A unique election issue has emerged in New Brunswick: chocolate milk.
The province’s Liberal government introduced a much-derided ban on chocolate milk and other sugary drinks and snacks from being sold in schools, and the Conservatives have promised to kill it.
Tory Leader Blaine Higgs was even filmed drinking chocolate milk during the first week of the campaign for the Sept. 24 election, as the party said it would combat obesity in schools with meaningful programs, not token efforts.
On Friday, Liberal Education Minister Brian Kenny said he was troubled by reports from groups who said the ban, introduced in June, jeopardized their school fundraising events.
Some parent groups said the ban extended to what could be sold during fundraisers that generated revenues for such things as school supplies and a lunch program for students who had no meals.
Heather McDonald, who chairs the Birchmount School Home and School Association in Moncton, said her group and others planned all summer for fundraising events, but had to cancel them when they were told last week that the new policy extended to fundraisers.
“We have a lot of requests from teachers who need things for their classrooms. For us, it was an immediate ‘Oh no, how do we going to help these kids, and how are we going to feed the kids who come to school hungry?' ” she said.
She said anything planned for prior to the election date will have to remain on hold, including a fall fair that had been scheduled for Sept. 21.
Ms. McDonald said that event included selling homemade pies and jars full of candy.
“These are the things that make us money and are the things that are the most profitable,” she said.
She said groups such as hers can’t run afoul of department policy, so no one will be willing to hold that kind of fundraiser until they see that the policy has been changed.
But Mr. Kenny says the policy – part of a continent-wide trend toward healthier school lunches – needs to be applied with common sense and judgement, and he’ll make sure it’s clarified if the Liberal government is re-elected.
“We believe that the spirit of the policy should continue to allow existing fundraisers and the organization of extra-curricular, fundraising and holiday events that include treats,” he said.
During the election period, Mr. Kenny can’t direct officials in government to change the policy.
“We have however encouraged them to clarify the policy and to ensure it is applied in a rational, common sense way. It is up to their discretion whether or not to do so,” Mr. Kenny said.
George Daley, president of the New Brunswick Teachers Association, said the wording of the policy and the way it was explained just last week left no room for individual discretion by schools.
“It said that anything sold or given to kids within the school system in any way or venue was going to come under that policy requirement,” he said.
“There is certainly some miscommunication between the policy developers and what’s gone out, and maybe what’s in the policy.”
Mr. Daley said he is glad to hear it will be changed.
Mr. Higgs said it appears the minister hadn’t read the policy closely before it became an issue.
“It’s unfortunate that New Brunswickers can’t trust a government to look in detail, talk with communities and be sure they know what the impact is, and the consequences of their actions,” he said.
Mr. Higgs said he often drinks chocolate milk, and doesn’t see a problem with kids having it in school.
“It might be their only opportunity to drink milk. For me it’s better to have a product like that than many others. It just doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.
The Canadian Press