Gentrification, tax cuts blamed for loss of $1 lunches at Sud-Ouest schools

Some students from low income households in Montreal's Sud-Ouest borough won't have access to $1 lunches in September. Community organizers blame gentrification and school tax cuts from the Coalition Avenir Québec government.

Parents from Charles-Lemoyne and Ludger-Duvernay elementary schools protested cuts Thursday

Parent Delina Manikkrisa said she could financially absorb a small increase to the lunches, but the jump from $1 to $5 is too much. (CBC)

Some students from low income households in Montreal's Sud-Ouest borough won't have access to $1 lunches in September and community organizers blame gentrification and school tax cuts from the Coalition Avenir Québec government.

In September, 10 elementary schools and one high school will lose their subsidized lunch program, according to the city's largest school board, the CSDM — that means the cost of each lunch will rise to $5.

Groups from Charles-Lemoyne elementary school in Pointe-Saint-Charles and Ludger-Duvernay elementary school in Saint-Henri protested the announcement on Thursday. About 300 of their students will be affected by the cuts.

Delina Manikkrisa said she may be able to absorb a 50 cent increase on each lunch, but a $4 jump is too much.

"I'm very disappointed," she said. "Anytime the kids would want to buy something, we would have to cut that."

Chair of the CSDM, Catherine Harel-Bourdon, said the school board will do what it can to deal with the loss of the subsidy.

"The [provincial] government decided to lower school taxes," Harel-Bourdon said. "We should instead make the choice to feed the students one meal per day in Quebec."
Nilufar Akhtar said she'll probably have to withdraw her three children from the lunch program and walk them home from school at lunch instead. (CBC)

Nilufar Akhtar has three children at Charles-Lemoyne elementary school — where 40 per cent of the students are in the subsidized lunch program — and said paying $15 per day to feed them at school wouldn't be possible for her.

She said she expects to have to withdraw them from the program and bring them home for lunch, which in winter will be challenging.

Stats Canada asked to calculate area wealth differently

Some say this situation keeps repeating itself as gentrification affects different parts of the city.

Lisa Beyer-de Wever, director of the community organization Saint Columba House, said the way the federal government calculates wealth in an area needs to be approached differently.

Beyer-de Wever said because of calculations by Statistics Canada, schools located in neighbourhoods where gentrification is happening are no longer considered a part of a subsidized zone.

"We need to look at how that index is done. Every few years this drama plays out in different neighbourhoods," Beyer-de Wever said.

"Someone at Stats Canada looks at the numbers and goes: 'Poof, there's no one in poverty living in this area' and it doesn't work that way," she said.

Francis Bouchard, a spokesperson for Education Minister Jean-François Roberge, said the ministry is aware that the indexes produced by Statistics Canada can cause problems.

He said the ministry has earmarked an additional $60 million over the next five years to support the affected schools.

"This will ensure a smooth transition," he said.

With files from Jay Turnbull


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