Feds Unveil $1.0 Billion National School Food Program

The Canadian federal government has announced plans to launch a $1 billion national school food program aimed at providing meals to an additional 400,000 children per year.

The program, announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, will be implemented over five years starting in the 2024-2025 school year. 

Canada is currently the only G7 nation without a national school food initiative. Advocates have long called for such a program to address gaps left by the existing patchwork of provincial, local, and charitable programs struggling with limited resources and rising food costs driven by inflation.

“Canadian families are struggling. With inflation pushing food prices to stratospheric levels, we know that a national school food program would help children and youth access nutritious food, which would then support their mental health, behaviour and study habits,” Debbie Field, coordinator of the Coalition for Healthy School Food, said in a February 27 statement.

The program fulfills a 2021 campaign promise by the Liberal Party. While not part of their supply-and-confidence deal with the NDP, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh recently said that his party demands that the program be implemented, saying “no kid should go to school hungry.”  

The Conservatives voted against a private member’s bill last year that would have created a framework for such a program, arguing it lacked funding details. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre criticized the announcement’s timing alongside an increase to the federal carbon tax which he claims will further raise food costs.

“I find it ironic that he’s promising a federal food bureaucracy in Ottawa the same day as he raises taxes on food,” he said at an event on Monday.

With education falling under provincial jurisdiction, the federal government plans to work with provinces, territories and Indigenous partners to augment existing policies in rolling out the national program. Trudeau defended the expenditure as an investment in ensuring vulnerable children “get the best start in life.”

Advocacy groups like the Breakfast Club of Canada, which currently provides 420,000 student meals annually through over 3,000 programs, welcomed the funding as a major commitment to child well-being. 

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