‘Food bucks’ one solution to Canada’s growing food insecurity crisis

Food insecurity solutions

Food insecurity numbers in Canada have reached astonishing levels, making it hard to believe the extent of the crisis.

According to the latest Who’s Hungry report from Daily Bread and North York Harvest food banks, the number of people depending on food banks in Toronto alone has doubled compared to the previous year, with one out of every 10 individuals currently relying on them.

Food bank usage has hit an all-time high this year, with over 2.5 million visits recorded between April 2022 and March 2023, marking a staggering 50 percent increase from the previous year. Alarmingly, there are no signs of this trend slowing down. The Hunger Count, released last month by Food Bank Canada, revealed that over two million Canadians now rely on food banks.

Even Statistics Canada has joined the chorus of alarming food insecurity statistics, indicating that 18 percent of Canadian families experienced some degree of food insecurity in 2022. Regardless of where you look, the data is undeniably grim.

While some have pointed fingers at Ottawa, provinces or grocers for our society’s predicament, the reality is that our current situation results from a combination of various factors, many of which have nothing to do with Canada. Issues such as disrupted supply chains, the conflict in Ukraine, and the impact of climate change on global regions have all contributed.

In fact, when compared to many other countries, Canada is faring relatively better. For example, in Australia, the Food bank Hunger Count 2023 reported 3.7 million households—equivalent to 36 percent—have experienced varying levels of food insecurity in the past year. Earlier this year in the United Kingdom, the Food Standards Agency revealed food insecurity had risen to 25%.

Challenges have arisen even in the United States, the land known for affordable food. Feeding America, the largest domestic hunger relief and food rescue organization in the country, released a report showing that about 49 million individuals, or one in six Americans, sought assistance from hunger relief programs in the last year, a ratio higher than Canada’s.

Despite exporting more than $85 billion worth of agri-food products, seeing so many Canadians going hungry is disheartening. The facts are clear, but our path to reducing food insecurity remains less so. Food banks are a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, performing remarkable work with limited resources. However, they are designed to provide temporary relief, not a permanent solution.

Many reports include a comprehensive list of recommendations, such as expediting the construction of more affordable housing and swiftly implementing the Canada Disability Benefit, guaranteeing a minimum income. However, these mechanisms require additional capital, increased government involvement, and added bureaucracy. Canadians already pay a substantial amount of taxes and may not be eager to fund new costly programs that could become permanent, especially as servicing our debt continues to rise.

Nevertheless, one program could offer much-needed assistance to people in need without straining existing not-for-profits or significantly adding to public expenditure. Nova Scotia, Montreal, and British Columbia have successfully launched community food coupon programs. These programs aim to support low-income households in acquiring fresh, nutritious, locally sourced food, enhancing food literacy, and encouraging healthier food choices.

Notably, these programs provide participating households with regular allocations of an alternative currency, known as “food bucks,” that can only be redeemed at farmers’ markets. Unlike grocery rebates, which have cost Ottawa more than $2.5 billion without assurance the money was spent on food, these coupons can only be used to purchase food and support our farmers.

The costs associated with implementing these programs are minimal. Nova Scotia’s program costs approximately $350,000, while Montreal’s received support from Desjardins totalling $50,000. In contrast, British Columbia’s program, launched in 2021, requires about $1 million a year to assist 10,000 households. The province has the second-lowest food insecurity rate in the country, at 16.9 percent, according to Statistics Canada, despite soaring real estate prices.

If Canada needs one program that can make a substantial impact right now, offering the best value for our investment, it would undoubtedly be such a program.

Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Errors in explaining impact of carbon tax on inflation shake confidence in Bank of Canada

Bank of Canada’s blunders

The Bank of Canada’s unconventional approach to communicating its stance on carbon pricing, particularly its sporadic responses on social media, has raised eyebrows.

Its responses tend to delve into semantics rather than directly addressing criticisms. It’s puzzling to witness the Bank of Canada engaging in this manner, as it calls into question its supposed non-partisan and impartial position in the increasingly polarized political debates surrounding the carbon tax.

This strategic blunder underscores the Bank of Canada’s mishandling of its communication related to carbon taxation.

The saga began in September when Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem casually mentioned during a speech in Calgary that the carbon tax contributed to about 0.15 percentage points of inflation without providing supporting data or documentation for this assertion. A similar statement had been made before the finance committee in February, but it hadn’t garnered much attention at the time.

However, after Macklem’s September statement, proponents of the carbon tax began using his assertion as a benchmark to dismiss the concerns of carbon tax critics and convince Canadians that carbon taxing has little or no inflationary impact. Despite the absence of data, models, or comprehensive analysis, many economists rallied behind this assertion.

This issue remained largely unexamined until Dalhousie University requested an explanation. The bank’s prompt response revealed that the 0.15 ratio only considered three components of the Consumer Price Index – natural gas, heating oil, and gasoline – all of which are retail-taxed items. This estimate failed to account for second-round or pass-through effects across the entire supply chain of other major CPI components, indicating a narrow focus in their calculations.

On Oct. 30, Macklem introduced a new angle, stating that eliminating the carbon tax would lead to a one-time drop of 0.60 percentage points in the inflation rate due to accumulated tax increases over the years. This essentially means that, with our current inflation rate at 3.8 percent, the carbon tax is responsible for 16 percent of inflation.

Although the governor claimed this had been the bank’s message for some time, he had not explicitly disclosed this ratio until now. This statement, due to its vagueness, raises several important questions that demand thorough examination by reporters, intellectuals, and observers.

For instance, it is crucial to understand the specific data and economic models used to arrive at the 0.6 estimate for the impact of eliminating the carbon tax on inflation. Will this estimate change as the carbon tax approaches the $170/mt mark in 2030, nearly triple its current rate? It is equally important to request a breakdown of the assumptions and variables considered in these calculations.

Moreover, sensitivity analysis is vital: how does the estimate respond to changes in key assumptions like the carbon tax level and market dynamics? What historical or international examples support this estimate, and how do they align with the Canadian economic context? Equally important is an inquiry into whether the Bank considered the potential second-order effects of removing the carbon tax, such as changes in energy consumption and production, shifts in investment patterns, or impacts on other industries.

Why hasn’t the bank analyzed other components of the CPI, such as food, and considered the behavioural changes resulting from fiscal adjustments across the supply chain? Prices undoubtedly influence consumer choices.

The bottom line is that transparency is paramount, and we need clear answers. As Canadians, we must question the data presented to us rather than passively accepting it. Blindly accepting data without scrutiny can lead to disastrous policies. While decarbonizing the economy should be a priority, recent government decisions regarding heating oil tax and rebate enhancements have left many skeptical about the moral authority of carbon taxing. Canadians deserve clarity, especially when the planet’s well-being comes at a cost. We need to know the price tag.

In essence, the carbon tax communication challenges at the Bank of Canada highlight a fundamental misstep – the quantification of the carbon tax. The bank is now committed to this stance, fully aware of its consequences. It gave a number, and it is too late now.

In the meantime, the Bank of Canada should refrain from participating in political discussions on social media or any other platform. Doing otherwise will only impact its credibility, making it appear as a crown corporation trying to control the narrative.

Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Philanthropy is a powerful force for change

National Philanthropy Day

In the face of adversity, the strength of a community is often revealed through the generosity of its members.

Philanthropy, the act of giving back to society, is the cornerstone of rebuilding and supporting communities in their times of need. This was evident in the aftermath of the devastating wildfires that swept through the Central Okanagan in 2023.

As homes turned to ashes and lives were shattered, it was philanthropy that illuminated the path toward recovery. These wildfires left a trail of destruction in their wake, and the very essence of our community was challenged.

In times like these, it is the spirit of giving that binds people together. The acts of kindness witnessed in the wake of the Central Okanagan wildfires were not merely transactions but powerful gestures of empathy and solidarity. Neighbours helped neighbors, strangers became friends, and a strong sense of community emerged. Philanthropy provided the means to nurture this newfound unity, ensuring that the community did not just recover, but emerged stronger and more resilient than before.

Over the last three months, the Central Okanagan Foundation has engaged with local businesses, individuals and other organizations, mobilizing resources to address the immediate needs of the community. The foundation continues to support long-term initiatives, laying the groundwork for a more secure and prosperous future through community-led solutions. Philanthropy, when driven by the needs of the community, becomes a powerful force for change.

The wildfires that struck this area in 2023 highlighted the indispensable role of philanthropy in building and supporting communities and showcased the transformative power of giving, emphasizing the importance of empathy, solidarity, and community-led solutions.

As we reflect on the lessons learned from Central Okanagan’s experience, let us recognize the significance of philanthropy in shaping a better, more compassionate world. By supporting philanthropic endeavours, we become active participants in the journey toward a brighter future, where communities thrive and the spirit of generosity continues to illuminate the way forward.

As we celebrate National Philanthropy Day this month (Nov. 15), let us all recognize the remarkable impact of philanthropy, reminding us of the essential role it plays in shaping the world we live in. It is a day to honour the individuals, organizations, and communities that dedicate themselves to the betterment of society, demonstrating the boundless potential of human kindness.

On Nov. 15, let us not only acknowledge the immense contributions of philanthropists but also recognize the everyday heroes who, through their acts of kindness and selflessness, uplift their communities.

By celebrating National Philanthropy Day, we acknowledge the transformative power of giving, inspiring others to build stronger, more compassionate communities.

Abbie Norrish, is the manager of grants and community initiatives at the Central Okanagan Foundation.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Are carbon taxes a threat to our food supply chain?

Carbon taxes and food

Political desperation can be a powerful thing, as we witnessed last week in Ottawa.

The federal government not only put a hold on the carbon tax applied to heating oil for three years, it also announced a doubling of the rural supplement in the carbon tax rebate program.

In mere minutes, Ottawa not only transformed the carbon tax into a negotiable political lightning rod but also lent credence to those who have voiced doubts about the narratives surrounding carbon pricing.

For starters, the government’s decision to increase rural supplements in the carbon tax rebate program implicitly acknowledges the argument that suggested the rebate might not have been sufficient to cover the associated costs.

It is clear that carbon tax proponents in academic circles are now receiving less attention from Ottawa. As the cost of living becomes a matter of survival for many Canadians, Ottawa is beginning to heed the concerns of the broader population, not just environmental activists.

Carbon pricing undeniably carries significant weight in Canada, serving as a critical policy to address climate change concerns. In particular, the agri-food sector faces an arguably substantial threat from climate change, leaving inaction as an undesirable option. Decarbonizing the economy is rapidly becoming a global priority, and Canada must play its part. Despite the unpopularity of carbon pricing in some quarters, it stands out as a relatively lesser evil for the economy. However, when it comes to food, the stakes are notably higher.

Since the Trudeau government has paused the carbon tax for heating oil, a compelling case can be made for examining the impact on our entire food supply.

It is imperative that we conduct a rigorous evaluation of how carbon pricing affects food affordability for Canadians and the long-term competitiveness of our industries. Unfortunately, comprehensive analyses in this regard have been conspicuously lacking, with much of what we’ve encountered appearing to be influenced by biased narratives, particularly from organizations like the one-sided Smart Prosperity Institute and Climate Change Centre, which often rely on a limited pool of intellectual activists.

Nevertheless, our research team at Dalhousie University, comprised of several researchers, has begun shedding light on the scarcity of research in this critical area.

What needs to be underscored is how the public discourse surrounding carbon pricing and food affordability has been misdirected. Rather than asking whether the carbon tax is an easy scapegoat for high food prices, the more pertinent question is whether the carbon tax negatively impacts the competitiveness of our food industry.

Quantifying the direct and straightforward impact of carbon pricing on retail food prices is challenging, if not impossible, given the many factors influencing prices, including consumer behaviour and weather. Suggesting that carbon pricing has a direct, linear effect on retail food prices would be misleading. Prices fluctuate for various reasons, so our primary focus should be on industrial and wholesale prices.

Our research has revealed a significant contrast between industrial and wholesale prices. Industrial prices are notably more susceptible to cost fluctuations, which unquestionably encompass the influence of carbon pricing. These cost increases within the supply chain are far more quantifiable and trackable. In recent years, the Industrial Product Pricing Index related to food has outpaced the Consumer Price Index for food prices, a trend that has been largely overlooked.

Carbon pricing has led many to become passive when assessing environmental politics, failing to critically question the figures presented. For example, the Bank of Canada recently made claims about carbon pricing that went unchallenged. It estimated that only 0.15 percent of inflation could be attributed to carbon pricing, but this calculation considered only the direct impact of the carbon tax on three products included in the consumer price index: gasoline, heating oil, and natural gas. It did not account for second-round or pass-through effects.

What was concerning is that not a single reporter questioned how the Bank arrived at this conclusion until Dalhousie University sought this information. It’s as if everyone was sleepwalking.

While the outright elimination of the carbon tax is not advisable, a temporary pause on any carbon pricing policies affecting our food supply chain should be considered until we gain a clearer understanding of their impact. Such a measure would be a responsible course of action at this time.

Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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