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The Real Story of Canada's Attitude Toward Food Security

Posted: 03/04/2013 4:45 pm

The exchange back and forth in the Huffington Post between CIDA Minister Julian Fantino and I a couple of weeks ago was revealing in how the minister viewed food security as his Agency's key plank for Canada's official international development agenda.

Since food is that important to the current federal government, I wonder what Mr. Fantino and his cabinet colleagues think about this week's release from the UN's rapporteur on Canada's declining food security. Actually, we already know the answer to that. Back in May, when the UN's right-to-food envoy, Olivier De Schutter, toured Canada for 11 days, he was publicly mocked by a number of cabinet ministers.

His efforts to assess the country's ability to provide food to the marginalized were belittled by the likes of Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney as "patronizing" and "completely ridiculous". For many citizens it was an occasion of national embarrassment and international humiliation.

De Schutter answered back this week with the release of his report. He took direct issue with the federal government's earlier decision to cancel the long-form census, saying, "It is necessary to have a comprehensive understanding of who is hungry, food-insecure, and malnourished." He's right. Without the stats, it remains a very difficult thing to target efforts at hunger's remediation.

The special envoy included the threat emanating from the potential Canada-European Union free trade deal in his conclusions. In this he was only one in a lengthy line of voices warning that the signing of any such agreement could seriously curtail efforts by local municipalities to promote local food markets and "buy local" initiatives. This is merely one of the reasons why a number of municipalities across Canada have spoken out against the deal -- the fear that local authorities will be undermined in their ability to adapt to economic realities through the promotion of home-grown solutions. They have asked for exemptions in such a far-ranging deal but have yet to receive assurances that their concerns will be addressed.

There was much more to the rapporteur's report that is of urgent interest. Yet none of this should come as a surprise. Despite this government's practiced penchant for degrading the United Nations, it has heard of growing food insecurity in Canada for the entire length of its mandate from domestic researchers, experts and advocates.

When De Schutter spoke of food banks being required to fill the growing gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots", the government would have known this from first-hand experience. Individual food bank directors and food bank associations (provincial and national) across the country have repeatedly warned government officials of the approaching dangers should food security not be addressed.

I should state at this point that I have a certain interest on this point. As the volunteer director of the London Food Bank for the past 25 years, I have watched our recipient numbers climb from 2,616 families a month in 2008 to 3,870 families at present. That represents a 47.9 per cent increase and a reality check to the country's belief in equity and fairness. Such increases simply cannot be sustained in perpetuity. At some point the various levels of government have to confront this concerning reality and put together an effective national food strategy, as suggested by the UN rapporteur in his report.

But given the humiliating response towards the UN special envoy from federal government officials it remains unlikely that any such energy or investment will be made. To national and local hunger we must now add international embarrassment to the file. We are a nation of massive food resources that sadly matches such potential with political poverty.

To showcase international commitment to the alleviation of hunger while permitting its encroachment in communities across Canada is just one more measure whereby we have lost our international stature and our national sense of justice at the same time. Surely even Minister Fantino can comprehend that.

 

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