Home Health Nutrition Liberals deliver on NDP push for national school food program in Budget...

Liberals deliver on NDP push for national school food program in Budget 2024

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Food preparation for lunch program at George Jay Elementary. [Island Social Trends]

Monday April 1, 2024 | VICTORIA, BC [Announcements in Toronto]

by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends

“Let’s have the federal government step up and deliver the funding necessary so every kid in our country going to school gets a meal.”

“We expect this to happen,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh today about the national school food program that his party has been pitching for. He described it as “not a promise for the future but something that will roll out immediately”.

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh with Toronto-Danforth candidate Clare Hacksell (left) and Toronto School Board trustee Sara Ehrhardt, in Toronto April 1, 2024. [Zoom]

“Canadian families need this program and they need it now,” said Singh. He pointed out how a significant number of families are relying on food banks (highest usage level yet) as the cost of living has increased dramatically in the past few years.

Politics in action:

And well, sure enough, within the hour, the federal government announced that it will launch a national school food program, hoping to deliver meals to an additional 400,000 children per year.

justin trudeau, chrystia freeland, jenna sudds
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a national school food program in Toronto April 1, 2024, accompanied by Deputy Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Families, Children and Social Development Minister Jenna Sudds. [CPAC]

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland made the announcement during an event in Toronto today, the latest in a series of public appearances by the prime minister and his cabinet ministers ahead of the federal budget planned for April 16.  Families, Children and Social Development Minister Jenna Sudds also attended.

Today Trudeau said he hopes the federal impact will be felt as soon as the next school year that starts in September 2024.

Freeland said the program has resulted from 30 years of advocacy.

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Dpeuty Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced the National School Food Program, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Jenna Sudds, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, April 1, 2024 in Scarborough, Ontario. [CPAC livestream]

Jenna Sudds pointed out that teachers have been bringing snacks to school to help kids out. She noted the social disadvantages for kids if they don’t have a lunch to eat at school. The program “will hep nourish Canada’s future”. She added: “We believe in investing in people” (borrowing from the NDP thrust of recent years) and applying “fairness” (the new buzz word for Budget 2024).

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Jenna Sudds, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, at the National School Food Program announcement on April 1, 2024 in Scarborough, Ontario. [CPAC livestream]

Of course it’s a large discussion as to why families are short-changed for economic sufficiency.

Filling gaps:

“The new National School Food Program will also help provinces, territories, and Indigenous partners expand their existing school food programs to make sure more children across the country can enjoy the healthy meals they need,” the government stated.

“The Program is good for parents and kids, and it’s good for the economy as well. It will help take pressure off of families and invest directly in the future of our kids, while improving children’s health, education, and well-being,” it was stated in a news release April 1.

The intention is that federal funding will fill gaps in a complex range of provincial, school district and non-profit initiatives.

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Food preparation for lunch program at George Jay Elementary. [April 2023 file / Island Social Trends]

Taking pressure off families:

The national program will “take pressure off of families, invest directly in the future of our kids and make sure they’re able to reach their full potential — feeling healthy and happy,” Trudeau said in a statement.

The federal government will spend $1 billion over five years to implement the program. That figure repeats a 2021 campaign promise on school nutrition and healthy eating made by the Liberals at that time in their sixth year in government.

Only G7 country without:

Canada is the only G7 country without a national school food program, though provinces, school districts, non-profits and charities have been cobbling together a range of efforts to enhance nutrition delivery in schools.

Most of the current programs in schools are likely aimed at children and families that can be identified as low income. An across-the-board program might ease some of the stigma and simply require less delivery management as everyone would be included.

urban food resilience initiatives society, logo
The Urban Food Resilience Initiatives Society is based in the west shore of Vancouver Island, BC, Canada.

Pre-budget phase:

As the Liberals are in the process of rolling out multiple pre-budget announcements (child care and rights for renters last week, and more expected this week) it looks like the NDP’s steady demand for a National School Food Program might get included in the budget this time around.

While it doesn’t seem to rank up there with the deal-breaker status of dental care for low-income families and seniors and the introduction of Pharmacare, it does sound like the NDP will make progress with this request in 2024. The NDP expectation is that the national school food program be “sufficient to cover all kids in all schools across the country”, said Singh today.

In the grand scheme of things on the federal level, $200 million per year is not a large investment.

The federal budget will be officially announced on April 16.

Filling the gaps:

The premise is that more consistent delivery of food support to kids in schools would happen with a federal funding model in place. “Let’s stop with the piecemeal approach,” said Singh today.

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He said that in most provinces there is already support or varying levels of organization from provincial and some municipal governments as well as school districts and various non-profits.

Today Singh stipulated today that the envisioned national school food program would be “focussed on public delivery of a food program or not-for-profit delivery… the way it’s done, we can figure that out”.

Singh said that about 20% of kids are covered in school food programs in BC, but not all. A lot of it is ensuring that there’s adequate funding for expansion of existing programs.

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Guidance for schools on how to build a customized food school program [BC Government]

Toronto locations for announcements:

Trudeau, Freeland and Sudds made their announcement in Scarborough.

Today Singh was joined at the podium in Toronto by Clare Hacksell, NDP candidate for Toronto-Danforth and Toronto School Board trustee Sara Ehrhardt.

alistair macgregor, constituency

Slow progress:

The NDP point out that the Liberals indicated a School Food Program in their 2019 budget and against in 2021 in their campaign platform (with at that time a promise of $1 billion).

The Conservatives in Opposition in the House of Commons have voted against this program. But their vote in this minority government (where the Liberals are propped up by the NDP) would not be required for any Bill about the program to pass.

ist main, food, urban
Island Social Trends reports news with socioeconomic insights and analysis. Independent news service on south Vancouver Island, BC. Read free online or get the biweekly PDF by email.

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