Statement made on 10 May 2012 by Senator Wilfred Moore
Hon. Wilfred P. Moore:
Honourable senators, it is my privilege to stand in this chamber and speak about Food Banks Canada and the Hunger Awareness Week initiative, which, of course, is this week. I would like to thank all of those who participated across Canada, in the other place and in this chamber. I would also like especially to point to the efforts of Senator Mockler, who delivered a great speech last week and who supported this cause so well. Our day of fasting yesterday served to remind us, in a small way, of the plight of many of our fellow Canadians. Honourable senators, it is time that we did our utmost to cut the use of food banks in Canada.
Food banks were created in the 1980s as a response to a growing problem of hunger that occurred during that period of economic downturn. The fact that a national charity had to be created demonstrates the breadth and scope of the problem that existed then and that has grown since.
Food Banks Canada has performed exemplary work in attempting to provide nourishment for those who find themselves in the position of not being able to do so for themselves. The work that food banks do each and every day in Canada relies on volunteers, who give their time and money to carry out a mandate that need not exist in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet.
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology conducted a study of poverty in Canada. Indeed, our Banking Committee looked at personal debt levels in Canada. We learned from those studies that there is a growing problem, and that it is avoidable. These studies also reminded us that a great number of people in this country hover very close to that line between having the resources to feed themselves and not having them. The very real danger of losing a job or encountering health problems can be all the impetus it takes to find oneself on the wrong side of that line. We have created a situation in Canada whereby the less well off among us have been left to make stark choices when it comes to everyday existence. Canada has a huge lack of affordable housing. That lack of affordable housing translates into people having to decide between paying their rent or paying their bills or purchasing groceries. That is an unfair choice to have to make in a country as wealthy as ours. Choosing between food, heat and a roof over their head is not what Canadians should be worried about on a day-to-day basis. We all know that the problem exists; we see it every day, whether on our walk to work, on the news, in the correspondence we receive in our offices or from the charities that hold events to bring our attention to what is happening in our communities. This was really pointed out by Senator Robichaud in his discussion about the need to address these issues in his province of New Brunswick.
Studies exist that demonstrate how a lack of proper diet can cause many problems for children and seniors. Starting the school day with an empty stomach does not create the conditions for filling the developing brain with knowledge. The elderly, who worked very hard their entire lives and find themselves in need of help but are too proud to go to a food bank, deserve so much better.
Senators, 1.1 million kids in Canada live in poverty and are always hungry. As a response to this, it is estimated that over 3,000 community-based, child-feeding programs are operating in Canada. One such organization is Show Kids You Care. It is a national organization that provides breakfasts, snacks and lunches in 150 communities, carrying out 460 programs and serving 130,000 kids each week. It is amazing that such organizations exist. It shows the concern of ordinary citizens who do not want to see children go hungry. These numbers are staggering and are growing. Breakfast and supper time are not only for nutrition; they are for family time as well. Many people work so hard today to make ends meet that there is little time left for family. These moments spent together at dinner or breakfast are often the only quiet times for families to be together.
It is sad to think that 1.1 million children and their parents, across the country, are being deprived of that.
In my own province of Nova Scotia, for example, as we learned from last year's Hunger Count report, 22,000 people accessed food banks. Of that number, 32 per cent were children. What about the social stigma that those adults and children may feel upon having to resort to that food source?
Senators, one in 10 people who access food banks in Canada are First Nations, Metis or Inuit. That is a national disgrace. It is not in keeping with a nation that professes to care for its own.
Food Banks Canada has provided the statistics and presented them to Parliament and to Canadians so as to make us aware that, although food banks and their legion of volunteers are trying, the number of those who require assistance is growing, and it is very difficult to keep up.
We need to remember that food banks are supposed to be a temporary means of dealing with a solvable problem.
We need only look at the recommendations by Food Banks Canada to ensure that we, as one of the richest societies on the planet, no longer need food banks to feed such a large segment of our population. The recommendations of Food Banks Canada are, one, increase federal and provincial support for the creation of affordable housing subsidies; two, at the provincial level, design an income support system of last resort to help our most vulnerable citizens become self-sufficient; three, increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement to ensure that no senior lives in poverty; four, improve Employment Insurance to better support older workers facing permanent layoffs and to better recognize Canadians in non-standard forms of unemployment; five, prioritize at the federal level the need to drastically improve the labour market outcomes of disadvantaged workers; six, invest in a system of high-quality, affordable, accessible early learning and child care; and seven, commit, at the federal level, to maintain the current annual increase of 3 per cent to the Canada Social Transfer to provincial governments.
Honourable senators, Food Banks Canada has done admirable work across the country since its creation in the 1980s, but it is time that we listen to their advice. It is time that we as legislators do all we can to alleviate the problems that lead to such widespread food bank use. While we may always need to extend a helping hand through food banks, we must make sure that our fellow Canadians have the necessary tools and climate to be able to provide for themselves.
It is my hope that, as parliamentarians, we might see beyond the differences between our parties, work across the aisle and come to the conclusion that hunger is non-partisan and that it will require an absolutely non-partisan effort to conquer it.