Election 2021: What are the main political parties saying about food?

Food Secure Canada has been analysing the main political parties’ programs on food security, food justice, healthy food and sustainable food systems for a decade.  Collectively, we have raised the importance of food in federal elections through campaigns like Eat Think Vote. Many MPs are passionate about these issues, and promising policies have been announced in recent years, such as Canada’s Food Policy.
Here are some reflections on this year’s platforms.


The Good News: School Food

Momentum is growing for federal involvement in healthy universal school food programs with the Liberal Party committed to working with other levels of government “towards a national school nutritious meal program with a $1 billion dollar investment over five years”. The NDP also has made a commitment to “establish a national school nutrition program that will provide every child with healthy food and food literacy skills”, and in their newly-released costed platform allocated $1 billion dollars over four years. The Bloc Québécois, in a written response to a question last month, has supported a federal investment in Québec’s school food programs. While the Conservative Party platform does not include school food, Conservative provincial governments do fund school food programs. The Green Party supported “increasing access to healthy food… (and a) national school lunch program” in their 2019 platform, but it is not mentioned in 2021.

As schools reopen, the Coalition for Healthy School Food’s 170+ members and 30+ endorsers in all parts of Canada expect action.  It’s time for Canada to join with other G7 countries in making a significant federal investment and developing appropriate standards for the health and well-being of all children and youth in Canada” said Debbie Field, Coordinator of the Coalition for Healthy School Food.


Coherence Lacking on Food Insecurity

Despite the fact that food insecurity increased during the pandemic to affect one in seven Canadians, no political party has proposed a suite of coherent measures to eliminate it. The Conservative Party announced a “food security strategy” but its only policy plank redirects “some federal agricultural research funding to partnering with the private sector to develop methods to grow more crops in Canada year-round in greenhouses.” More greenhouses may be a good thing, but it is not a food security strategy because food insecurity is not about food supply but, rather, access.

The Liberal Party’s position holds serious dangers. Food security is buried in the section on Tackling Food Waste. While the federal partnership with community food security organizations during the pandemic was needed, it is not by redirecting food waste into the homes of low-income Canadians that the problem will ultimately be solved. There needs to be a clear line drawn between efforts to reduce food loss and waste – which is a supply chain issue – and efforts to improve household food security, which is primarily about poverty alleviation. Similarly the implication that funding community groups will ensure that “all Canadians have access to healthy food” is very worrisome, relying on a charitable rather than a rights-based approach. 

The Green Party proposes a food systems approach within detailed sections on both Agriculture and Food, and Fisheries and Oceans, weaving together social, economic and environmental commitments, and championing food sovereignty (although also falling into the trap of linking food waste to food insecurity).

Of course, both household and community food security will be primarily affected by tax policies, housing supports, child care, measures to systemic inequities, employment insurance, labour code reforms and other economic policies. Despite the growing interest in an universal liveable income floor, only the Greens with a commitment to a Guaranteed Livable Income, and the NDP, with a commitment to expand income security programs for seniors and people living with disabilities to eventually achieve a guaranteed livable income, include basic income proposals. It is beyond the scope of this article to provide an overview of all these proposed economic policies. Check media outlets such as Macleans, CBC, and think tanks like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), which are tracking the programs on a host of issues. 


The Right to Food and Food Justice

No political party has endorsed the right to food as enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ratified by Canada 45 years ago. In 2015, the federal Liberals committed to the right to food in response to the ETV questionnaire.  The Conservative Party recognizes “safe drinking water as a fundamental human right” but there is no mention of the right to food in any of the platforms. The Liberals reiterate the right to housing further to decades of activism by housing activists and the Greens undertake to make it a reality as well as using rights language across a range of other commitments

Racism, anti-Black racism and the impacts of colonialism on Indigenous Peoples have shaped our food systems, resulting in Black households facing food insecurity at a rate 3.5 times higher than white households and 50% of First Nations on reserve experiencing food insecurity. None of the party platforms address food justice directly. The Liberals pledge to fight systemic racism, include a gender and diversity impact statement for each pledge, and announce a number of targeted programs. The NDP program gives a lot of prominence to issues of systemic racism, but the recognition of Indigenous food sovereignty is the only explicit link to food. The Greens commit to addressing systemic racism that affects equity-seeking groups and to restitution and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

Over 75,000 temporary foreign workers help put food on our tables every year, often in dangerous conditions. The Liberal Party has repeated its intention to “expand pathways for Permanent Residence” for temporary foreign workers. The NDP state there should be a path for them to stay permanently. The Conservative commitment is more restrictive, applying only “so long as they are prepared to work hard, contribute to the growth and productivity of Canada, and strengthen our democracy”.  The Bloc calls for the Temporary Foreign Workers’ program to be managed by Québec. The Greens propose more accessible pathways to permanent residency and safe strategies for whistleblowers.


Northern Food Insecurity

The urgent crisis of food insecurity in Northern Canada should be a top priority. The NDP states it will “support Indigenous food sovereignty, working in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities to expand access to healthy food, including traditional and country foods. Working together with northern communities, we’re committed to reforming the Nutrition North program to improve food security for northern families”. 

The Liberal Party commits to “continuing to work with Inuit to improve food security in Inuit Nunangat, including through the Harvester Support Grant, and amending the Nutrition North Canada program to make the program more transparent and responsive to Inuit needs.”  The Conservatives also pledge to “improve” Nutrition North but do not say how. 

Nutrition North, which subsidizes northern retailers to reduce transportation costs, has been through several critical reviews and they have not yet resulted in fundamental change or reduced the incidence of severe food insecurity in Inuit lands. 

The Green Party commits to improving food security in northern communities through Arctic farming, greenhouses, hydroponic towers, and nutrition and horticulture education,as well as a stewardship approach to land and fisheries.

The Conservative Party has an ambitious program with regards to fisheries. They commit to “develop community-based marine fisheries, which will help create employment and fight local and regional food insecurity.” 

None of the parties mention the recently released Inuit Nunangat Food Security Strategy, a visionary and well-researched action plan released earlier this year.  On Nutrition North, for example, it called for reform “in partnership with Inuit into a program that is designed to address the drivers of food insecurity and uphold the right to adequate food.” P. 33). 

The NDP is the only party to mention Indigenous Food Sovereignty, recognizing “Indigenous peoples have intimate connections to their homelands, territories and resources and have provided stewardship since time out of memory. Indigenous peoples are best placed to protect cultural and biological diversity through control over their territory – and so the recognition of inherent rights, title and treaty rights will be at the heart of our approach”.  This applies to climate change, and to the protection and restoration of wild Pacific salmon on the west coast. 


What about Sustainable Agriculture?

Farming never really gets the attention it deserves during elections but all parties have announced agricultural policies. They are not likely to satisfy people who follow agricultural policy closely and who are looking for some innovative ideas to confront the new challenges of the sector.  The Canadian Federation of Agriculture is sponsoring an all-party debate with agricultural leaders on September 9. 

All parties pledge to support supply management and to compensate poultry, milk and egg farmers for the impacts of trade liberalization. The devil, of course, is in the details of that compensation. The Greens add that small scale production for local markets should be able to operate outside this system.

The Liberals and Conservatives pledge to reform Business Risk Management (BRM) for farmers, a complex suite of programs intended to diminish risk and financial losses to producers.  The Conservatives call for a summit with the Minister to define how BRM should be reformed whereas the Liberals are integrating the unpredictable climate impacts farmers are facing into BRM programs and into a National Adaptation Strategy to be finalized by 2022. The NDP calls for a National Crisis Strategy and a new Civilian Climate Corps to help undertake the work necessary to adapt to climate change.  The NDP also calls for a National Food Strategy (without explaining in what way this is different from the Canadian Food Policy adopted in 2019). 

As noted above, the Green Party adopts an agriculture and food systems approach. Alongside a wide range of measures to decrease the impact of industrial agriculture on climate change and increase the benefits for farmers, workers and eaters, they seek to have 30% of food imports replaced by domestic agriculture.  

The Liberal, Bloc and Green programs mention pesticides, no doubt reflecting the prominence of the debate around glyphosate levels in Quebec.  The Liberals have promised to reform the Pest Control Products Act by enhancing the power of independent scientists and transparency — a long-overdue step.  The Bloc proposes a public inquiry on the links between multinational pesticide firms like Syngenta and Bayer-Monsanto and Health Canada, as well as a phasing out of neonicotinoids along with a $300 million investment to find alternatives.  The only reference to synthetic inputs in the Conservative Platform is to the 4R Nutrient Stewardship program promoted by Fertilizer Canada. 

Both the Liberals and Conservatives have sections on “Natural Climate Solutions” and the Greens want to scale-up funding for nature-based solutions for land and oceans.  The Conservatives promise to invest $3 billion between now and 2030 with a major focus on carbon sequestration and offsets. The Liberals on the other hand reiterate their commitment to soil health practices already announced as part of a green farming plan for Canada in Budget 2021. 


Healthy Food

It’s good to see that the Liberals have promised to reintroduce new restrictions on marketing food and drinks to children and to introduce front-of-package labelling to encourage healthy food choices. Industry had overwhelmingly opposed these initiatives while health, education and consumer organizations have all built the case for these measures which are seen around the world as important initiatives.

The food systems approach adopted by the Greens champions healthy eating according to the Canada Food Guide, and commits to a 10% tax on sugary drinks as well as a ban on advertising them to minors.

Health and healthcare reform are always important issues in election campaigns.  But aside from the holistic approach of the Greens, and the above plank from the Liberal Party, there is no recognition that our food choices, food environments and food system are key determinants of how healthy we are. One would think that with the pandemic’s impacts being so much more severe on individuals with chronic diseases, food as a key determinant of health would be higher on the public agenda. 


Where to from here?

Elections are a time to let our politicians know that we care about where our food comes from, who is not able to access healthy and sustainable options, and how we are protecting the farmers and workers who bring it to our tables.  Here are some of the things you can do: 

  • Ask about food when your candidates knock on your door
  • Attend all-candidates debates and ask what specific measure they intend to take on some of the issues raised in this blog
  • Organize or attend an Eat Think Vote event or related engagement activity in your community. 
We reviewed the published party platforms in early September 2021:

Additional sources cited:

  • Bloc Québécois answer to question about school food (August 2021).
  • Green Party Platform 2019