62K people in Manitoba are food insecure, Winnipeg Harvest says

Making sure all Canadians have enough to eat is a mission that all everyone can get behind, says Donald Benham with Winnipeg Harvest.

Donald Benham says it’s time to start looking at guaranteed annual income

Donald Benham with Winnipeg Harvest says it’s time to start looking at guaranteed annual income. (CBC)

Making sure all Canadians have enough to eat is a mission that all everyone can get behind, says Winnipeg Harvest's Donald Benham.

At the end of November, Liberal senators held an open caucus meeting to discuss food insecurity. About four million Canadians, including more than one million children, lack food security. The caucus meeting pointed out that Canada does not have a national food policy or strategy.

Benham said every Canadian should have the right to enough food, "just as every Canadian has the right to health care." He said there are about 62,000 people in Manitoba who are food insecure.

Donald Benhams of Winnipeg Harvest says there are 62,00 people in Manitoba who are food insecure. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)
"The second-largest city in Manitoba is Brandon, with about 45,000 people," he said. "So if you took everybody who is struggling to put a roof over their head and food on the table, wherever they are in Manitoba, and put them in one place it would be way bigger than Manitoba's second-largest city."

He said that even when people work full-time at a minimum wage job it may not be enough to pay for rent, clothing and food.

"Our experience shows that a basic income, also known as a guaranteed annual income, would save money in the long run," Benham said.

The Ontario government is establishing a basic-income pilot project sometime before April 2017. Senators at the open caucus meeting were also open to speaking about a minimum basic income to make sure basic needs are met coast to coast.

In March, a Liberal-dominated parliamentary committee called on the federal government to explore the concept of guaranteeing people a minimum income.

"We think this is an idea that is gaining strength, just as the notion of medicare gained strength in the 1940s, '50s and '60s," Benham said.

Basic income was actually explored in Manitoba decades ago. From 1974 through 1978, about 30 per cent of the population of Dauphin was provided with a "mincome," as the guaranteed level of income came to be called. Research following the initiative has shown people live healthier lives when they don't have to worry about poverty.