Federal Budget 2019: this is not a national food policy

Contrary to the federal government’s framing of the budget (and the way some media outlets have reported it), the program initiatives put before the House of Commons Tuesday in no way introduce a food policy for Canada.

How can a smattering of disconnected program announcements with bread crumb funding be in any way a coherent policy?  A close reading of the Budget Plan (mostly from p 161 ff) confirms that the government has yet to announce a national food policy and cannot yet show when or how it will do so.  One statement in the budget plan,  “All Canadians should have access to safe, healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate and locally produced food. (p. 161)”, is the beginning of a policy, but there is little in the budget to make this a reality. What we have here is the proverbial cart before the horse, a weak set of program announcements without a coherent policy to guide them.

Measured against the limited conception of a national food policy provided in the government’s earlier consultation documents (see Federal Government), this is a feeble effort.  And assessed against the joined up proposals on this site, it represents the shallowest of understanding and execution.

The new funding, $134.4 million over 5 years mostly for contribution agreement programs (essentially competitive grants) will be helpful to a few.  But the country will see no significant reduction in the health, environmental and social justice problems that continue to plague our food system.  In fact, many of the budget initiatives are likely to exacerbate our current problems, particularly the ongoing focus on food exports.  The government continues to believe that is possible to focus on the domestic market and exports at the same time, unwilling to acknowledge that the resources devoted to export and “free trade” are the main reason why domestic self-reliance has declined.  Nowhere is this more obvious than supply management.  Having deeply compromised it with its recent trade agreements, the federal government now allocates $3.9 billion to dairy, egg, chicken and turkey farmers, in the hope this will generate a financial stability in the farm sector that already existed.  Rebuilding local infrastructure means connecting supply and demand (see Goal 2) and a modified version of supply management is the best way to achieve that.

The federal government promises to enter into discussions with the provincial and territorial governments about establishing a national school food program.  It’s a step forward, but FPT discussions frequently fail or produce flawed program designs, so there’s still a long way to go.

The language of the Budget Plan conveniently allows the inattentive reader to assume a national food policy is now in play.  Don’t be fooled.