Food Policy: What to Expect From Our New Government

Canada elected a new government on Monday. Whether you voted for the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Greens, Bloc or none of the above, the election results are a reason to be optimistic for the future of food policy in Canada. Let’s take a look at where the new Canadian government stands on Canada’s most pressing food issues.

National Food Policy: A Role for the Not-for-Profit Sector in Policy Development

As part of Food Secure Canada’s Eat Think Vote campaign, we surveyed all five of the major political parties before Election Day to find out where they stood on Canadian food issues. Four parties expressed they were in favour of a national food policy or strategy that would take a comprehensive approach to addressing the interrelated issues of hunger, unsustainable food production, climate change and unhealthy diets.

Here’s what the Liberals had to say about a national food policy:

“A Liberal government is committed to addressing food security in Canada. We support developing and funding a national strategy to reduce food insecurity in Canada.”

“Access to sufficient, safe, healthy, adequate food is a fundamental human right. A Liberal government will always prioritize protecting the health and safety of Canadians and we will work consultatively with provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal organizations, community groups, and producers to ensure that Canadians have access to healthy, affordable food.”

Canada’s new governing party also told us through the survey they want to work with civil society organizations like Food Secure Canada to find solutions to the problems plaguing our food system:

“Liberals understand the fundamental role that the not-for-profit sector and civil society play in both policy development and program delivery. A Liberal government will work in partnership with organizations such as yours [Food Secure Canada] to explore more effective solutions to the most pressing challenges facing Canada and Canadians and use your valuable and hands on experience and expertise to determine the best solutions for the good of Canadians.

“Further, we will ensure that civil society organizations have access to the information you need in order to better advocate the government and other organizations on the needs of Canadians.”

Zero hunger in Canada 

Food Secure Canada believes Canada needs to examine the feasibility of a basic income, or a guaranteed annual income as an option for dealing with food insecurity. The causes of food insecurity are complex, but an overwhelming factor is poverty. The new Canadian government appears to understand this as well:

“Liberals also know that there is an inextricable link between food security and issues of poverty and income security. Healthy populations can only be achieved when adequate income, safe and secure food sources, and housing and infrastructure are well established. A Liberal government will make the necessary investments to ensure these outcomes.

“It is unacceptable that in a country as successful and prosperous as Canada, there are so many who struggle with the basic necessities of life, including access to safe and sufficient food.”

The Liberals unfortunately did not express support for a feasibility study into basic income specifically, but they did commit to devoting “a fixed percentage of program funds to experimenting with new approaches to existing problems.” These include:

  • investing in a National Housing Strategy
  • increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement for single, lower income seniors by ten percent.
  • easier access to Employment Insurance
  • introducing the Canada Child Benefit, which will give up to $533 tax-free each month per child.

Affordable food in the North and Food Sovereignty

The food insecurity rates amongst Indigenous Peoples in Canada’s North are some of the highest in the world for indigenous populations living in developed countries. Ottawa needs to work with communities in the North to develop the solutions to this food crisis.

“A Liberal government will work in partnership with impacted communities to address the food insecurity crisis in the North and remote communities in Canada. The Nutrition North Canada (NNC) food subsidy must be expanded to include the other communities that require it. This long-standing and shocking lack of accountability and oversight must be fixed so that savings are being passed on to Northerners.”

Food Secure Canada would like to congratulate the new government for promising during the election campaign to increase Nutrition North’s (a federal program designed to lower food prices in the North) funding by $40 million over a four-year period. However, it will take more than money though to fix the problem of northern food insecurity.  It will require listening to people in the north about the solutions they see, including fostering real food sovereignty and supporting access to traditional and country foods, not only cheaper goods shipped from the south.

One of the most impressive  commitments made to date by the Liberals is the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations. This would certainly be a good start to a new relationship between the Government of Canada and Indigenous Peoples. In its elections platform, the new federal governing party stated it will “enact the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, starting with the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Healthy school food program

Canada does not have a national school food program. Most industrialized countries do have programs providing students with healthy and nutritious food to help them develop physically and mentally. One-in-six Canadian children live in households too poor to put healthy food on the table. The new government unfortunately expressed no plans for investing in a national school food program and instead wants to explore different options with the provinces and territories.

“Liberals are committed to ending food insecurity in Canada and will work with the provinces and territories to provide real solutions to this pressing issue. We know that Canadians rightly expect the federal government to offer leadership on this and many other challenges facing Canadians from coast to coast to coast. The problems that we face cannot be resolved solely from Ottawa. They require a true partnership between the federal and provincial governments; one based on respect for the jurisdictions of the provinces and territories. This requires open and ongoing dialogue.”

This doesn’t change the conviction of the Coalition for Healthy School Food who will continue to work to advance this goal in the years to come.

Support for new farmers 

Food Secure Canada would like to see more federal support for new farmers who face significant barriers in accessing capital, land and training. With more than half of Canada’s farming population reaching retirement age in the next decade, this support is critical to continue Canada’s proud farming legacy.

Canada’s new governing party also recognizes “the need to motivate and train more young Canadians for careers in agriculture.” At the time that the survey was submitted, the Liberal Party was still hashing out the details of their agricultural policies but they did make some relevant points:

“A Liberal government will improve investment in skills training, through a $750 million annual increase in funding for training programs, delivered in partnership with the provinces and territories.”

“Farmers are concerned about the under-funding of federal-provincial "business risk management" tools, as well as program design changes which make them less accessible and less useful. A new Liberal government will work with producers and provincial governments to assess whether the current suite of farm income safety nets is adequately meeting the needs of Canadian farmers when they are faced with serious challenges beyond their control.”

While this is a good start, we know there is much more to do and hope to have the chance to sit down with the federal government and our new farmer allies to discuss the barriers facing the next generation of people who will feed us.

What to Conclude?

Based on the survey responses, Canada’s new government does appear to have a genuine interest in tackling the obstacles to accessible, healthy sustainable food in Canada. We are also very happy to see a willingness to engage all stakeholders in the food system like Food Secure Canada, community groups, farming associations, good food organizations, etc., to develop solutions.  The doors to the governing party have been shut for too long, and Food Secure Canada welcomes to opportunity to contribute constructively to federal policy development.

Food Secure Canada will continue to work with Parliamentarians and Canadians to create a Canada where no one goes hungry and everyone has access to healthy and sustainable food. We are thrilled to have a federal government that may finally adopt a national food policy and look forward to working with the government and our members to make it happen.

Read the Liberals’ survey responses in full here and the party’s election platform here.