Our 2024 Pre-Budget Submission to the Federal Government

August 3, 2023

The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, P.C, M.P.
Minister of Finance
Department of Finance Canada
90 Elgin Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Dear Minister Freeland,

The federal government has distinguished itself through a deep commitment to providing opportunity for all Canadians by addressing systemic issues of poverty and affordability. Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy has led to considerable progress towards achieving its goal to reduce poverty by 50% by 2030.

Food and shelter are the fundamentals of life and every good thing we want to achieve as a society depends on these basic needs being met. The federal government has made significant policy and program commitments to advance affordable housing, committed to achieving the goal of “zero hunger” through the adoption of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Developmenti in 2015 and launched the Food Policy for Canada in 2019 with the vision that “all Canadians can reliably access a sufficient amount of safe, nutritious and culturally diverse food”.

However, the rising cost of food and other essentials has dramatically affected the ability of individuals and households to afford basic necessities. Recently Statistics Canada reported that food insecurity has risen by almost 20%, an increase of 1.1 million people over the course of one year of data collection. This impact is felt disproportionately by people with disabilities; 50% of people over the age of 15 experiencing food insecurity in Canada have a disabilityii. There is an overwhelming consensus among Canadians that governments should do more than they are currently doing to help people in poverty and hungeriii.

The time is now for the federal government to address this crisis and achieve the vision of the Food Policy for Canada by:
1) Making a 50% reduction in food insecurity an outcome of the Poverty Reduction Strategy
2) Establishing an equitable Canada Disability Benefit (CDB) regulation that alleviates disability poverty and food insecurity and meet its global obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
3) Implementing a national school food program to provide all children with the nutrition they need to learn and thrive.

The Maple Leaf Centre for Food Security is a national charity committed to working collaboratively across sectors to reduce food insecurity in Canada. Established by Maple Leaf Foods in 2016, the Centre advocates for structural policy solutions and invests in knowledge building and programs that advance the capacity of people and communities to increase access to good food and reduce food insecurity. Three of our board members also sit on the Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council.

Food Insecurity in Canada

Canada is one of the most affluent nations in the world, yet food insecurity continues to be pervasive and significant, and the problem has only worsened since Canada began tracking food insecurity in the early 2000siv. Throughout 2023, we have seen this issue exacerbated by the rising cost of living, particularly the cost of food. Chief Statistician Anil Arora said food prices have increased 17 per cent and overall housing costs have risen from 38 per cent to 50% of a person’s incomev. That proportion is even worse for low-income people. The unacceptable fact is that 18.4% of people in Canada, including 24.3% of children, can’t afford the food they needvi. For perspective, the level of food insecurity in Canada is more than double that of Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and Japan among other countriesvii. Indigenous and Black households in Canada are 3.5 times more likely to be food insecure, and single-parent households, women, and people who rent rather than own their dwelling are also disproportionately affectedviii,ix. With the ongoing rising cost of living it is certain that a growing number of Canadians will struggle to meet their basic needs.

People with disabilities are especially vulnerable to food insecurity due to the the added cost of living and presence of physical barriers – over 41% of people with incomes below the poverty line have a disabilityx and as noted, 50% of people experiencing food insecurity, over the age of 15, have a disability. Moving quickly to implement the Canada Disability Benefit will help end disability poverty and food insecurity.

The impacts of food insecurity are devastating and ultimately result in high social costs and lost human potential. Food insecurity is associated with an increased incidence of chronic illness and mental health problemsxi, which burden the health care system; people living with severe food insecurity cost the health care system an additional 120% more than those who are food securexii. Children living with food insecurity struggle academically, are at greater risk for poor mental health in adulthood and suffer from behavioural problemsxiii,xiv,xv. These are profound and far-reaching societal impacts that must be addressed.
Food insecurity is not a food scarcity issue – Canada produces plenty of food. Emergency relief provided by food banks and food donations help in the short-term but are not a sustainable solution. Food banks have existed for years and have grown in size and scale, yet they have not been able to mitigate rising rates of food insecurityxvi. As the federal government has largely focused on supporting downstream relief in response to food insecurity, including $330M provided for emergency food in the last several years, a different policy-driven approach is urgently needed to meet the scale of the problemxvii.

Canadians care deeply about this issue. Based on a recent public opinion survey, 82% of Canadians believe the federal government should do more to help people struggling with poverty and hunger in Canadaxviii. In fact, 83% of Canadians feel that people going hungry in Canada goes against Canadian values; 86% of Canadians agree that the federal government should ensure no child goes hungry in Canada; and that people with disabilities should be supported to ensure they have access to healthy food and basic necessitiesxix.

Recommendation 1 – Encouraging cross-government collaboration through a united target

Given the economic, health, racial and social dimensions of food insecurity, lasting change will only be possible with a whole-of-government approach and a clear mandate to eliminate the structural barriers to food security. Setting a target has broad support from Canada’s largest leading national food insecurity organizations including Food Banks Canada and Community Food Centres Canada. We recommend the following commitments and actions be taken:

  • That a 50% reduction in food insecurity by 2030 be included as an outcome of the Poverty Reduction Strategy. Rates of food insecurity are currently included as a key indicator in the Poverty Reduction dashboard.
  • That this target includes the eradication of severe food insecurity, aligned with Canada’s SDG commitment to end hunger, and alleviating the disproportionate impact on Black and Indigenous people, who suffer rates of food insecurity up to 3.5 times the national average.
  • That a governance framework is implemented to elevate existing policy initiatives and coordinate program execution across Employment and Social Development Canada, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, and Health Canada towards the reduction of food insecurity and reaching the target. The governance framework would include consistent consultation with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, key stakeholder organizations representing Indigenous and Black peoples, and the Poverty and Canadian Food Policy Advisory Councils.

Recommendation 2 – Prompt implementation of an equitable Canada Disability Benefit (CDB) regulation

Immediate action is needed to help lift people with disabilities out of poverty. The CDB will give people with disabilities the ability to meet their basic needs, preserve their independence and increase their contribution to society and the economy. We recommend the following commitments and actions be taken:

  • The establishment of an equitable CDB regulation be accomplished through collaboration and co-creation with the disability community.
    • Co-create the regulations using deliberative public engagement approaches that reach people with disabilities, their families and allies across Canada who are dedicated to advocating for those whose voices are not heard.
  • Fast-track the design and implementation of the Canada Disability Benefit to provide a disability income support system that
    • Is Individual income-based (versus family-income based)
    • Raises the income of people with disabilities above the poverty line
    • Stacks on top of existing disability benefits (e.g., CPP – Disability, Veteran’s Disability Benefits, Worker’s Compensation, EI-Sickness, private insurance and other disability support programs), and
    • Is indexed to the cost of living

Recommendation 3 – Implement a national school food program

Canada is the only G7 country without a national school food program. Hunger has a profound impact on a child’s ability to learn, thrive socially and succeed in life. Yet 1.8 million Canadian children live in food insecure households. Building on the federal government’s commitment, we strongly support the implementation of a universal school food program that provides a foundation for all children to thrive.

  • Implement a universal school food program with national scope that builds on existing programs across the country on a cost-shared basis.

Food charity and emergency food relief will not solve food insecurity. We need concerted, focused and timely action that delivers sustainable improvement. Moving quickly to implement the Canada Disability Benefit will provide critically needed relief for Canadians struggling with poverty disability. Similarly, executing a national school food program will support the learning and social wellbeing of our school children at a vital stage of their development. Finally, setting a target to reduce food insecurity advances the vision of the Food Policy for Canada, reflects the will of the majority of Canadians, and aligns our domestic commitment with our global pledge to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal to end hunger.

Thank you for your consideration,

Sarah Stern
Maple Leaf Centre for Food Security

Hon. Lawrence MacAulay, P.C., M.P., Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
Hon, Jenna Sudds, P.C., M.P., Minister of Children and Social Development
Hon, Kamal Khera, P.C., M.P., Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities
Hon, Mark Holland, P.C., M.P., Minister of Health
Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities
Stefanie Beck, Deputy Minister, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Jean-Francois Tremblay, Deputy Minister, Employment and Social Development Canada
Dr. Stephen Lucas, Deputy Minister, Health Canada
Lynda Kuhn, Chair, Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security

i Employment and Social Development Canada. (2019, July 15). Towards Canada’s 2030 Agenda National Strategy. Canada.ca. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/agenda-2030/national-strategy.html
ii Statistics Canada, Centre for Income and Socioeconomic Well-being Statistics, Canadian Income Survey. Table C1010445. August 12, 2022.
iii Poverty in Canada: Most say governments are doing too little, but disagree on what should be done. (2018, August 1). In Angus Reid Institute. Angus Reid Institute. Retrieved October 1, 2022, from http://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/2018.07.04-poverty-part-2.pdf
iv PROOF. (2022, September 24). How many Canadians are affected by household food insecurity? Retrieved October 6, 2022, from https://proof.utoronto.ca/food-insecurity/how-many-canadians-are-affected-by-household-food-insecurity/
v Curry, B., & Walsh, M. (2023, January 24). Freeland says 2023 budget will focus on health care, green energy, while still being fiscally prudent. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-freeland-budget-2023-health-care/
vi PROOF. (2023, May 2). New data on household food insecurity in 2022. Retrieved August 1, 2023, from https://proof.utoronto.ca/2023/new-data-on-household-food-insecurity-in-2022/
vii FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2021. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021. Transforming food systems for food security, improved nutrition and affordable healthy diets for all. Rome, FAO. https://doi.org/10.4060/cb4474en
viii Matheson, J. (n.d.). Women respondents report higher household food insecurity than do men in similar Canadian households | Public Health Nutrition. Cambridge Core. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/public-health-nutrition/article/women-respondents-report-higher-household-food-insecurity-than-do-men-in-similar-canadian-households/9631FC916D01D0D8CDB635A0ED280A41
ix Determinants of Food Insecurity in Higher-Income Households in Canada. (n.d.). Taylor & Francis. Retrieved October 6, 2022, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19320248.2014.908450
x Low income among persons with a disability in Canada. (2017, August). Statistics Canada. Retrieved October 6, 2022, from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2017001/article/54854-eng.htm
xi Jessiman-Perreault, G., & McIntyre, L. (2019). Household food insecurity narrows the sex gap in five adverse mental health outcomes among canadian adults. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(3). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16030319
xii Tarasuk, V., Cheng, J., de Oliveira, C., Dachner, N., Gundersen, C., & Kurdyak, P. (2015). Association between household food insecurity and annual health care costs. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 187(14). https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.150234
xiii McIntyre, L., Williams, J. V. A., Lavorato, D. H., & Patten, S. (2013). Depression and suicide ideation in late adolescence and early adulthood are an outcome of Child hunger. Journal of Affective Disorders, 150(1), 123–129. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2012.11.029
xiv Kimbro, R. T., & Denney, J. T. (2015). Transitions into food insecurity associated with behavioral problems and worse overall health among children. Health Affairs, 34(11), 1949–1955. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0626
xv Faught, E. L., Williams, P. L., Willows, N. D., Asbridge, M., & Veugelers, P. J. (2017). The association between food insecurity and academic achievement in Canadian School-aged children. Public Health Nutrition, 20(15), 2778–2785. https://doi.org/10.1017/s1368980017001562
xvi Men F, Tarasuk V. Food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic: food charity, government assistance and employment. Canadian Public Policy 2021; Published online. Available from: https://www.utpjournals.press/doi/abs/10.3138/cpp.2021-001
xvii Government of Canada launches new phase of Local Food Infrastructure Fund. (2022, May 25). Canada.ca. Retrieved October 6, 2022, from https://www.canada.ca/en/agriculture-agri-food/news/2022/03/government-of-canada-launches-new-phase-of-local-food-infrastructure-fund.html
xviii The Gandalf Group. Public Insight Research Survey conducted for the Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security between June 8 – June 14, 2023
xix The Gandalf Group. Public Insight Research Survey conducted for the Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security between June 8 – June 14, 2023

August 11, 2023