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Konrad Yakabuski: The Harper government’s insistence on putting its political stamp on policies that were previously left to independent agencies or experts in the bureaucracy means that even its public service announcements are suspect. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Konrad Yakabuski: The Harper government’s insistence on putting its political stamp on policies that were previously left to independent agencies or experts in the bureaucracy means that even its public service announcements are suspect. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

KONRAD YAKABUSKI

From sugar to drugs, Harper has turned everything partisan Add to ...

Warning young people about the dangers of smoking pot should be about as controversial as telling them to brush their teeth. The same goes for recommending that adults consume no more sugar than they can bench-press. Health officials are right to point out the pitfalls of both.

This is Canada, in 2014, however, where the Harper government’s insistence on putting its political stamp on policies that were previously left to independent agencies or experts in the bureaucracy means that even its public service announcements (PSAs) are suspect. Where an anti-pot ad aimed at teens seems partisan and nutritional guidelines seem to go light on the sugar lobby.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose, who is officially charged with looking out for the brain cells of Canadian teens and the waistlines of their parents, instead finds herself accused of caring more about her fast-aging government’s longevity. Her anti-marijuana campaign, in particular, seems conveniently timed to discredit Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who supports legalizing pot.

Even if Ms. Ambrose’s intentions were pure, her party’s relentless and deceitful attacks on Mr. Trudeau’s pot plans – for example, a Tory leaflet recently distributed in Veteran Affairs Minister Julian Fantino’s Toronto-area riding said the Liberal Leader’s “first order of business is to make marijuana more accessible to minors” – have the effect of making her an accomplice in a political smear campaign.

Ms. Ambrose’s proposal to establish a new guideline on Canadians’ daily sugar intake also smacks of politics. Her proposed 100-gram cap does not distinguish between sugar that is naturally occurring in foods and sugar that is added by manufacturers. Fruit Loops or fruit, it’s all the same to her.

The minister says the experts at Health Canada told her that “sugar is sugar.” But a 355-millilitre can of Coke, which has 42 grams of added sugar, is not the nutritional equivalent of a couple of apples, which have about the same amount of naturally occurring sugar. Added sugar is the main ingredient in our obesity and diabetes epidemic.

By not specifying a recommended limit on added sugar, however, the minister lets food manufacturers off easy. No need to reconfigure that ketchup by adding real tomatoes when Health Canada says you can eat 20 tablespoons of the condiment without surpassing your daily sugar limit.

As far as Ms. Ambrose is concerned, we can all eat cake. In fact, we might as well.

What’s really sad about the Tory modus operandi is that worthy public health initiatives are discredited because fewer people trust this government to act in anything but its own interest.

An article by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, published in the June issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that pot-smoking teens, whose brains are still developing, risk permanent impairment. It found that “regular marijuana use in the early teen years lowers IQ into adulthood, even if users stopped smoking marijuana as adults.”

Yet the country’s medical establishment this week pulled out of Health Canada’s upcoming ad campaign aimed at discouraging young people from smoking marijuana and abusing prescription drugs because it did not want to be seen as a political pawn. The Canadian Medical Association and two other groups representing the country’s doctors had earlier agreed to let their logos be used in the multimillion-dollar campaign that was reportedly set to launch this fall.

“The campaign, unfortunately, took a twist that looked a little political,” outgoing CMA president Louis Hugo Francescutti said. “And as a non-partisan organization, we heard from our members loud and clear that they did not want us to be affiliated with that.”

Ms. Ambrose blamed Mr. Trudeau for politicizing the ad campaign by raising questions about its motives. But why wouldn’t he? Though he deserves criticism for being too vague about how he would “tax and regulate” pot, he has been clear that he sees marijuana as detrimental to young people and regulation as the best way to make it harder for them to get it. Yet, Tories shamelessly tell voters the opposite, that Mr. Trudeau wants to make buying pot “an everyday activity” for their kids.

If the minister goes ahead with her ads many parents will see them after a months-long barrage of Tory propaganda about Mr. Trudeau’s marijuana proposal. It will be impossible for them to take the ads at face value, which may be exactly what the Tories are aiming for.

It’s a sad day when you can’t trust your own government’s PSAs.

Follow on Twitter: @konradyakabuski

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