“Disgusted” is the term Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas uses when she describes her emotions upon reading emails earlier in August which she said shows the Liberals' support of her tanning bill was a public relations gesture.
The NDP's health and long-term care critic first introduced the private member's bill in 2008, which, among other things, would ban those under 18 from using the devices.
But even though her bill had widespread support, something has always happened to prevent it from becoming law, including an election call and two prorogues of the legislature.
Gélinas was thrilled last September when Dalton McGuinty, then the province's premier, phoned her to tell her the government would support her private member's bill.
But she said she recently learned McGuinty only made this promise to distract attention away from the gas plant scandal, which later played a part in his decision to step down as premier.
Gélinas said the premier's true intentions were unveiled through the discovery of a string of emails by the legislative committee looking into the gas plant scandal.
The emails revealed McGuinty was advised by a “spin adviser” to make an announcement about the tanning bill to garner positive press for the government, Gélinas said.
“I was played just as much as everybody else,” she said. “When the premier called me, I believed in what he was saying. He sounded really sincere. We chatted on the phone for awhile. None of that was true. It was all make-believe.”
Since McGuinty retired as an MPP in June, Northern Life contacted Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Deb Matthews' office to ask about the matter.
Matthews' press secretary, Samantha Grant, said in an email statement the former premier's staff was referring to whether a previously-scheduled event where McGuinty was to announce his support for the tanning bill should go ahead in light of the gas plant situation.
“This is about keeping our young people safe and healthy, not about political games,” she said.
Matthews office also provided a copy of the emails in question, where premier's office staff discuss whether the tanning bill announcement should go ahead, as well as media reaction to the gas plant scandal.
In one of the emails, McGuinty's former director of media relations, Neala Barton, said “I might be making a terrible call here – but I think the tanning story is really good and will make a fabulous headline in the Saturday papers. Is there any merit to proceeding with the announcement?”
Gélinas maintains it “disgusts” her the premier would use the bill to “change the channel” from the gas plants, especially given what the legislation is attempting to do.
“You've probably never seen people going for treatment for melanoma, but I have,” she said. “Those people go through hell, and a lot of them die.”
While Gélinas' private member's bill died once again when the legislature was prorogued last fall, Matthews announced in March she'd adopt it as a government bill.
At the time, Gélinas told Northern Life she was more than willing to give the bill to the government because they can pass it into law far more quickly than she can. But nearly six months later, it still hasn't become law.
Gélinas said Matthews had told her she'd ensure the bill was passed quickly, but that promise never came to pass, as the bill was never put on last spring's legislative calendar.
Matthews, along with Government House Leader John Milloy, put out a press release Aug. 22 promising to “fast-track” the tanning bill.
When the legislature reconvenes next month, the government will move a programming motion and, if necessary, a time allocation motion, in order to quickly pass this life-saving bill into law by the end of September, the statement said.
It also said the opposition had been “blocking the legislation for months.”
Gélinas said that statement likely refers to the fact that the Progressive Conservatives engaged in stall tactics last spring to slow down the passing of legislation, such as the budget bill.
As a result, the government never dealt with the tanning bill.
Gélinas said it remains to be seen what will happen with the tanning bed this fall. She said she won't see what's on the legislative calendar until a few days before the legislature reconvenes Sept. 9 after the summer break.
In terms of the government's fast-tracking promise, she said the only way this could happen is if it had been in contact with the opposition parties in advance to work out any problems they might have with the legislation.
She said to her knowledge, this hasn't happened.
Matthews said in an email statement Gélinas has been “unclear” about whether or not she will support the government's efforts to fast-track the legislation.
“I would like a clear answer from Ms. Gélinas – yes or no – will her party help us get this bill passed before the end of September?” Matthews' statement said.
“All MPPs have a shared responsibility to make the legislature work so we can help to keep young people safe.”
She added that “it's time to put an end to the procedural games blocking our efforts to pass new tanning legislation so we can prevent skin cancer among young Ontarians.”
Meanwhile, Gélinas said she remains hopeful the tanning bill will finally pass. She said she can't help but think about the young women who are now at risk of skin cancer because they were allowed to use tanning beds as teenagers.
“It all could have been prevented had we acted five years ago when we first presented it,” Gélinas said. “I want this to be done.”
What would the tanning bill do?
-Prohibit the sale of tanning services to youth under 18
-Give authority to the government to make medical exemptions by regulation, if deemed necessary
-Require that tanning bed operators request identification from anyone who appears under 25 years old
-Require tanning bed operators to post signs stating the ban on minors and the health risks of tanning bed use
-Prohibit the advertising and marketing of tanning services targeted at youth under 18
-Require that all tanning bed operators provide written notice of their location and business contact information to their local Medical Officer of Health
-Set fines for tanning bed owners/operators who fail to comply
-Authorize inspectors to inspect and enforce these requirements
Source: Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care