Published March 6, 2024

NDP pushing Liberals to include national school food program in upcoming budget

School food program - CP

By Mickey Djuric

The federal New Democrats want the government to fund a national school food program in the upcoming budget — and for Liberals to fulfil their election promise to put one in place. 

Talks between the two parties regarding a national program have already taken place, the NDP said, adding the minority government seems open to the idea. 

During the 2021 election campaign, the Liberal government promised to develop a meal program with a $1-billion investment over five years. 

A year later, Ottawa opened up roundtable talks with teachers, parents, children and youth about a national school food policy. 

But the pace has been too slow for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who on Wednesday accused the Liberals of "dragging their feet" and "stringing people along."

"We've got to give people some relief," Singh said at a news conference in Courtenay, B.C.

"We've got to take off the pressure on the shoulders of parents and those kids who aren't getting nutritious meals because they just can't afford it at a time like this."

The New Democrats say lunch programs, like the one that already exists in British Columbia under a provincial NDP government, can ensure that kids get a healthy meal each day. 

In Manitoba, the NDP government announced earlier this year it is expanding its own provincial school nutrition program. 

Singh said he wants the federal government to match the provinces and territories that are putting in the work, and for them to provide "significant money" for a universal school food program "so that every student has access to a meal across the country."

A national program could also reduce stigma around poverty, said Maurita Prato, executive director of LUSH Valley Food Action Society, an organization in British Columbia that provides meals to schools. 

"The reason that universal school meal programs are so important for poverty reduction is that when every child has access to a program on a sliding scale, it normalizes a food program," said Prato, who spoke alongside Singh.

The NDP has agreed to support the minority government on key parliamentary votes until 2025 — including on the budget — in exchange for movement on shared priorities. 

The party already pressured the Liberals to include the measure in last year's budget, too, and it didn't happen.

Singh wouldn't say if he is willing to put the political pact with the Liberals on the line if it's not there this year. 

The Liberals plan to release the next federal budget on April 16, but a spokeswoman for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is keeping mum on the specifics. 

"Our economic plan is about building more homes, faster, making life more affordable, and creating more good jobs," said Katherine Cuplinskas in a statement.

"We look forward to unveiling its next steps in Budget 2024."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2024

Banner image via The Canadian Press

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