Print

There are a lot of things going on in this country that should be issues in this election: Fisheries and Oceans Canada's support for fish farms, the tar sands, and pipelines, to name three. With an annual death toll of 45,000 Canadians, tobacco should be a major topic of discussion, too.

We had a situation just five months ago where Health Canada was scrapping a plan to increase the size of warning labels on cigarettes as a result of lobbying from the tobacco industry. Read about it here: Conservative Federal Government owned by tobacco industry.

As a result of the exposure of the tobacco industry's involvement in this, the Harper Government changed its mind and went ahead with a a policy that was under development for six years. This is a old problem, however. Not long ago, it was common for tobacco industry spokespeople to say that the tobacco industry is a "partner" with Federal and provincial goverments, as part of complaining about taxation of tobacco. This is silly nonsense; automobiles, for example, are taxed heavily, but you don't hear auto industry lobbyists using language like this.

The Harper Government certainly didn't invent the idea that the tobacco industry is a "stakeholder" on tobacco industry issues; when Paul Martin was Prime Minister, the tobacco industry was much more than a stakeholder. The "stakeholder" idea is one that should be discarded. If you're asked by anyone during the few days left until the election to vote for a certain candidate, this would be a good topic to bring up.

One of the pillars of the Conservative campaign is "tough on crime"; longer prison sentences, building more prisons, that sort of thing. The Harper Government has also talked about the crime of tobacco smuggling, but they quietly adopted a policy of of prison sentences only for repeat offenders. In other words, the Harper Government is "tough on crime" except when it involves tobacco. Again, a good question to ask Conservative candidates about.

On a broader scale, however, the Conservative government nearly fell in 2008 because Harper tried to end public campaign financing in 2008. This time around, he's saying up front that the Conservatives will end public campaign financing if they get a majority in the House of Commons.

If the Conservatives are successful in doing this, any candidate who wants to have a serious chance of getting elected will have to go to large businesses, many of them foreign-owned, for funding. This would put the tobacco industry back in the game of electoral politics, so if you're looking for a good reason to vote Anybody But Conservative, this would be it.

On a different broader scale: the tobacco industry lost a lot of clout in Canada when BAT/Imperial Tobacco moved their Canadian manufacturing operation to Mexico in 2005. JTI and Rothman's still make cigarettes in Canada, but the BAT/Imperial Tobacco action reduced the number of cigarettes produced in Canada by 80%. However, there's a new player in the game: Grand River Enterprises, based in Ohsweken, ON on the Six Nations Reserve. They produce Sago, Putter's, and DK cigarettes. They have 175 employees. There are similar, smaller operations on other reserves: here's an article about one of them, published April 23: Mohawk tobacco firm battling provinces goes ‘all in’.

What this article is really about is the "sovereignty" game, and it says, "The company is in the midst of a potentially precedent setting legal battle with three Western provinces and the outcome could not only have a major impact on inter-provincial trade between First Nations reserves, but change the face of the tobacco industry in Canada."

Well, now, that sounds pretty important, doesn't it? There isn't much point in asking why Harper, Ignatieff, Layton, May, and Duceppe aren't talking about this. So let's start asking some questions.

If "sovereignty" does indeed apply here, shouldn't a pack of cigarettes manufactured on the Six Nations Reserve be treated the same way as a pack of Winstons manufactured in North Carolina? With the same warning labels and the same duty?

And shouldn't we be talking about fewer cigarettes in Canada, instead of more of them? Grand River Enterprises operates under a Federal license. Why? Yes, politicians are uncomfortable talking about this. It's time to make them more uncomfortable.