DFPC's Letter to Local MPs

April 8, 2021

 

Dear MPs    

 

The Durham Food Policy Council (DFPC) believes all people should have their enshrined right to food upheld. At a regional level, DFPC works to advance a sustainable and just food system, but of course our work is impacted by provincial and federal legislators.  New policy interventions at the federal level can make greater progress towards realizing Canada’s commitments to uphold the right to food and end food insecurity. We thus ask you to read this letter and respond with answers to our three questions. In doing so, the policy interventions you support will be clearly identified and we, as a council, can further our regional work.  

  

Extensive and exhaustive research shows that constitutional and legislative provisions to end household food insecurity are needed now. Pre-pandemic, 4.4 million people, the highest number ever recorded, were identified as living in food insecure households in Canada and over 1,700,000 of these individuals are living in Ontario.[1]Such widespread food insecurity begets intervention, but meaningful legislation has yet to be enacted. The Government’s failure to use the policy levers at its disposal to address this crisis would be reprehensible. However, we believe change is desired by individual public officials. As such, the policy interventions you support will be made clear by answering the following three questions:

 

  1. Which policy interventions are you prioritizing to address food insecurity?

  2. Are food banks a long-term solution to food insecurity? If not, what is?

  3. A basic income guarantee has been recommended by food security and poverty alleviation experts. Do you support their recommendation? Why or why not?

 

Your answers will be shared with the constituents we inform, published on our website, and will enable DFPC to keep legislators accountable to upholding the right to food and ending food insecurity. We invite you to start a dialogue with us about the determinants of food insecurity, if you desire. 

 

Thank you in advance. We look forward to hearing from you,  

 

Mary Drummond, Chairperson

The Durham Food Policy Council

 

 

[1] Tarasuk V, Mitchell A. (2020). Household food insecurity in Canada, 2017-18. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF). https://proof.utoronto.ca/

Response from MP Ryan Turnbull

 

Which policy interventions are you prioritizing to address food insecurity?

 

The policy interventions that I am prioritizing to address food insecurity are contained in the National Food Policy for Canada which was developed in the 42nd Parliament. One aspect of the National Food Policy that is important to support community gardens, community kitchens, food hubs, community food centres, and other community-based food infrastructure is the Community Food Infrastructure Fund. I fought hard for this envelope of funding during the National Food Policy consultation process when I was a volunteer board member of Food Secure Canada. Since then the Government of Canada has launched and administered these funds and made important investments across the country.


As a Member of Parliament, I founded and Chaired the Social Innovation Caucus which had a focus on ensuring that we build an eco-system of support for financing socially and environmentally impactful initiatives and businesses, many of which are food-based social enterprises. Through this advocacy work, which was supported by the overwhelming majority of our Caucus, we secured a renewed investment of $50 million for the Investment Readiness Program and a commitment to accelerate the Social Finance Fund for Canada with $220 million (of the $755 million) over its first two years.  These two investments, included in Budget 2021, will ensure that we build the financial infrastructure for food-based businesses (with a social and environmental mission) and social innovation initiatives that address food insecurity are able to access the capital they need to grow and scale these interventions across Canada. These funds will attract additional private sector capital into the impact investment market and help build a marketplace for social and environmental impact. 

 

Another policy intervention that I’ve advocated strongly for is a Universal Student Nutrition Program across Canada.  My work as an MP included getting over ¼ of my colleagues to support a letter to the Minister of Finance which requested additional funds from the Federal Government to support the funding of student nutrition programs across Canada so no child goes to school without having the nourishment necessary to learn and develop. We need a universal program that gives dignified access to healthy food and food literacy skills to all children.

 

Are food banks a long-term solution to food insecurity? If not, what is?

 

I do not see Food Banks as a long-term solution to food insecurity; food banks serve an immediate need for emergency food relief, but for too long have been seen as “the” solution to a growing problem. Food Banks Canada has acknowledged that emergency food relief is not the solution to food insecurity. Food banks do not address the ‘root causes’ of the problem. We need to transform our food system and our economy to make them fully sustainable, and that’s what all of my efforts as a Member of Parliament have been focused on – building a sustainable society and economy, which includes the transformation of our food system.

 

I prefer to dissect and tackle the problem of food insecurity by applying “systems thinking” and looking through a food sovereignty lens. We need to promote ‘agency’ through the active participation in our food system and, have ownership and control over the value-chain as citizens. This means growing food, preparing it, sharing it and being knowledgeable about how our food system functions. I have a strong conviction that our relationship to the food we eat is fundamentally tied to how we care for ourselves and reflects how we treat the environment around us. This means we need to be shifting the conversation to a “sustainable diet” and ensuring that our entire value-chain within our food system protects our most precious and sacred natural resource, the environment. Our planet and its biodiversity is coming dangerously close to a point of no return, and we need to do everything in our power to act on climate change with the immediacy and urgency with which we have acted during this global pandemic. My work and advocacy for immediate action on climate change includes opposing the Teck Frontier Mine project; requesting the immediate cancelling of all fossil fuel subsidies; pushing for more ambitious targets on GHG emission reduction targets; supporting and voting for Bill C-12 the Net-Zero Accountability Act; speaking about the need and potential benefits of home energy retrofits; ensuring our government makes historic investments in public transit and active transportation; moving to quarterly direct payments of the carbon rebate for Canadians; making sure Canada positions itself to be a world leader in sustainable business; boosting electric vehicle incentives and the infrastructure necessary for EV charging stations; pushing for advancements in sustainable public procurement; transitioning the development industry to begin producing net-zero housing; and, much more.

 

My work locally has supported organizations like Durham Integrated Growers, Durham College’s Centre for Food, Durham Feed the Need, Nova’s Ark, Windreach Farm, and many of the organizations providing emergency food relief during the pandemic.

 

 

On a personal note, I also am an avid backyard gardener with an organic garden that is nurtured and tended to by myself and my 9 year-old daughter Alexis. Having my hands in the soil, my daughter by my side and enjoying fresh prepared meals with my homegrown herbs and vegetables gives me great joy.

 

A basic income guarantee has been recommended by food security and poverty alleviation experts. Do you support their recommendation? Why or why not?

 

I’ve hosted two roundtables on this topic and have been a vocal advocate for a Universal Basic Income both in Parliament, at the HUMA Standing Committee, and at the National Liberal Convention 2021. I supported my Caucus colleague, Julie Dzerowicz who tabled a Private Members Bill (C-273) that would help determine how best to implement a Basic Income in Canada, which will lay the groundwork for making this a reality. I’m wholeheartedly supportive of a Universal Basic Income and know full well the evidence that many researchers and experts have pointed to that strongly indicates that food insecurity could be drastically decreased and possibly eliminated by this measure. There are many questions that remain on how exactly to design and implement this nationally, and which of the many options are optimal for reducing poverty and maximizing the benefits to all Canadians. I look forward to the work ahead and continuing to push forward on this important work. I also fully realize that “perfection is the enemy of the good” and our desire to get it right must not become a rationale for inaction.

 

 

 

MP Ryan Turnbull

Response from MP Colin Carrie

 

Dear Mary,

 

Thank you for your e-mail regarding food security.  In the middle of a pandemic, Canadians should not be asked to also worry about food security.

 

According to the 2021 Food Price Report, which compiles data collected and analyzed by researchers from Dalhousie University, the University of Guelph, the University of Saskatchewan, and the University of British Columbia, it is estimated that Canadians will pay an average of 5% more for food in 2021 than 2020, equivalent to $695 more for a family of four.  Crucial food groups such as meat and vegetables are expected to experience an increase in prices of around 6.5%.  In May, inflation in Canada climbed to 3.6%, the single largest yearly increase in a decade.  Therefore, I believe a start would be to ensure that Canadians have good paying jobs so families can put healthy and nutritious food on their table.

 

As well, the private sector needs to be looked at and their role in food security.  The grocery giants are increasing fees and penalties as much as 6% to farmers and processors.  Further, they are asking suppliers to pay for renovations to sales floors and increased digital capacity.  But this move to expand sales floors and digital capacity is driven by increased consumer traffic and revenues.  Revenues in 2020 were up 10% over 2019.

 

Farmers and processors operate on slim margins.  Farmers, especially, are price takers, not price setters.  Therefore, fees and penalties they pay take from their profit margins and go directly to inflate retailers’ profit margins.  As such, increased fees and penalties could put farmers and processors in danger of going out business.  If farmers and processors go out of business, that puts Canadians’ food security at risk.

 

I believe the industry must continue to work on a Code of Practise in this area, while the Competition Bureau continues its investigation.  If the industry players, grocery giants, farmers, and processors are not able to agree on a code, then the federal government should look at assisting them with regulations like they did in the United Kingdom and Australia.

 

Qualifying farmers can obtain an exemption from the carbon tax on the use of gasoline and light fuel oils in farm operations and this should be extended to propane and natural gas.  Framers use a variety of fuels for their operations and propane or natural gas is widely used by farmers for grain drying and heating barns.  Many farmers do not have readily available and affordable access to alternative forms of energy and have already invested in equipment that is propane or natural gas-fired.  These fuels are vital to producing food for consumption by Canadians.

 

With regards to food banks, I wish no one had to use a food bank, but understand they play a vital role in feeding the hungry in our community and I have supported them.

 

Finally, I believe that every Canadian deserves the security and dignity that comes with a secure, stable, well-paid job.  However, a Universal Basic Income (UBI) would have impacts on the Canadian economy and would affect Canada’s job market.  Simply put, this program would discourage work in Canada.  As well, the Parliamentary Budget Office report shows, a UBI would cost $85 billion this year and rise to $93 billion in 2025-26.  That would mean a 47% across-the-board increase in personal income taxes or triple the GST.

 

In contrast, we should be focused on securing jobs, wages and getting Canada’s economy and finances back on track as quickly as possible.

 

Once again, thank you for the opportunity to respond.

 

Sincerely,

 

Colin Carrie