Canadian food insecurity report shows need for national plan

It’s hard to believe that in a country like Canada, so many people still go hungry.

But they do, every day.

The Conference Board of Canada recently released its annual provincial food report card. The report, in its second year, takes a look at various provinces’ food systems, including food insecurity figures.

The report found about four million Canadians are food insecure, while 15 percent of respondents admitted to going hungry at least once in the past 12 months because they didn’t have enough money to eat.

Many of those going hungry are children.

Children living in single parent households were even more at risk. The report found 23 percent of single parent families reported they were moderately to severely at risk of going hungry.

One in three single parents in Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan said they had experienced being food insecure.

Three provinces were given D grades because residents were unable to feed their hungry children: Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia. (Food affordability is a key concern in P.E.I.)

Head north, though, and the figures become even more concerning.

The conference board found one in four people living in Nunavut are food insecure — a crisis triggered by high food prices and its isolated location. It’s a situation, the reports authors argued, that “needs remedial action.”

That number jumps to one in two, or 51 percent, when looking at indigenous Canadians.

At the risk of being blunt, those numbers are completely unacceptable in 2017.

Ottawa’s beleaguered Nutrition North program has been criticized for years. Critics say the program, which is supposed to deliver healthy and nutritious food to residents across the North, must be overhauled.

Photos of high prices and mouldy goods are routinely spotted on Twitter. After all, food prices in Nunavut alone are three times the national average. (For example: a bag of flour can often cost nearly $14.)

During the 2015 election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to reform the Nutrition North program and infuse it with $40 million in new funding.

Ottawa formally launched consultations on the program in January 2016. Three months later the program was expanded to include communities in northern Ontario as part of the 2016 federal budget, along with a promise of $64.5 million in funding over five years, starting immediately.

Whether that funding boost — and Ottawa’s reforms thus far — will be enough is unknown.

Canada prides itself on being a global leader, especially now, when so many around the world are turning to Ottawa for guidance on how to navigate the unpredictable waters of international diplomacy being churned up by Washington and others.

We’re routinely called upon to help deal with food crises in other countries and regions, including Venezuela, Syria and Africa. Those actions cannot stop.

But food insecurity here at home cannot be ignored either. If history is any indication, it’s a non-partisan problem that is not going to go away any time soon.

There are hungry Conservative voters and there are hungry Liberal voters.

Not one of them should be ignored.

And, in a country as well-positioned as Canada, children should not go hungry, period.

Ottawa has vowed to come up with a national food strategy for Canada. Conversations on that are expected to start soon, Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay told the House agriculture committee this week.

What that strategy will look like remains anyone’s guess.

The Liberals campaigned on a promise to help Canada’s growing middle class.

Ensuring Canadians have enough to eat must be part of that plan.

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