OTTAWA — The Liberals are milking Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s critical food guide comments for all they’re worth.
Scheer raised eyebrows last week after he said Canada’s new food guide isn’t backed by science and “seems to be ideologically driven by people who have a philosophical perspective,” and a “bias” against dairy products. He pledged to review the food guide under a Conservative government.
Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, who called the comments “ridiculous” last week, told a press conference in Ottawa Monday that she was “shocked” by the Conservative leader’s remarks. She accused Scheer of peddling “misinformation.”
WATCH: Here’s what’s new about Canada’s 2019 food guide
“This is just another example of what, you know, a Harper Conservative or a Scheer Conservative government would look like when they disregard data and science,” she said, evoking the name of former prime minister Stephen Harper.
“While Conservative politicians like Andrew Scheer are entitled to an opinion that ignores evidence, they are not entitled to spread misinformation.”
The food guide was updated back in January after years of consultations. It was the first update in 12 years, emphasizing bigger portions of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
But one change, replacing milk with water as the recommended “beverage of choice,” received strong criticism from the Dairy Farmers of Canada.
Scheer pledged to review the food guide during a speech Wednesday at the annual general meeting of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, a lobby group with which he has joked about having close ties.
But the food guide doesn’t suggest ditching dairy altogether, Petitpas Taylor explained. She said it was rehauled to be more “user-friendly” and simple to understand.
“Canadians don’t walk around with measuring cups in their purse with respect to portions and the rest of it,” she said. “We just want to make sure that the food guide reflects the needs of all Canadians.”
Liberals say they’re not politicizing Scheer’s food guide comments
Toronto Liberal MP Marco Mendicino joined Petitpas Taylor. “We’re not here to politicize this issue,” he said before pressing Scheer to commit to keep the long-form census “that was scrapped under the last Conservative government.”
The health minister said “sadly, Canadians can already predict the answer,” claiming Conservative politicians prefer to impose their ideology instead of leaning on evidence-based research and facts.
“It’s what Stephen Harper did. It’s what Doug Ford is doing in Ontario. And it’s what an Andrew Scheer Conservative government would do,” she said.
Mendicino later released a letter to Scheer, asking the Conservative leader and his party to “stop spreading false information and start taking science seriously.”
Scheer justified his argument last week that Canada’s food guide is driven by ideology rather than scientific evidence with an anecdote about his son who had picky-eating habits. He praised dairy for helping to save his son’s life.
“He was eating toast, would eat bacon, he would eat very plain grilled meats and we couldn’t get him to eat much else,” he said, adding he was concerned about how his son would get his calcium and other vitamins. “And he loved chocolate milk and he would drink chocolate milk by the tumbler-full.”
He continued: “The idea that these types of products that we’ve been drinking as human beings, eating as human beings for a millennia — that now all of a sudden that they’re unhealthy, it’s ridiculous.”
Conservative Finance Critic Pierre Poilievre also called an earlier press conference in Ottawa Monday to criticize the news that Gerald Butts, a former top Trudeau aide who resigned amid the SNC-Lavalin affair, will advise the Liberal campaign this fall.
Poilievre said the return to the Liberal fold of Butts, someone he described as a “puppet master” and “LavScam bully,” shows Trudeau hasn’t learned anything from the episode.
When asked if Scheer’s pledge to review the food guide suggests it will be part of the next election campaign, Poilievre criticized the carbon pricing system.
“A central issue will be the cost of grocery shopping. There have been vast increases in such costs and the cost of living here in Canada and this will continue to increase with the carbon tax,” he said in French, with no mention of the rebate system to offset costs.
When a reporter commented Poilievre’s response wasn’t relevant to the question, he said healthy foods are increasingly expensive because of the “carbon tax.”
With files from Ryan Maloney