Not too long ago, when municipalities across Alberta were adopting no-smoking bylaws, there was an organization called the Canadian Property Rights Association that predictably turned up at council meetings across Alberta to lobby against such bylaws.

The Canadian Property Rights Association has, thankfully, disappeared from the face of the earth, and I wouldn't be surprised if I heard that the demise had something to do with a connection that was revealed between this organization and former Canadian Alliance leader (and possible Minister of Foreign Affairs) Stockwell Day.

A storm came up during the Leaders' Debate when Prime Minister Paul Martin said that he wanted to amend the Canadian constitution to remove the "notwithstanding clause". During the press scrum after the debate, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper let a cat of equal size out of the bag. He said that he would like to amend the constitution to protect "property rights".

Now, where did this come from? Are property rights something that is being threatened in this country? No, they aren't, unless you're listening to pub, restaurant, and day-care centre owners making a last-ditch attempt to defend smoking on their "property". "Property rights" are tobacco industry code words for "I'll smoke wherever I want to."

The odds that Stephen Harper could succeed at amending the constitution to exclude employers from liability for putting the health of their employees at risk is pretty much zero. However, the fact that Harper brought this up tells us a great deal about who Harper answers to: The Fraser Institute, Link Byfield, and basically anyone who argues that money (and lots of it) outweighs the interest of public health.

Now, about Prime Minister Martin: Airspace Action on Smoking and Health has a long history of documenting his ties to the tobacco industry; see "Unrepentant tobacco executive elected Prime Minister". In particular... When Martin became Finance Minister in 1993, the mostly foreign-owned tobacco industry had a problem; high taxes on cigarettes were causing hundreds of thousands of Canadians to quit smoking. So, the tobacco industry created a "smuggling problem" (it was actually the tobacco industry itself that was responsible for the smuggling), and Martin dealt with this "problem" by not only reducing federal taxes on cigarettes, but strong-arming Ontario and Quebec into reducing their provincial taxes on cigarettes as well.

Regardless of which of these two ends up as Prime Minister after the January 23 election, they are going to have a new problem to deal with. In October, British American Tobacco, which produces two-thirds of the cigarettes consumed in Canada, announced that they were closing all of their manufacturing facilities in Canada, and moving production of Players, du Maurier, and Matinee cigarettes to Mexico. At the time, they said that they would continue to purchase raw tobacco produced in Canada; they would ship the tobacco to Mexico, roll it into cigarettes, and ship the cigarettes back to Canada.

If you believe BAT will do this for any length of time, I can give you a good price for the Lions Gate Bridge. The price for Canadian-grown tobacco is twice the world market price, so it's only a matter of months before a decision is made in BAT's London, UK offices that they will buy their tobacco from Zimbabwe or Mexico instead of Canada.

What happens next? Well, one could easily argue that Canadian tobacco farmers have known for years that the end was coming, and besides, their product kills 45,000 Canadians a year. However, Canada's tobacco farming regions happen to be located in "swing ridings", and tobacco farmers pay taxes and vote. This will certainly put "buyout" on the agenda in Ottawa. Should long-suffering Canadian taxpayers cough up money to ease the transition to other crops? Instead, should another dime be added to cigarette taxes to pay for the buyout, meaning that smokers would be paying for it? Would a Conservative government tell the tobacco farmers, "sorry, but this is what free enterprise and multinational industries are all about"? Would a Liberal government impose a levy on BAT profits, penalizing BAT shareholders, instead of their customers? These questions might be a little too complex to ask at your local all-candidates meeting, but if you cross paths with a candidate looking for your vote, bringing up this issue would provide a good opportunity to find out how that candidate really feels about managing health care costs.

Robert Broughton