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Foreign Affairs

Conservatives put Canada’s tobacco control leadership in disrepute

Posted on March 22, 2010

The Harper government appointed a director of Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. as Chair of a Crown corporation charged with building healthier societies in the developing world, a conflict of interest that has harmed Canada’s reputation for tobacco control, Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett said today.

Barbara McDougall was appointed Chair of the IDRC by then-Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier in December 2007 for a five-year term. She has been a Director of Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. since 2004. IDRC is a Crown Corporation that works with researchers from the developing world to build healthier, more equitable and more prosperous societies.

 “As a respected former Minister, Ms. McDougall could have assisted Canada in any number of roles,” said Dr. Bennett.  “The Conservatives didn’t do their homework, and appointed someone to oversee an organization funding Tobacco control research while at the same time is working for big tobacco.”

Dr. Bennett gave the keynote address today at a workshop hosted by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) on “Integrating Gender Analysis in Tobacco Control.”

Ms. McDougall’s appointment is a direct violation of the World Health Organization’s Convention on Tobacco Control, which seeks to prevent tobacco industry officials from directly influencing government public health policy. Canada signed and ratified the Convention in 2003.

Article 5.3 of the Convention states: “In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.”

Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada – the national health organization of doctors fighting for a tobacco-free Canada – have written a letter to Ms. McDougall calling for her resignation from Imperial Tobacco in order to “prevent further damage to the work of IDRC, to the reputation of Canada in global health and to the government which entrusted you with this appointment.”

“The Conservative’s broken promise to create a public appointments commission has led to this conflict of interest,” concluded Dr. Bennett. “How could the government appoint someone to advocate for policies that promote health issues and seek to protect big tobacco’s bottom line at the same time?”