietary commitments. Scheer has said he intends to get rid of planned Health Canada labelling that would require front-of-package labels for products high in sugar, saturated fats and salt by 2022.

It’s a position he made clear in Saskatoon.

“I can make all those decisions myself. I don’t need the government to come along and put a big red sticker on something just because somebody in an office thought that I shouldn’t be eating that,” he said.

In fact, all Canadians would continue to make those decisions for themselves, as they do now, labelling or not; the only difference would be that they could make a better informed decision.

Many of our decisions are made by habit. We pick the products we always do and head for the checkout. (Pop quiz: you’re making spaghetti for dinner. If you used a pre-made sauce, how much salt is in there? Do you remember? Have you ever even looked?)

Scheer has said he intends to get rid of planned Health Canada labelling that would require front-of-package labels for products high in sugar, saturated fats and salt by 2022.

It’s not until a consumer decides to — or is told by their doctor that they have to — make a change that they head for the fine print on the back of the package.

Front-of-package labelling doesn’t offer a choice for a customer, it merely gives a customer more information for making choices — in fact, the labels that Health Canada is proposing are primarily black and white, and only highlight that the product has high levels of sugar, salt and saturated fats. It’s more of a prompt to turn the can or box around to see just what you’re getting into, or what’s getting into you. The new labels don’t tell you what to buy or not buy — they simply point you to more information.

I mean, you can, if you like, climb over the fence into an electrical substation. It’s your choice. But no one would credibly say that we should be taking down any the signs on the substation fence that say “DANGER — HIGH VOLTAGE” because people can make “all those decisions” by themselves.

The great part about the free will that Scheer is trumpeting is that you have the right to make choices about what you do, based on the information you collect.

Taking information away lessens your ability to make an informed decision. In fact, forcing you to decide with less information actually makes it harder for you to exercise your free will.

So, to turn the argument on its head, why does Andrew Scheer oppose the Canadian public being given the tools they need to decide things for themselves?

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.


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