The trope of the out-of-touch politician has been alive and well in the last two weeks. First, outgoing Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard doubled down on his assertion that a three-person family could live off $75 per week for groceries, a claim widely ridiculed by his political rivals and debunked by experts. Not a week later, Ontario Premier Doug Ford cancelled a scheduled increase to the province’s minimum wage, citing complaints from businesses. In his latest announcement, Ford has stated he will roll back Bill 148, which provides protections for the precariously employed.
At the same time, airwaves and newspapers have been filled with tales of struggling Canadians. CBC’s Metro Morning ran its series Priced Out, detailing Toronto’s increasing lack of affordability and the effects on its residents. Global News chronicled the health struggles of people living in poverty and the impossible choices they face on a daily basis. The piece lists troubling statistics, like that one in five Canadians is precariously employed and that half of adults have had to choose between buying food and paying their bills.
While it’s clear that poverty and food insecurity are having tremendous negative effects on people’s health, it seems this is falling on deaf ears. Anti-poverty groups in Quebec asserted that, without Couillard’s statement, any discussion of poverty would have been left off the table in the lead-up to the provincial election, which suggests it is not top of mind for any of the province’s political parties. What incoming Premier François Legault, leader of the divisive CAQ party, does to support the 14.6 per cent of low-income Quebeckers remains to be seen, though it’s already clear that some of his first actions will be punitive for immigrants and minorities. And Ford’s announcement, even with the proposed tax break for low-income Ontarians, leaves those earning minimum wage short nearly three months’ worth of nutritious food.
A 2017 survey found the rising cost of food was the top concern for Canadians. This should come as no surprise. The minimum adequate cost of a nutritious diet for a Montrealer is $8.34 per day - do the math, and you’ll see this adds up to a full $100 more than Couillard’s estimation. In Toronto, the monthly cost of a nutritious diet for a family of four is nearly $900.
Considering that Quebec has a minimum wage of $12 per hour and that Ontario’s is set to remain at $14 per hour, a healthy diet is well out of reach for many. The situation is even more dire for people on social assistance - rates for a single adult are $633 a month in Quebec and $733 a month in Ontario.
All of this points to an urgent need for political leadership and action. Canadians need politicians who understand their realities and will champion policies that support those struggling most. Only then will we see the kind of political urgency required to ensure none of us has to worry about how to put food on the table.