Liberals commit $1 billion to new national school feeding program

The federal Liberal government is finally making good on a years-old election campaign promise, pledging Monday to allocate $1 billion over five years to fund a new national school feeding program.

The funding, which will be included in the upcoming budget on April 16, will be launched with the goal of expanding existing school feeding programs, providing meals to an additional 400,000 Canadian children annually.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland made the announcement in Scarborough, supported by members of the cabinet and the caucus, as part of their final pre-budget press tour.

Promising to work with provinces, territories and Indigenous partners on implementation, as he has with other recent pre-budget promises, Trudeau framed this funding as a safety net for children and families facing food insecurity.

“Over the long weekend, many people spent time with their families and shared good meals together, and around the kitchen table many people talked about how food prices are still too high. Tomorrow the children will go back to school. school “And some of them won’t have enough to eat. “That affects their health and their opportunities to learn and grow,” Trudeau said.

“As we said last week, this year’s upcoming budget will be about justice. Justice for every generation. That, of course, includes and starts with children and families. We all want children to have the best start in life, including the most vulnerable.” he said.

During the 2021 election campaign, the federal government promised to “develop a National School Feeding Policy and work toward a national nutritious school feeding program with an investment of $1 billion over five years.”

After the compromise was mentioned in the 2022 federal budget with no funding attached and dropped again in 2023, advocates warned that the future of schools’ ability to continue offering meals to students was in jeopardy due to a influx of students who access school feeding programs. and skyrocketing food costs without commensurate increases in program funding.

Citing food price inflation and studies indicating Canadians are changing their eating habits as a result of these economic stresses, advocates told CTV News at the time that a national school feeding program was more needed now than when the promise was made initially.

School meal programs that provide something to eat to hungry students in various forms already exist in all provinces and territories, although federal statistics say they only reach about 21 per cent of school-age children.

These programs are made possible largely by funding from provincial and territorial governments (which advocates say also needs substantial increases given the impacts of inflation), as well as private sector and community donations, and volunteer time.

The government has already held consultations aimed at helping guide a policy framework regarding the expansion of Canadian school feeding programs, and Freeland said she wants this school feeding funding to come to light “as early as the school year.” 2024-2025″. “

Earlier Monday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh held a press conference calling on the Liberals to make good on this promise.

While it is not a measure included in his bipartisan supply and confidence pact, Singh has been pushing for this funding to be included in the budget, noting that Canada is lagging behind other G7 countries when it comes to implementing a national program. of school meals.

“If you’re hungry, it’s hard to focus on anything else… There are so many families that are just struggling with food security. That means kids are hungry, and when kids are hungry, they can’t concentrate in school. They can’t focus on having fun, they can’t focus on being kids and that shouldn’t happen,” Singh said.

“We need stable funding from the federal government to ensure that every school-going child in our country, no matter where they live or what school they go to, receives a nutritious meal.”

Since late last year, NDP and Liberal MPs have been trying to use the prospect of a school feeding program as a wedge, criticizing Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and his party for voting against a member’s bill private sector that sought to advance a framework for a national school feeding program. while denouncing that “Canadians are hungry.”

The Conservatives said they rejected the bill because it did not include any funding, stating at the time that hungry families could not eat a mark.

More to come…

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