Feds set table for school-food program, warned to avoid top-down approach

To be determined: which children will qualify and what meals they’ll receive

Students at Madison Crossing Elementary School in Canton, Miss., eat lunch in the school’s cafeteria on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Rogelio V. Solis

The federal Liberals are being told to avoid creating a one-size-fits-all national school-food program to replace the existing patchwork of efforts to feed hungry children.

The Liberals promised in their 2019 budget to work toward creating a such a program and have reached out to provinces, territories and key stakeholders over the past months.

The design of a new program will provide answers to lingering questions about how soon the program kicks off, how big it will be when it begins, which children will qualify and what meals they’ll receive.

Federal officials have been told to provide provinces, territories and even schools themselves with the latitude needed to deliver programs that meet local needs, said Joanne Bays, co-founder of Farm to Cafeteria Canada. The group seeks to get locally produced food into public institutions’ kitchens, starting with schools.

“The main message was ‘go slow’ and Canada needs a recipe for success,” said Bays, whose organization receives federal funding to run and evaluate a food program in dozens of schools.

“We have lots of other places we can look to see what they have done, but we need to pilot these things in Canada and evaluate and come up with our own unique formula.”

Canada is the only member of the G7 group of countries with large economies that doesn’t have a national school-food program.

Instead, there are thousands of food programs for the roughly five million children enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools — programs often run by community groups with financial help from governments and charities.

Feeding all school-aged children could cost billions each year, depending on whether funding would provide snacks, breakfast or lunch, or more than one of those. It’s a steep budget ask, and also potentially too ambitious for the current system to handle.

Instead, as a start, the Coalition for Healthy School Food has asked the Liberals for $360 million in this year’s budget to expand existing local programs and grow slowly, similar to what the Liberals did with their child-care spending.

“No one at this moment, I think, is interested in the federal government coming in and funding a brand new, top-down program, for a variety of reasons,” said Debbie Field, the coalition’s co-ordinator.

“Not even that it would be expensive, but primarily it would erase what is on the ground, which would be a bad idea.”

A national program would likely require cost-sharing with provinces and territories. Negotiating funding deals would delay any large social program, as the Liberals have found with their housing and child-care strategies.

KEEP READING: Almost half of all First Nations families are ‘food insecure,’ 10-year study says

And those agreements and associated spending were approved when the Liberals had a majority in the House of Commons, which they lost in the October election.

The latest figures from Statistics Canada show that 8.7 per cent of Canadian households, or almost 1.25 million homes, are considered “food insecure,” meaning they don’t have enough money to afford, or otherwise can’t get, the amount and variety of food needed for a healthy lifestyle.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria council recommends prioritizing housing for people in the area for at least a year

The motion passed unanimously during committee of the whole meeting

Sooke Bluffs staircase closed due to rot

District to consider replacement for ‘high risk’ staircase in fall

VicPD uses ‘less-lethal’ rounds to remove woman barricaded in stranger’s basement

The woman is believed to have broken into a dealership, attempting to steal a vehicle earlier in the evening

Vancouver Island MLA says too much on shoulders of RCMP

Reformed Police Act could look at spreading responsibility to other responders

Greater Victoria non-profit advocates for the use of psilocybin for terminal patients

North Saanich psychotherapist pushes for alternative treatment

STANDING TALL: Forestry workers meet the challenges, remain hopeful

A look at the forest sector in B.C. – and those hoping for the best – amid mill curtailments

Man suffers serious injuries in bear attack in remote area near Lillooet

It was deemed a defensive attack, no efforts were made to locate the animal

Parkinson SuperWalk goes virtual throughout B.C. due to COVID-19

People encouraged to walk around their neighbourhood, along community trails, through parks, forests

Missed rent payments ‘cause of COVID-19? You have until July 2021 to pay up

Each monthly instalment must be paid on the same date the rent is due

U.S.-Canada pandemic border restrictions extended into September

‘We will continue to keep our communities safe,’ says Public Safety Minister Bill Blair

578 British Columbians currently infected with COVID-19

Seventy-eight new cases confirmed in past 24 hours

WE Charity registers as lobbyist, lays off staff, looking to sell real estate

WE Charity said its financial position has been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic

Captive fawn seized from Island home

Valley resident charged and fined under the Wildlife Act

Bamfield residents, visitors pressure province as anniversary of fatal crash approaches

Letter-writing campaign makes ‘heartfelt, emotional pleas’ to improve road conditions

Most Read