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Food security, support for farmers among concerns addressed
On Saturday, federal candidates stopped by the St. John’s Farmers’ Market to hear concerns raised by market-goers about food insecurity and other food issues facing the province.
The Eat Think Vote event was one of over 50 similar events put off by Food Secure Canada across the country to make food an election issue, “so that the next government develops policy that encourages a food system where no one goes hungry, where food is healthy and respects the environment,” according to a news release from event organizers.
A booth set up at the market was hosted by Food First NL and the St. John’s Food Policy Council, and federal candidates in St. John’s ridings were invited to stop by between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
“It was important for us to organize this campaign across Canada so that citizens have a chance to meet with candidates and talk about the real food issues they face,” explained Rachel Cheng, Eat Think Vote campaign manager with Food Secure Canada.
Sarah Crocker with Food First NL highlighted some of the concerns people expressed at the event.
“There’s a lot of concern about our local supply chain; some fears that we are maybe more vulnerable to changing weather patterns and shortages of food, but also issues about supporting our local food systems, whether it’s seeing local fish and vegetables in our institutions like schools and hospitals, to how do we support younger farmers.”
While The Telegram was at the market, candidates present included St. John’s South-Mount Pearl candidates Anne Marie Anonsen (NDP) and Terry Martin (Conservative Party); St. John’s East candidate David Peters (Green Party); and Avalon candidate Greg Malone (Green Party).
Other candidates who organizers said attended the event before or after The Telegram was there included St. John’s East candidates Jack Harris (NDP), Joedy Wall (Conservative) and Nick Whalen (Liberal), and St. John’s South-Mount Pearl candidate Ben Ruckpaul (People’s Party).
The Telegram spoke with Ruckpaul and Whalen by phone so that all parties with candidates present at the event had their ideas about food policy included in this article.
Martin addressed the high cost of food and said the Conservative Party aims to keep more money in people’s pockets so they can afford food. For example, the party recently announced it would eliminate the federal tax on home heating and energy bills.
He said the cost of shipping increases food costs in the province, adding the Conservative Party will eliminate the carbon tax to lower such costs.
He said Conservatives will support entrepreneurs which will help local farmers.
“The closer we can grow the food to where the people live, we’ll always be better off. Newfoundland only has probably maybe three or four days of food supplies on the island at any time, and we just need to address that.”
Malone said a focus on local food production will be healthier for people and the environment, and will help to lower the cost of food.
“We’ll put a lot of serious money into local growers – helping them, providing them with services in kind, and with outright grants and subsidies to grow organically, and to grow year-round. We have a 90 per cent dependence on imported food. That is crazy. What I’d like to see is communities and cities feeding themselves with gardens and farms around them.”
Peters said climate change and storms will impact the province’s food security, and said food security in the province is already “an enormous problem.”
“Local production is always going to be the key to solving that, and this is something we’re really big on. Obviously if you’re going to reduce the carbon footprint of food production, local production is where it’s at.”
New Democratic party
Anonsen said the NDP would put consumers first, not big corporations.
She said that’s especially important when it comes to current food labelling practices, and food processing.
“I don’t know, for instance, if the shrimp is coming from our shrimp, or if it’s coming from a Vietnamese antibiotic soup. I find that reprehensible. I do not like that.
“I would also like to know more about what’s happening to the food that I have to eat before it comes into my system.
“I’ve had breast cancer twice. It’s not in my family. It has to be in either the air that I’m breathing, the water I’m drinking, or the food that I’m eating, but I do not know how to protect myself, and I know from personal experience that I’m not being protected by Health Canada.”
Whalen said one of the big concerns he heard was related to food security and having reliable transportation to get food to the province.
He said the Liberal Party will work on building a fixed link between the island portion of the province and Labrador.
Whalen said what’s been proposed in the platform is the creation of a national infrastructure fund that would start with the design and engineering for this type of project, and ensure the federal government has the capacity to participate either through a public-private partnership or some other type of development.
“It’s quite the endeavor, but if and when completed it would link up the entire Gulf of St. Lawrence region so that it would make enterprise and tourism just so much more viable throughout the Atlantic region.”
Whalen said the Liberal party also announced funding for a food in schools program in its most recent budget, and if reelected they would move forward with that program. He said he’d like to see local, healthy food in schools that meets recommendations of the Canada Food Guide.
Whalen also said he heard from market vendors who would like support with food inspection for their products so that they can sell to larger chains. He said this is something he hopes can be addressed through existing programs such as the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Ruckpaul said he heard from people about the rising cost of food, and concerns about food deserts around the province where people have to travel long distances to access fresh food.
He said the People’s Party would remove interprovincial trade barriers and appoint a minister of internal trade to encourage provinces to work together instead of competing. He said this would make fresh produce more accessible and affordable for people in Newfoundland and Labrador.
He also said the People’s Party would lower the farm tax and corporate business tax from 15 to 10 per cent so that they have more money to invest in their businesses.
Ruckpaul also highlighted the importance of the fishery.
He said there are ways to fish sustainably, and his party would ensure smaller, outport fishing enterprises have the same access to fishery resources as larger ones with more financial clout.