Vancouver MP tables bill proposing national school food program for all
1 in 6 Canadian children live in homes without proper food, says Don Davies
A new private members bill hopes to make a free, or close-to-free, nutritious school lunch a daily reality for children across Canada.
Vancouver Kingsway MP Don Davies, the federal NDP health critic, introduced the School Food Program for Children Act on Tuesday.
If passed, it would require the minister of health to develop a national school food program for all Canadian children at little or no direct cost to children and their families.
"The last time the federal government seriously discussed implementing a national school food program was during Second World War," Davies said.
"So I think it's long past time that we started taking a look at this."
Davies says 1.1 million Canadian children — or 1 in 6 children — live in a home with a family that struggles with food insecurity.
Additionally, he says, there is a strong connection between good nutrition and academic performance; Canada is one of the few industrialized countries without such a program; and, with rising childhood obesity rates, it's an opportunity to teach a new generation about nutrition and how to eat healthily.
Davies says in financial terms, the program could ultimately save the government money if it can alleviate the health costs associated with poor nutrition.
"This is a program that I think will deliver social justice, better health, and I think it's smart economics," he said.
The federal government had included looking into a national food program as part of its 2019 budget and Davies says his bill is an area where the New Democrats and Liberals can work together.
Legislation welcome in Vancouver
Janet Fraser, chair of the Vancouver School Board, says she and the board would be "very happy" to see this implemented.
There are some food programs in the district, but they are targeted to specific students or schools with more vulnerable children.
"We don't have the reach that we would like to have, because we know how much of a difference it makes for students to have healthy food so that they can learn," Fraser said.
Currently the school board relies on teachers, support workers and family to identify children in the district who are food insecure. The board's programs have limited funding, and rely on partnerships with charitable organizations and private partners.
"If there were a universal program, we wouldn't have to worry about that. We will be able to know that we could meet the needs of every single student and we'd know that there's a framework in place to do that."
Still Fraser says while she's hopeful about the outcome of the legislation, she'll continue to plan for families in poverty today.
"Unfortunately we have to remain realistic because we have students right now in schools who have needs," she said.
With files from On The Coast