CBC: Canada’s got a drinking problem — and one senator says Ottawa needs to step up

John Paul Tasker · CBC News · Posted: May 22, 2023 2:00 AM MDT

Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/tasker-canada-alcohol-problem-health-warning-labels-1.6850180?_cldee=G4u939s-N39UB_WbBdTNvKmU3-70Rhedg6lprTjaWnI2LgJGkTy8wULMdOJmLoBh&recipientid=contact-e551c9199c4ce8118147480fcff4b171-8c354ee64776438dab739716fd6e2d3d&esid=65e2e0dd-64f9-ed11-8f6e-000d3a09c3d2

The federal government pitched a sizeable increase to the alcohol excise tax earlier this year — only to walk back that commitment in response to backlash from some MPs, lobby groups and cost-conscious Canadian drinkers.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s budget kept the annual tax increase much lower than inflation — it’ll grow by just 2 per cent this year — after a well-organized letter-writing campaign convinced the government that the political repercussions of such a hike weren’t worth the relatively modest revenue bump.

There was similar blowback when the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) recently issued new drinking guidelines that claimed no amount of alcohol is safe.

The recommendation prompted derision from some who said the health professionals behind the research are fun-averse teetotalers bent on needlessly worrying people about the risks of wine, beer and spirits. The government-funded data still hasn’t been posted publicly by Health Canada.

These incidents reveal just how deeply entrenched alcohol is in Canadian life — and how reluctant the government is to crack down on drinking.

“You know, alcohol is the favourite substance of many policymakers and indeed for a lot of us. It has sort of an iconic cultural status. Politicians — they don’t want to do much about it,” said Dr. Tim Naimi, the director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria.

“It’s the leading cause of preventable death in Canada. It’s the government’s job to protect Canadians from the tremendous harms caused by alcohol. For some reason, they feel threatened by the facts.”

At least one politician wants to do something to curb consumption.

Quebec Sen. Patrick Brazeau is a recovering alcoholic. His struggles with addiction have been well-documented.

Sober for three years, Brazeau now wants other Canadians to avoid the potentially life-altering effects of alcohol abuse.

“If you had told me 10 years ago I’d be sober and introducing a bill to label alcohol products, I would’ve told you you’re crazy,” Brazeau told CBC News. “I was drinking way too much because I was hurting inside. I was trying to kill the pain.”

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