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It’s Happening, A National School Food Program: Canada

(Karina Gould: Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development)

It’s Happening

Budget 2023 will see the introduction of a National School Food Program. this expectation comes after the release of the January Lobbying Communication Report. The communication reports indicate the number of times an organization or business has communicated with a public officeholder about legislation, policy, programs, funding awarding, or contracts. These communication reports define lobbying in Canada. 

The Federal Government has repeatedly hinted towards developing a National School Food Program. Fortunately, January’s report of lobbying events seems reassuring that such a program is coming in Budget 2023. January’s report indicates a new record for the Breakfast Club of Canada's (BCC lobbying efforts (a major stakeholder in support of the program): the BCC has had 49 total communication reports (separate lobbying events with public office holders, including MPs and policy advisors). The previous record was held in November, with 41 communication reports by the BCC.

However, what separates January’s communication reports from November’s is that November only had Members of Parliament and two designated Ministers being lobbied, Ministers Karina Gould and Mari Bibeau. Prime Minister Trudeau specifically tasked Minister Gould and Minister Bibeau to create such a program in their 2021 mandate letters following the 2021 federal election. 

In January however, we see that every major cabinet minister including the Ministers of National Defence, Finance, Industry, Intergovernmental Affairs, Labour, Canadian Heritage, and others has each been individually briefed by the Breakfast Club of Canada in separate lobbying events. Furthermore, the January report reveals that the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have also participated in such lobbying exchanges with the BCC. It is significant because participating in lobbying exchanges is entirely voluntary by public officeholders; nothing compels public officeholders to engage in lobbying with businesses or organizations.

Essentially, the BCC is spearheading the implementation through dozens of consultations with Federal Ministers and policy advisors to draw cabinet consensus. In Canada, the cabinet determines policy and how the government is run. The cabinet is crucial in implementing policy.

With the majority of the federal cabinet being briefed by the BCC, the federal government is likely gearing up to include billions of dollars in creating this program in Budget 2023. Under the subject matters discussed, the registry states (translated from French): 

“We seek to create a National School Food Program in Canada. Funding and support from the federal government are needed to make this happen.

Funding source: Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada or Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development. We are looking for a grant.” 

Furthermore, the quote comes under a specific classification of the lobbying information provided, which states “Grant, Contribution or Other Financial Benefit, Policies or Program” as the title. In other words, the BCC is lobbying and collaborating with the federal government to provide funding and support for the program.

Does Canada Need Such a Program? 

Long-time advocates have pointed out that Canada severely lags in providing access to nutrition for children compared to its OECD peers. Advocates also expose the fragmentation of access to school food programs, citing Atlantic provinces providing reasonable access compared to poor access in the Prairie provinces and Quebec.

With a national framework and adequate funding, Canadian children will soon enjoy healthy, nutritious meals for breakfasts and lunches every day. Much of this funding will subsidize food programs nationwide and artificially lower the cost of providing such food to kids. School food programs often come at a yearly or monthly cost which may pose financial barriers for low-income families. With federal funding, families will see a reduction in the annual or monthly food bills they have to pay to feed their children in school. An overall positive outcome for both families being hit hard by the rising cost of groceries and children who will grow healthy from more fruit, grain, milk, vegetables, and protein in their daily diet.

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