A throne speech may cause great anticipation for some, but unless you are considered "middle class" or a consumer, this speech was not made for you. Presented in the same week as World Food Day (Oct, 16) and the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (Oct. 17), it was not unreasonable to think that there may have been reference to two of the largest pressing social challenges millions of people in Canada face, but addressing food security and poverty are not key themes in the governments vision for the next few years.
There is no love lost for anti-poverty advocates who didn't expect any big announcements for poverty in the throne speech considering Canada's recent rejection of recommendations by the United Nations to develop strategies to combat poverty, homelessness and food security. In September, the Canadian government formally responded to recommendations made by members of the UN Human Rights Council as part of a review of Canada's human rights record. A number of countries pointed to national strategies as solutions to poverty and its related challenges, as well as an important step for Canada to fulfill international commitments to economic and social rights such as the right to housing and to food.
What was most difficult to swallow was Canada's reasoning for denying the most vulnerable in society leadership on these persistent social ills, and that was because they believed that current federal and provincial programs and policies were already in place to adequately address these issues. A pretty unbelievable statement considering what we know: between 3-4 million people are living in poverty, 200,000 people are visibly homeless, and over a million faced homelessness or were housing insecure (paying more than 30% of their rent on shelter costs) this year. Even worse is the number of people without sufficient access to food - 3.9 million.
Food insecurity is not as simple as being hungry, it encompasses experiencing fear about not having enough food to eat, to skipping food for an entire day.
A portion of these people head to food banks, which have seen overall visits rise in the past few years to the current level of nearly 900,000 visits each month. If the government thinks that food charity constitutes 'doing something' about food security, they need to think again.
Individuals have a right to food and struggle to access, produce or acquire adequate meals because of low-income levels, poor wages, high housing and childcare costs, and increasing costs of living in general. Breaking down the recent food banks numbers shows that 52 per cent of people visiting are on social assistance and 12 per cent of families are currently working. People do not have enough money to eat. This is not simply a food problem; this is a poverty problem.
To focus on food charity is to ignore the root of the problem. Yes, people need access to emergency food in tough times - that is why food banks were created - but over 30 years later food banks have boomed and their numbers steadily increased. Ending hunger is not about charity, it is about justice and respect for human rights.
This year on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty Dignity for All: the campaign for a poverty-free Canada, collaborated with food bank volunteers to say enough is enough. It is time to look beyond food banks and get a national poverty plan in place. In 12 cities across Canada volunteers took the streets over lunch hour to hand out 10,000 brown bags with food for thought and a postcard they could send the Prime Minister signaling their support for a national poverty action plan.
Groups such as Campaign 2000, Parkdale Food Bank and Freedom 90 - a group of grandmothers who volunteer at food banks and want to see solutions to the root causes of hunger - joined together to send a clear message:
Food charity is not the solution to hunger. A federal poverty plan that considers housing, childcare, food security and incomes is necessary to ensure people have enough to eat and feed their families.