17 July 2015

Health Canada—another Conservative mouthpiece?

The Conservatives have started early on their advertising campaign for the upcoming election. We are, for example, being told ad nauseam that Justin Trudeau isn't ready. With their large war chest, the Conservatives can afford to lay it on thick. But they're not only relying on their own funds, they are also relying on ours. Health Minister Rona Ambrose has announced a rerun of the anti-marijuana ad first seen last year, a recycling that will cost taxpayers $1.5-million.

At the time the marijuana ad was first broadcast, claims such as pot-smoking seriously affecting teenagers' IQs, were hotly disputed. For example, research by University College London challenges the IQ claim, stating there is no connection.

Two questions arise. Why is Health Canada focusing on marijuana when other recreational drugs are more harmful? (Alcohol, for instance, is far more widely used by teenagers and far riskier.) And secondly, why is it presenting a highly biased view? The ad is not based on the best research but rather on what got the strongest response from focus groups.

The answer to both questions is that the campaign is based on politics, not science—a standard approach of the Harper government. When the ad was first introduced, the Canadian Medical Association, the College of Family Physicians of Canada and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada all refused to endorse it for precisely that reason.

Health Canada's responsibility is to provide us with the most scientifically sound views on health issues. In the case of marijuana use, it should at the very least inform Canadians that there is a body of research countering the claims made in its ad. It should tell the whole story. That it chooses instead to present a view that defers to Conservative policy tells us the campaign isn't designed to protect Canadian teenagers against the evil weed but rather to beat Justin Trudeau over the head with his promise to legalize and regulate it. By allowing itself to be used as a shill, Health Canada is seriously compromising its credibility—if we can't believe them on this issue, when can we believe them?

Revenue Canada and the RCMP have both been used as political instruments by the Conservatives. Health Canada must now be added to this sorry list.

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