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Doug Ford rips council for healthy-drinks policy

Vending machines in the main hallway of the Trinity Community Recreation Complex in Toronto on Oct. 12, 2011.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Councillor Doug Ford wants to know why Toronto is foregoing thousands of dollars to "force-feed" healthy drinks to kids.

The high-profile councillor and brother of mayor Rob Ford took several minutes of a government management committee meeting on Wednesday to rip council and city staff for health regulations weighing down an exclusive beverage vending contract with Pepsi.

That contract began in 2005 and was expected to bring $850,000 in annual revenues to city coffers – or $2.5-million over the life of the contract. But a new report to the committee shows actual income topped out at $359,000 in the first year and dwindled to $313,000 last year.

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City staff blame council's healthy vending initiative, which requires Pepsi to stock its machines on city property with 50 per cent health drinks, for the huge gap between forecast and reality.

"The healthy cold drink vending requirement has had a declining impact on vending sales since its introduction in 2005," the report says.

And it's only going to get worse, according to Pepsi. In its application for a five-year contract renewal, Pepsi downgraded its 2012 revenue target for the city to $130,000, a mere 15 per cent of what it predicted five years ago. The reason for the continuing decline, according to staff, is a council decision to ban bottled water from city vending machines that is set to take effect by the end of the year.

Currently, bottled water makes up 12 per cent of total vending machine sales and 98 per cent of healthy drinks sales.

The committee voted in favour of the meagre Pepsi contract, but not before Mr. Ford attacked the health initiative for forcing a private contractor to devote half of each machine to items that represent just 2 per cent of sales, and imposing on an individual's right to choose junk food.

"We live in a free-market economy here, and we have the nanny state social engineering, telling us to force-feed [healthy drinks to]kids," he said. "Why do we even need to be in the vending business. Let Mrs. Jones decide what Little Johnny is going to drink or eat. Don't try to force it or dictate it."

Councillor Vince Cristanti read the numbers and reached a similar conclusion. "Disastrous," he said of the health initiative. "Clearly this isn't working. I think it probably has to be completely revisited."

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During a closed-door session, councillors grilled city staff on why just three companies had bid on the vending contract – Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Imperial Vending. Their accusatory tones and repeated allegations that the Pepsi deal is tantamount to a sole-source contract irked one councillor.

"If you're looking ... for council to support a motion to pour more sugar down the gullets of children, good luck with that," said Shelley Carroll. "Our core business is healthy recreation."

Ms. Carroll also defended city staff, saying their procurement wisdom has kept the city "out of court more times than you've ever eaten deep-dish pizza in Chicago."

Mr. Ford launched the Chicago operation of his family's label business and often speaks wistfully about his time there.

"I won't take that personally," he said as Ms. Carroll stormed out of the committee room. "You have a good day."

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About the Author
National reporter

Patrick previously worked in the Globe's Winnipeg bureau, covering the Prairies and Nunavut, and at Toronto City Hall. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and author of the book Mountie In Mukluks. More

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