Why a rehash of the Smoke Free Ontario Act?

By MPP Toby Barrett

Often times when a government runs out of steam it attempts to spin old ideas into new ones. Ten years after the Smoke Free Ontario Act was implemented, government proposes to debate it once again. They also want to debate the coal ban all over again. Such repetition results in poor policy and over regulation.

Premier Wynne’s tinkering with the Smoke Free Ontario Act will give inspectors the ability to enter and search premises without a warrant – I oppose such a measure, unless it is directed at the organized crime that has now infiltrated the tobacco business. Ontario and Canada should not allow our rights and liberties to be eroded by nanny state laws. Amended or not, The Smoke Free Ontario Act was, and continues to be, show and sham. It was designed to justify tax hikes and get headlines on the six o’clock news.

But it helped put hundreds of hardworking tobacco farmers in Southwestern Ontario out of business – not only did they lose their livelihood and home, but the land they had tended for so many years. In some cases they lost their marriage.

And while our tobacco economy struggled, the other consequence that I specifically warned about was the proliferation of an underground market – one that has now spiraled out of control.

You may recall back in 2008 I drafted legislation urging government to crack down on illegal smoke shacks and contraband tobacco. I described the unintended partnership of government policy and organized crime that would put Canadian tobacco farmers and the legal trade at a competitive disadvantage. I recommended government could put an end to illegal tobacco and smoke shacks by increasing enforcement and reducing tobacco taxes – this was done in the early 90s, and overnight 300 smoke shacks vanished on Six Nations.

A few years ago Aboriginal Affairs Minister of the day, Michael Bryant, asked me why I was so concerned with a smoke shack! That attitude has seen the dismissal of warnings and has created a false sense that illegal tobacco is a “victimless crime.”

Today, contraband tobacco is a huge economic issue, but of greater concern are threats to safety and security. The government has accused me of playing politics with the tobacco file – the numbers prove they are dead wrong.

We’re told there are 970 organized crime outfits in Canada and of that number, 175 move tobacco. Not only do these organizations push cheap smokes but also drugs, alcohol, firearms, and disrespect for the law.

We are witnessing this all too often in tobacco country with the increasing theft of cured leaf from pack barns. Illegal tobacco in our province, in our country, has reached a dangerous mark and opening up debate on the Smoke Free Ontario Act won’t do anything to change this.

If this government cared about the health of our children and the well-being of our communities they would take on contraband. Kids buy from smoke shacks or from the trunk of a car, not from corner stores.

The Ontario government based in the Big Smoke has run out of steam. If this government is at a loss of what to do – if they’ve run out of material — then it’s time they get out of the way.