What does the Federal Budget mean for the Food Movement?

Thursday, April 22, 2021 - 12:49pm

The 724-page federal budget tabled on April 19th shows that the social movements working for a healthy, just and sustainable society and food system in Canada are being heard. The budget made significant investments to address Food Secure Canada’s goals:  zero hunger, healthy and safe food, sustainable food systems as well as significant investments in addressing anti-Black racism and a number of priorities of Indigenous peoples. 

Zero Hunger

The budget continues investments in programs that will provide income support both to those living in poverty and impacted by COVID job losses. Food insecurity in Canada affects one in seven Canadians and it is intimately tied to poverty, with structural sexism, racism and the ongoing impacts of colonialism amplifying the impact on Black Canadians, Indigenous Peoples and other groups.  It’s encouraging to see that poverty levels have actually gone down significantly for the first time in decades thanks to progressive fiscal measures adopted since 2015 like the Canada Child Benefit and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.  Anything that makes big ticket items like housing, child care and education more affordable will have a positive impact on food security simply because they support the household budget.  When money is tight, food is often sacrificed.  So support for affordable housing, a $15 minimum wage for federally regulated jobs, enhanced worker benefits, better employment insurance, and increase in Old Age Security and prolongation of COVID 19 income supports, all contained in this budget, is good news for food security. 

As specific initiatives, the budget announces another $140 million for the Emergency Food Security Fund and the Local Food Infrastructure Fund, topping up the $250 million announced last year.  The former fund is an emergency measure and provided front line support to many groups whose services were submerged by the pandemic. The other fund, which has a mere $10 million a year for five years, has been submerged by the high volume of applicants, illustrating the tremendous vitality of local groups eager to improve their infrastructure for community food security.  While it is good to see these initiatives resourced in the budget,  much more comprehensive and ambitious food justice strategies  that address root causes -- rather than providing only short-term charitable responses to the COVID crises -- need to be set across government, a task that the new Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council will hopefully take on. 

There is $163 million allocated for the next three years for Nutrition North, the much criticized subsidy program that aims to make food in the North more affordable.  Addressing food insecurity is also listed as a priority under the Indigenous Community Support Fund, which allocates $760 million support First Nations, Inuit and Métis organizations addressing community needs under the pandemic.  Overall, $18 billion is directed towards addressing the inequalities faced by Indigenous Peoples. What is less clear from the budget is whether these investments will be tied to Indigenous Sovereignty to ensure that Indigenous Nations and leaders control funding and programming. 


Sustainable Food Systems

There have been several indications recently that our governments are finally understanding that food and agriculture is key to meeting our climate change targets and our economic goals, and new programs supporting “nature-based solutions” are welcome. 

A report and sustained campaign by Farmers for Climate Solutions was largely responsible for the investment of  $200 million in new funding over two years to support farmers to reduce emissions by improving nitrogen management, increasing adoption of cover cropping, and normalizing rotational grazing. In addition, the government allocated $60 million to protect existing trees and wetlands on farms, and $10 million to power farms with clean energy over the next two years.  These funds will start to provide critical support for farmers to transition to climate-friendly practices that make economic and environmental sense. This is complemented by other environment and climate change investments and programs eligible to all sectors such as the Net Zero funding. 

A little more than $647 million will be spent over five years to stabilize and conserve wild Pacific salmon populations, whose stocks are currently declining dramatically. There is also $57.6 million to pay for the costs for Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) who need to self-isolate upon arrival in Canada.  Farms and food processing are highly dependent on TFW, about 27% of the labour force in crop production. Their importance to the food chain has been especially noticed during the pandemic, and an additional $49.5 million (over three years) goes to the Migrant Worker Support Program, as well as additional resources for inspection of working conditions and employment issues.  The recently announced path to permanent residency for Temporary Foreign Workers is welcome but it will take some time to see how this plays out on the ground. 

There is still a lot of work to do on Canadian food and agriculture policy to meet our food needs of the future, and to nudge our production systems to be more resilient overall and less reliant on technical fixes and synthetic inputs.  In food and agriculture, as elsewhere, the Federal Government is keen on innovation and clean technologies that will likely lead to continued emphasis on more exports at the expense of local, multifunctional agriculture, using appropriate and affordable technologies, so vital to our rural communities. These issues are bound to emerge as consultations and negotiations begin for the next Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP), starting in 2023. (The CAP is a five year framework agreement on agriculture between the federal, provincial and territorial governments and it largely determines what public support is available for the sector). The good news is that agricultural and food policy has become a more significant part of our climate and economic discussions.  


Healthy and Safe Food

This budget  unfortunately contains little to focus on the need for healthy food. During the pandemic, more than ever people need to be able to access healthy food to strengthen their immune systems. Missing from the Budget are any measures that recognize food as a key determinant of health, in keeping with the 2019 Food Guide.  Nor is there a follow-up to the commitment made by the Trudeau government to work with provinces and territories to develop a National School Food Program as was promised in the 2019 budget.  This lack of action is worrisome, but hopefully policy makers will see how vital healthy, local and accessible food is for all children as they begin to roll out the ambitious early childhood education initiatives. There is a wonderful opportunity for school food practitioners to be involved from the beginning in designing our new national child care system. A national school food program along with a national child care program would be a fantastic support to working parents, particularly mothers. 

Although food-related illnesses (diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, obesity) are critical COVID risk factors, the Budget did not bring food into focus as part of individual or community resilience to such pandemics.  Poverty, racism and inequality have certainly been highlighted and finally are beginning to get addressed in this budget, with new support for Black and Indigneous entrepreneurs and more resources for non-profit organizations for COVID response. Investments in Social Economy, Social Innovation and Social Finance may provide opportunities for food movement activists to buttress and connect work already happening on the ground from coast to coast to coast. A $220 million fund for social finance (over 2 years) and $50 million for the Investment Readiness Fund is aimed at equipping non-profits and charities to access social finance.  There is also a $200 million injection into a Black-led Philanthropic Endowment Fund to combat racism and improve socio-economic conditions.  Many food organizations should be eligible to access these new resources.   

However, the budget is still dealing with the downstream effects of the pandemic, and has not yet awarded public health the role it needs to play, not only in preventing COVID infections from spreading, but also preventing many other diseases where food and food systems are a critical determinant.  It is surprising that the budget contains no reference to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the second of which, in particular, mirrors Food Secure Canada’s mandate:  “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable food systems” given Canada’s stated commitment to the 2030 agenda.  

The coming months will be critical to transforming emergency response measures into lasting social programs that will build a more resilient and sustainable Canada. 


See what other organizations are saying about the budget :

Assembly of First Nations

Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet)

Chantier de l’économie sociale (in French only)

Community Food Centres of Canada

Child Care Now

Green Budget Coalition members

Inuit Tapiirit Kanatami

Métis National Council

National Association of Friendship Centres

National Farmer’s Union

Please email communications@foodsecurecanada.org to alert us to Budget responses from other organisations and networks in the food movement.

Article published on April 22, 2021 and modified on May 4, 2021.