Health Fitness

Federal government commits to creation of national school food program

The federal government says it will launch a national school food program, hoping to deliver meals to an additional 400,000 children per year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland made the announcement during an event in Toronto on Monday, the latest in a series of public appearances by the prime minister and his cabinet ministers ahead of the federal budget planned for April 16.

“We all want kids to have the best start in life, including the most vulnerable,” Trudeau said during the event.

“When a kid walks up before class and says ‘I’m hungry,’ it means we all have more work to do as a school community and as a country.”

The federal government will spend $1 billion over five years to implement the program. That figure mirrors a 2021 campaign promise made by the governing Liberals.

Freeland said the government hoped to have the program in place for the 2024-2025 school year.

Canada is the only G7 country that does not have a national school food program, according to the Breakfast Club of Canada. Advocates have argued that a national program is needed to fill gaps left by a patchwork of provincial, local and charitable programs that are under strain due to low resources and high food prices.

“Canadian families are struggling. With inflation pushing food prices to stratospheric levels, we know that a national school food program would help children and youth access nutritious food, which would then support their mental health, behaviour and study habits,” Debbie Field, co-ordinator of the Coalition for Healthy School Food, said in a Feb. 27 media statement.

The school food program is not one of the policy provisions set out under the Liberal-NDP supply-and-confidence deal, which has seen the New Democrats support the government in key votes for two years. But the NDP recently called for the federal government to implement a program.

WATCH | Trudeau promises national school food program: 

Hopes high as Trudeau pledges $1B for school food program

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a commitment of $1 billion over five years for school meals across Canada, raising hopes of parents dealing with high food costs and advocates who’ve spent years lobbying for the program.

“Parents are doing everything they can to take care of their kids, but the cost of food just keeps going up,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a media statement last month. “In a country as rich as ours, no child should ever have to go to school hungry.”

In a post on social media on Monday, Singh referred to the program as a “demand” of his party.

Provinces have jurisdiction over education in Canada. Trudeau said Monday the government would work with provinces, territories and Indigenous partners on implementing the program, including through augmentations to existing policies.

Trudeau defended a series of measures to which the government committed significant monetary resources — such as pharmacare, dental care and child care programs — even as it commits to fiscal responsibility in the upcoming budget.

Last December, Conservatives voted against a private member’s bill that would have established a national framework for a school food program.

During an event in B.C. on Monday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said food insecurity for children was a “major failure” for Trudeau.

“I find it ironic that he’s promising a federal food bureaucracy in Ottawa the same day as he raises taxes on food,” Poilievre said, referring to the April 1 increase in the carbon tax from $65 per tonne to $80.

Poilievre has harshly criticized the Liberal government for its handling of the economy and of affordability issues, frequently noting the rise in food bank usage across the country.

In a statement Monday, Bloc Québécois MP Sylvie Bérubé welcomed the food program announcement and said funding should be quickly transferred to the provinces.

  • Are you having a hard time keeping up with the cost of living? What issues would you want to see addressed in the next federal budget? Let us know in an email to [email protected].
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