Labour Views for September 3, 2014

Submitted by Jack Bourassa, Regional Executive Vice-President
Public Service Alliance of Canada North

To be or not to be… that is a question pondered by many accessing services at local food banks and soup kitchens across the country and particularly in the North. To be hungry and dignified, that is, or to ask for help when they need it most. That’s because from 2008 to 2013, under the Conservative government, the demand for food banks in the North has increased by 163%. This increase is on average 137% greater than anywhere else in the country. The belief by some that those accessing such services are lazy is simply false. The majority of those accessing the services offered by food banks and soup kitchens are children, single parents, the elderly, those with disabilities and poor working Canadians. A March 2013 HungerCount report, put together by Food Banks Canada, showed that 3,522 people across the North received assistance from food banks last year, of which 37.5% were children.

The current and ever increasing dependence on such services is unacceptable and is a symptom of a larger problem for which the responsibility lies squarely with policy makers. Food banks and soup kitchens are an ineffective long-term approach to addressing hunger in the North. On all levels of government we’re seeing an ever-increasing tendency to deal with deficits through attrition. Such policies are doing our population a disservice and create more problems than they solve. More focus must be placed on a hand-up rather than a handout approach.

Unfortunately, as politicians cater to the upper echelons of the business world, those in need are being treated more like grain for the gristmill than fellow humans who have fallen through ever widening cracks in the system. Low income is at the root of more than 30 years of food bank and soup kitchen use in Canada, for which the light at the end of the tunnel is pointedly small. Low-paid, part-time and temporary work serves large corporations well but amounts to little more than indentured servitude for which there is little or no opportunity to get out from under.

Five recommendations came of the HungerCount 2013 report to more appropriately deal with poverty and hunger that will require both political will and public pressure. Three additional recommendations, specific to the North, included additional funds to jump start sustained food initiatives, comprehensive school breakfast programs and investing in infrastructure that would include community-identified resources such as centres and freezers.

Although recommendations have been made as a result of the HungerCount 2013 report, working Canadians will again have to step up to the plate to make up the shortfall for those we’ve elected to represent our best interests… and don’t! Because donations made to food banks and soup kitchens have not kept pace with demand, many have found themselves having to either temporally shut their doors or reduce their hours of operations.

That people, especially children, go hungry in a first world country is unfathomable. That our politicians do little to address the problem is incomprehensible and unforgivable. Fortunately, Northerner’s have good organizations as members of their communities who are ever ready to lend a hand when needed. The Public Service Alliance of Canada representing workers in the North is just such an organization that has yet again initiated food drives to help restock the shelves of food banks in Whitehorse, Yukon and Hay River, NT and is initiating a campaign to assist food banks and soup kitchens across the north. Because… What happens to one, happens to us all!
We Are All Affected!