Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC) is pleased to see that Budget 2019, Investing in the Middle Class, announces initiatives that aim to improve our food system, provide support for low-income seniors, and take early steps towards a pharmacare program. But the budget falls short on tabling critical support for the millions Canadians who struggle daily with poverty and food insecurity.
The 2019 budget includes a five-year, $134.4 million investment in the yet-to-be-released A Food Policy for Canada, including:
a $50-million Local Food Infrastructure Fund to support infrastructure for local food projects. This has the potential to fund a range of important community-based food initiatives, such as Community Food Centres;
a $25-million “Buy Canada” Promotion Campaign to promote food grown in Canada;
a three-year immigration pilot to bring in full-time, non-seasonal agricultural workers with a pathway to permanent residency;
a $15-million Northern Isolated Community Initiatives Fund to support equipment, food production, and skills training
We are also happy to see the government’s commitment to work with the provinces and territories to create a National School Food Program. Canada is one of the only industrialized countries without such a program. Of course, this initiative will need to be funded, if it’s to make a difference in the lives of children across the country.
CFCC is also pleased to see a commitment to completing the Healthy Eating Strategy by restricting the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children, and “improving food labelling” – which presumably refers to the government’s commitment to introduce front-of-package labelling of foods and beverages high in sodium, sugars, and saturated fats. Both of these commitments have been waylaid by industry pressure, with the former currently stalled in the Senate.
Budget 2019 also commits to better supporting Canadian seniors, who represent more than 30 per cent of adult Community Food Centre participants. It proposes to do this chiefly through a $1.76-billion investment to increase earning exemptions for people receiving the Guaranteed Income Supplement, which will allow low-income seniors to keep more of the income they earn from work. It will also ensure that some seniors who have not applied to receive their Canada Pension Plan benefits will be proactively enrolled, and put in place measures to better protect pensions.
The announcement of the creation of a Canadian Drug Agency, the development of a national formulary (or list of prescription drugs), and a national strategy for high-cost drugs for rare diseases sets the stage for the Liberals to run on instituting a national pharmacare program in the next election. The Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare will deliver its final recommendations in June.
While we don’t yet know whether this will be a fill-in-the-gaps program to cover the 20 per cent of Canadians who are uninsured or underinsured, or a universal program, we do know that one million Canadians must make the impossible choice between paying for prescription drugs and paying for food, and that 20 per cent report that they or someone in their household has not taken their medicine in the last year because it was too expensive. That so many Canadians are forced put their health at risk because they live in poverty is clear proof that a national pharmacare program is long overdue.
Several of the measures announced in this budget will be important supports for people living on low incomes, and there is certainly a lot to look forward to in the new food policy initiatives. However, while CFCC was encouraged to see the federal government meeting its poverty reduction targets early, there is still much to be done for the 3.4 million Canadians still living below the poverty line. In our pre-budget submission, we called for an increase in direct supports to low-income Canadians through the tax system, both through refundable tax credits and through an increase to the Canada Workers Benefit, which supports low-income workers. While families with children receive support through the Canada Child Benefit and seniors receive support through Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, the safety net remains too weak for childless adults between 18 and 64, a missed opportunity for this budget.
With a federal election coming up, it’s time to push for policies, programs, and targets that will reduce the unconscionable levels of poverty and food insecurity across Canada.