The Nelson Food Cupboard is helping its customers register to vote, and it has asked the candidates six questions about food security and published the results. It’s all part of a campaign called Eat Think Vote.
Until the election, on Monday and Wednesday mornings, a volunteer will be set up with a laptop, helping people register at the Food Cupboard’s location in the basement of the Nelson United Church.
“We decided to do a voter registration booth,” says the Food Cupboard staff member Marya Skrypicjazko, “but then we found out how hard it is to register online if you don’t have a valid BC driver’s licence.”
So for people with no driver’s licence, the food cupboard volunteer sends customers down to the Elections Canada office to register, armed with advice on what ID they will need when they get there. If they have a driver’s licence, the volunteer helps them register online, on the spot.
Skrypicjazko says the Food Cupboard decided to poll the candidates on food security issues because “even though I read the papers and listen to CBC, I have not been hearing about it. We think food security should be an election issue. There are lot of aspects of our food system that are not working well.”
She admits that food security being an issue is fairly new and it gets drowned out by other issues, but rising food prices here due to droughts in California are an indicator of how we are dependent on the outside world for food. She said that is part of what the concept of food security is about.
The Food Cupboard sent its set of six food security questions to all the candidates. Liberal candidate Don Johnston did not reply, and since the survey was completed Libertarian candidate Christina Yahn dropped out of the election.
The following are edited summaries of the candidates’ answers. Their full answers can be found attached below.
1. Given the lobbying power of industry and retail, how would you ensure that civil society organizations and interests are represented at the federal level in creating a national food policy?
Bill Green: We would include grassroots food security, food production, farming, poverty reduction, health promotion, food safety, animal welfare, organizations as well as citizen representatives. To eliminate conflict of interest the Green Party will remove food and agri-business representatives from all federal food policy advisory bodies.
Wayne Stetski: The NDP has a comprehensive food strategy called Everybody Eats: Our Vision for a Pan-Canadian Food Strategy. Ensuring that the public interest in food policy comes first would require that all parties be at the table.
David Wilks: I would invite industry and retail leaders to provide evidence on what they see as a road forward. I have met with organizations that provide food hampers to the less fortunate and discussed how major food chains can cooperate on providing additional food to food banks.
2. Four million Canadians experience food insecurity, including 1.5 million children. What steps will you take to reduce this number?
Bill Green: The Green Party will phase in a national guaranteed livable income, to ensure that no person’s income falls below what is necessary for health, life and dignity. We will work with the other levels of government whose inadequate poverty band-aid solutions (such as welfare, disability programs) can be rolled up in order to fund the program.
Wayne Stetski: The NDP would reduce, and eventually eliminate, poverty through coordinated policies such as investment in affordable housing, providing parents with universal, affordable and available childcare, and reforming the Employment Insurance system.
David Wilks: Reducing the GST from 7% to 5% has resulted in approximately $1.2 billion dollars in benefits annually to low and modest income Canadians, and implementing increases to the basic personal amount – the amount of income that an individual can earn without paying federal personal income tax. This puts more money in the hands of Canadians. $2.3 billion dollars has been invested in social housing.
3. Does your party support undertaking a feasibility study for a basic income floor for Canadians (similar to what is in place for Canadians 65 years of age and over) so that all Canadians have enough money to buy food?
Bill Green: The Green Party has committed to to develop and implement a guaranteed livable income. This would eliminate poverty and allow social services to concentrate on problems of mental health and addiction. The plan is to provide a regular payment to every Canadian without regard to a needs test. No surveillance or follow-up is required.
Wayne Stetski: The NDP is committed to reducing, and ultimately eliminating, poverty. And we are committed to making food security a priority throughout government.
David Wilks: The basic income floor for an individual in Canada in 2015 is $11,327. The government is constantly reviewing this rate.
4. Will your party commit to support the health of our children by funding a national school food program?
Bill Green: The Green Party will establish community-guided school lunch programs. We will work to reduce the use of pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, and other chemical and pharmaceutical agents in agriculture; promote environmentally sustainable, organic farming practices; and institute a national junk food tax for non-essential, empty calorie foods and beverages.
Wayne Stetski: The NDP will establish a pan-Canadian school nutrition program, sourced locally as much as possible, with excellent nutritional standards.
David Wilks: Our government continues to increase the CHT (Canada Health Transfer). In British Columbia the CHT is 4.4 billion dollars in 2015/16. The provincial government is responsible for health and education.
5. More than half of the Canadian farming population is over 55, 80% will retire in the next decade, and ¾ of which have no one to take over the farm. What would you do, if elected, to support and encourage a new generation of farmers in Canada?
Bill Green: We will shift government-supported research away from biotechnology and energy-intensive farming . We will help people switch to certified organic farming practices, reduce corporate control of the food supply, stop the loss of agricultural land to development, and assist farmers in climate change adaptation.
Wayne Stetski: Those who have a desire to farm need access to the capital and land they need to gain entry to the farming sector. We must support farmers with young entrant hiring, enhanced skill training and mentorship programs. And we have to review the tax code so that it supports new entrants into farming.
David Wilks: The cost of farming today is cost prohibitive for anyone new to get into and unless the farm is going to be handed down it is next to impossible to finance the purchase of a farm. There are incentives through farm credit, but even at that, the cost is prohibitive.
6. What would you do to ensure that local, sustainable and organic farmers get the supports they need to make a decent living without having to work a second job or take on large debts?
Bill Green: The Green Party would reduce the dependence on chemical inputs, rebuild and protect natural soil fertility, value quality produce, reduce waste, and increase the number of farm families. Carbon fees will result in small scale organic being more competitive economically.
Wayne Stetski: We must help organic producers to expand production and market opportunities, and encourage market linkages between organic food producers and specialty retailers and restaurants.
David Wilks: In order to have a farm that is sustainable, it needs to be large enough and have access to secure markets.