Updated: Dec 7, 2020
May 21, 2020
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P., Prime Minister of Canada, The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, P.C., M.P. Deputy Prime Minister and Chair of the Cabinet Committee on COVID-19 The Honourable Bill Morneau, P.C., M.P., Minister of Finance
Sent by email to: email@example.com, Chrystia.Freeland@parl.gc.ca, Bill.Morneau@canada.ca Letters sent by mail to: House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister Freeland and Minister Morneau,
The 125 Organizational Members of the Coalition for Healthy School Food are writing to acknowledge and thank your government for your extraordinary efforts to ensure the health and wellbeing of Canadians during the COVID-19 crisis and your recent health, social protection and economic stimulus measures. In this unprecedented moment we have the opportunity to envision and then invest in what’s important to our society, in particular in our children and the next generation. As Canada plans for a recovery, we urge your government to advance health and economic policy priorities by allocating a one-time investment of $200 million to create a dedicated School Food Fund to invest in the infrastructure and pilots needed to support the health and wellbeing of children, families and communities and to stimulate the Canadian economy during the COVID-19 recovery (1). This is in addition to the $360 million our Coalition’s Budget 2020 submission recommended as an initial Year 1 investment towards the establishment of a strong cost-shared, universal National School Food Program.
Such a fund would enable the Minister of Children, Families and Social Development to advance your Budget 2019 commitment to develop a National School Food Program, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food’s mandate to implement and advance the Food Policy for Canada, and the Minister of Health’s mandate to promote the Healthy Eating Strategy including Canada’s 2019 Food Guide. A School Food Fund would support the up to 2 million children who already participate in school food programs across the country while enabling school food programs to reach more children in Canada.
The COVID-19 crisis has revealed to Canadians that food, and in particular school food, is an essential public good, like K-12 education and healthcare. Everyone needs access to good food to be healthy, particularly children and youth, and we need strong and resilient food systems to keep us safe. In this unprecedented time, community organizations from coast to coast to coast are partnering with schools and governments to distribute meals, gift cards and boxes of healthy foods for children and youth who no longer have access to meals and snacks through school food programs. Read about what Coalition members are doing in our blog post “Mobilizing Communities to Increase Access to Healthy Food while Schools are Closed.”
We now want to encourage using economic stimulus and health and social protection funding for the recovery and longer-term well-being of our country as we articulate in our blog post “Transitioning from the Immediate COVID-19 Response to a National School Food Program.”
In Budget 2019, your government committed to developing a National School Food Program for Canada (2). Now we are urging you to advance this commitment to help strengthen the health and well-being of students, their families and communities while also stimulating the Canadian economy and supporting job creation in agriculture, food service, construction and other hard-hit sectors. Stimulus funds could:
1. Create a special School Food Fund (see benefits summary below) of $200 million, that could be administered through existing provincial and territorial departments that fund school food programs, or through partnerships with community-based NGOs through a transparent application process (3). Applicants could apply for:
a. Infrastructure and equipment such as kitchen and cafeteria retrofits, greenhouses and gardens for growing food, and the purchase of appliances and tools, with an emphasis on purchasing from Canadian retailers and manufacturers (4).
b. Funding to pilot innovative food processing, distribution and food preparation models for school food programs (5).
c. Evaluation of the emergent and existing best practices for school food delivery
2. Support your commitment to work with provinces and territories, Indigenous leaders and non-profit organizations towards the creation of a National School Food Program including next steps in the consultation and implementation process.
Each of these measures would reach all regions of the country and create jobs in diverse sectors, including: agriculture, food services, food manufacturing and distribution, environmentally sustainable industries, and health (1).
We also recommend that you consult with Indigenous Nations and leaders, including those in our Coalition, and provide additional funding to Indigenous Nations and communities to advance Indigenous-led school food initiatives.
The Coalition for Healthy School Food was pleased when your government’s March 2019 federal budget recognized “the critical importance of healthy meals for a child’s education,” and announced “the Government’s intention to work with provinces and territories towards the creation of a National School Food Program (2).” We urge you to continue to move your commitment forward. One immediate opportunity would be to create a School Food Fund that would support the health and well-being of children, families and communities, stimulate the Canadian economy, and lay the basis for the creation of a cost-shared, universal national school food program as an essential service for all Canadian children.
We look forward to discussing this proposal as soon as possible with you or your staff. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-537-6856.
Coordinator, Coalition for Healthy School Food
The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health
The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development
The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, President of the Treasury Board
The Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development
The Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services
Additional Details: Benefits of a School Food Fund:
(1) Job creation: Preliminary research shows that a National School Food Program has job creation potential for food service workers, Canadian farmers and local food producers, creating economic multipliers, and supporting stronger regional food systems. (Reference: Ruetz &. Fraser. 2019. National School Food Program: a short-term opportunity for job creation and economic growth. Canadian Science Policy Centre.) Investing in a School Food Fund would support local economies, employing thousands of food service and nutrition professionals and getting this hard-hit sector back into employment. Guelph University’s Arrell Food Institute’s Report on School Food and Nutrition in Canada recommends that the development of a national school food program should include the hiring of trained nutrition experts and certified food preparation staff to deliver programs. (See: Haines & Ruetz. 2020. Comprehensive, Integrated Food and Nutrition Programs in Canadian Schools: A Healthy and Sustainable Approach.)
Support domestic agriculture: When local food procurement targets are set and local food is served in school food programs, the local multiplier of the increase in local food purchases will impact regional food production, household and business earnings, long-term gross domestic product, and part-time jobs. As an example, VON’s central Procurement Program purchased close to 40% Ontario produce in 2019. A buy-Canadian strategy, a strategy named in the Food Policy for Canada, would help create a market for Canadian producers and food manufacturers during an economic recession while supporting families. Such a program could contribute to the overall goal of reaching Canada’s target of an additional $30 billion in domestic agri-food sales by 2025, as set by the Canadian Agri-food Economic Table (See: Report of Canada's Economic Strategy Tables: Agr-food, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. 2017.) and support your goal of increasing public trust in Canadian grown and produced food. All of these would support your government’s goals for a Food Policy for Canada.
Health: School food programs increase consumption of healthy food, reduce the risk of chronic disease, and improve mental health. Canadian research has found that “school nutrition programs...positively influence children’s nutrition knowledge, dietary behaviours, and food intake”. (Reference: Colley, Myer, Seabrook, & Gilliland. The Impact of Canadian School Food Programs on Children’s Nutrition and Health: A Systematic Review 2018.) School food programs also improve educational outcomes and increase graduation rates by reducing hunger in classrooms, a known barrier to concentration and learning. We are also learning about the strong link between poor diet and having a severe response to COVID-19: it is a critical time to support our young people to access and build skills around healthy food.
Families and Gender Equity: A national school food program would have a positive impact on families, particularly women who invest significant time preparing food for school. A universal school food program would provide equitable and dignified access to healthy food for children and provide some support to low income families (although it would not be a replacement for needed income supports for the unacceptable number of Canadians living in poverty).
(2) Your March 2019 federal budget recognized “the critical importance of healthy meals for a child’s education,” and announced “the Government’s intention to work with provinces and territories towards the creation of a National School Food Program.” (Budget 2019, Figure 4.3 Canada Food Policy)
(3) We suggest that the School Food Fund include a transparent application process where applicants demonstrate a multi-stakeholder approach with strong community partnerships. This would indicate that a strong need has been identified for each project and encourage innovative approaches to complex challenges. Projects should include strong evaluation and communications components so that best practices can be learned and integrated into efforts to develop a national cost-shared universal school food program.
(4) An investment in infrastructure and equipment such as kitchen and cafeteria retrofits, greenhouses and gardens for growing food, and the purchase of appliances and tools would enable schools and community sites that support school food programs to improve their capacity to prepare, serve, grow, and preserve healthy foods. Some of these structural improvements could take place in a COVID-19-safe way over the summer months, support investments in made-in Canada appliances and tools and create jobs in the construction and trades industries, helping to retain and create employment during the recovery period.
(5) With respect to food processing, distribution and food preparation pilots for school food programs, during COVID-19 many cooks, trained chefs and other foodservice workers have been out of work and farmers have had their supply chains disrupted. This will likely continue for the foreseeable future. Schools and organizations can be supported to establish and expand relationships with these food service workers to initiate new meals and food delivery models as well as small and medium-sized farms to source nutritious local food where feasible, providing new market opportunities for local farmers and producers. Pilot programs could also include the establishment and strengthening of community kitchens, processing facilities, food distribution hubs, collective food procurement arrangements and other innovative measures. These pilots would strengthen programs when schools reopen and as Canada moves to develop a successful national school food program.
(6) Evaluation of emergent and existing best practices for school food delivery models supported by the Canadian Association of Food Studies’ School Food Working Group, academics from across the country who have developed a survey as well as a proposal to conduct research and provide recommendations on models to inform future planning.