OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on March 23, 2024 that the upcoming federal budget will allocate funding for a national school food program, aiming to provide meals to an additional 400,000 children annually across Canada. Trudeau, joined by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Families Minister Jenna Sudds, made the revelation in Toronto as part of the Liberal government’s pre-budget tour.

The federal government plans to invest $1 billion over the next five years into the program. Although education falls under provincial jurisdiction, the national program will facilitate partnerships between Ottawa and provinces and territories, many of which are already engaged in similar initiatives alongside community organizations.

In the past year, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia have directed funds towards school lunches, but local organizations have advocated for federal involvement. “We’re going to get this done by working together with provincial, territorial, and Indigenous partners, and expanding access to school food programs across the country,” stated Freeland. “And we want to get started as early as the 2024-25 school year.”

The Liberal government had long pledged to implement such a program, with Trudeau highlighting it during the 2021 election campaign. Ahead of the federal budget presentation on April 16, the New Democrats had been urging the Liberal government to fulfill this promise.

In the face of rising living costs and with the federal Conservatives leading in opinion polls, Trudeau is positioning the budget as a move towards restoring fairness for younger generations. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has focused on economic challenges facing young people, prompting the Liberals to intensify efforts to draw attention to new spending measures.

The announcement of the national school food program received praise from community and advocacy groups. Doug Roth, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, noted the potential benefits on children’s health and learning. The Breakfast Club of Canada, which has long advocated for such a program, hailed it as a pivotal moment in the country’s commitment to child welfare.

Despite the lack of detailed plans, Minister Sudds assured flexibility in the program’s implementation to address diverse regional needs. However, Conservative Leader Poilievre criticized the initiative, labeling it as “federal food bureaucracy” and attributing food insecurity to the Liberal government’s carbon pricing policies

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The federal budget’s unveiling comes amidst ongoing debates over the nation’s economic direction and social welfare priorities. The program’s implementation and its impact on children’s well-being will be closely monitored in the coming years.

By Jacqueline St. Pierre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 10, 2024 at 15:45

This item reprinted with permission from   Manitoulin Expositor   Little Current, Ontario
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