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B.C. grocers get a break with legislation ‘pause’ for Bill 12

'Common sense prevailed,' CFIG exec says
BC Parliament building
Grocery was just one of a range of business sectors who reacted with alarm at the proposed bill.

Grocers and other businesses in British Columbia are breathing easier after the provincial government hit pause on Bill 12, the Public Health Accountability and Cost Recovery Act last week.

Had it passed, the legislation would have allowed the federal and provincial governments to potentially sue businesses (including grocers) for the recovery of healthcare costs related to products, by-products, and services provided to BC residents.

“The way the Bill was written, it was open season and could mean, if I am a grocer selling products with too many calories to someone obese, I could be liable,” says Gary Sands, senior vice-president, public policy and advocacy for the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers (CFIG).  “I think that common sense prevailed and I applaud the government for making the right decision.”

In conducting a webinar with Attorney General Niki Sharma in April, Sands says it was quickly apparent that the legislation was just too broad. “We kept going in circles and the problem was that the scope of the bill was breathtaking,” he says, noting that grocery was just one of a range of business sectors who reacted with alarm at the potential implications of the new legislation. “I think the government realized that it was just too broad in scope… I’ve never seen legislation like this anywhere in North America.”

READ: Food industry groups object to proposed B.C. chicken price increase

In an open letter to Sharma and BC Premier David Eby on March 28, CFIG joined more than 20 other business groups to voice concerns. Among those was the fact that the law could create liability for almost any business operating in or connected to BC. While the intention to safeguard the physical and mental health and wellbeing of British Columbians is an objective all groups supported, they emphasized that the parameters in Bill 12 needed to be “appropriately delineated so as not to inadvertently expose a wider spectrum of businesses to legal risk.”

In the future, Sands says the food industry could certainly work with government to provide better information on health-related issues that could help influence what consumers are picking up at the grocery store. “I don’t know anyone in the food industry who would say no to that, but this sledgehammer approach just wasn’t well thought-out,” he says.

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