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Co-operation is underrated

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As I’ve written about here before, if you’re not a cabinet minister, your chances of successfully getting a new law introduced and passed are pretty low.

Occasionally, though, a good private members’ bill becomes good government policy.

Even if it was an opposition MP who introduced it.

I first witnessed that in Manitoba when Conservative MLA Denis Rocan introduced legislation to ban smoking indoors in public. The NDP government took notice and worked with Rocan, and eventually the bill was taken over by then-NDP Health Minister Dave Chomiak. It passed with the support of all parties, if I remember correctly.

Here in Ottawa, it’s happened again today, also with a tobacco-related bill.

In June 2008, NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis introduced a bill to crack down on candy-flavoured mini cigars, known as cigarillos, which aren’t regulated the same way as cigarettes. Wasylycia-Leis believes they are being packaged and marketed to appeal to kids.

These products, which only hit the market in the last decade and have avoided government regulation for the most part so far, are flavoured to taste good. Tangerine, cotton candy and appletini are just a few of the offerings. Unlike regular cigarettes, these tastebud tantalizers can be sold individually or in small packages, so they are also pretty cheap.

Statistics showed kids were jumping on the bandwagon with a Statistics Canada study finding 12 per cent of Canadian teenagers were smoking cigarillos in 2007, even though they were pretty new to the market.

Wasylycia-Leis wanted to ban the addition of flavourings to tobacco products, including cigarillos, and to ensure they can only be sold in packages of at least 20, the same as cigarettes.

Her bill died on the order paper when the election was called but during the election the Conservatives made the issue an election promise.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq today introduced government legislation to make good on that promise. The bill prohibits the addition of fruit flavours and other additives, including vitamins and sugar, to cigarillos, cigarettes and blunt wraps which apparently are sheets or tubes of tobacco. It also requires they be sold in minimum packages of 20.

Wasylycia-Leis said today she is really happy to see this. She said there are some things missing – it still will allow menthol flavourings for example, and won’t require the products to be removed from shelves for 270 days after the bill is enacted.

But she is going to support it wholeheartedly. Her own bill, which she introduced again this winter, will not proceed.

This is the kind of co-operative, non-partisan governing that Canadians should pay attention to.

Good ideas are not limited to any sitting government and any sitting government does well to keep an eye out for good ideas no matter their source.

Adopting the suggestion of a political opponent, to me, is not a sign of weakness but a sign of intelligence and strength.


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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.


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