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Food security focus of candidate debate

It started with a meal at the Lord's Kitchen

Voters got their fill of food and politics at Eat, Think, Vote.

About 150 people packed into the Lord's Kitchen for the Anti-hunger Coalition Timmins (ACT) event that put the spotlight on food security. It was hosted in partnership with Community Food Centres Canada, the Porcupine Health Unit and Cochrane District Social Planning Council.

It was the first debate in the city featuring all five of the candidates in Timmins-James Bay — NDP Charlie AngusLiberal Michelle BoileauConservative Kraymr GrenkeGreen Max Kennedy, and PPC Renaud Roy.

ACT executive director Jenn Vachon was happy with the turnout. She said there are specific food issues in Northern Ontario related to high food prices. 

“I’m obviously bias, but I think it’s a really important subject, obviously the community does as well, and that’s truly why we wanted to bring it here. To learn more about what the candidates think about it and to encourage people in Timmins to get out and vote,” she said.

Before the debate, people enjoyed a free dinner cooked by local chef Michael Yorke. 

“We were super, super fortunate to have a chef that cares so much about local ingredients and traditional foods and he incorporated that into the food, which is a beautiful connection to food access and food security,” said Vachon.

Vachon said the meal was important because it made the event accessible. She also noted the location at the Lord's Kitchen is also where people facing food insecurity go all the time. 

The debate was about an hour-long and featured questions from organizers and the audience. 

Here are highlights of their opening and closing comments:

NDP Angus said creating sustainable food economies is important. 

He said there is incredible opportunity if the tools are put in place to create and sustain a coherent national food strategy.

“At the end of the day, my friends, it’s about creating community as a solution, community that is empowering. Not about charity, but about dignity. And that’s something that we see in the work of the Lord’s Kitchen and what’s being done in Timmins. We’re talking about together, we could be part of a much larger solution that is about making sustainable communities and the decisions we make will make huge differences in years to come,” said Angus.

No matter how hard local organizations work to address homelessness in Timmins, he said it's not enough because the federal government hasn't been at the table. 

He said the next parliament is going to face profound questions, and will likely be a minority government.

"What you want in Ottawa is someone with the experience that knows how to get things done. It was considered normal here that we had some of the highest suicide rates in the world. Normal, but sad. And we began to work with grassroots organizations to establish a national suicide action plan, just like we put the issue of the underfunding of education on the agenda once and for all. With this young generation, with the issues facing us with climate and housing and growing insecurity, you need someone that you know has your back,” he said. 

Having worked in education, Liberal Boileau said there are many students going to school hungry.

She noted the Liberals introduced the National Poverty Reduction Strategy, and National Food Policy. 

“We want to keep building on this progress and address food insecurities in all its forms. We know that there are high costs associated with accessing traditional Indigenous foods, we also know that healthy staples are too expensive in our region for our families and our seniors,” she said. 

She said more programs that collaborate with communities are needed, such as the harvester grant program, which she said makes traditional hunting more affordable in the north.

Climate change is also impacting food security, according to Boileau. 

“I remember speaking to my friend’s grandpa up in Moosonee who was telling me about how the window for hunting geese has narrowed and has become much less predictable. And so that’s important, it’s important to have a bold climate plan as well as to continue investing into our northern communities,” she said.

Knocking on doors, she said the common theme is that “we can’t afford to go back.” 

“We can’t afford to watch our youth leave for better opportunities in the south and we can’t afford to have to choose between putting a roof over our head or food on our table. We know too well what austerity feels like here in Ontario and that’s why we need a seat at the federal table that can deliver practical, everyday solutions that move us forward now,” she said.

Throughout the election, Conservative Grenke said the cost of food has been an important topic and resonates in his party’s platform.

“We know that the cost of living has been dramatically increasing in the last four years. Everyone in this room knows that when the cost of heating, transportation and children’s activities begin to rise, the food budget can and will suffer. Food insecurity takes a toll on all of us, as a society, we know that it will take a toll on our mental and our physical well-being,” he said.

He said they strongly believe in supporting local farmers. 

“I’ve had the opportunity to talk to dozens of farmers throughout this campaign period and the region, those who operate a small patch of land just down the road to those down farther south in the riding who operate an operation of 11,000 acres. By ensuring that we can support those farmers and provide access to locally-produced food we can help address some of the supply issues in the region,” said Grenke.

He noted the issue wasn’t going to be resolved at the debate.

“Those of you here tonight are the ones who are going to continue... to carry this torch for the food security,” he said. 

If elected, he committed to continue the discussion.

The Green Party’s Kennedy said food is a huge part of the climate crisis. 

“It’s difficult, though, to develop a coherent package of policies if you don’t have a vision of what that future looks like. The Green Party has that vision, it’s the elimination of poverty. Food security is not just about the availability of food, it’s about the complexity of living supports that impact your ability to access that food,” he said. 

Kennedy said the Green Party would address poverty with guaranteed livable income, eliminating student tuition, and forgiving the federal portion of student loans, increasing CPP, universal childcare, and more.

All of these, he said, takes money out of your pocket that could be used to access good, healthy food.

“With respect to food itself, we’ll support transitioning away from factory food to local food,” he said.

He explained it would be done by expanding small-scale farming support, addressing food waste, and direct support for school breakfast and lunch programs. 

When it comes to the government in power, he said the promises are meaningless if they don’t do what they say they’re going to do.

“You need a fair, honest government. Integrity is what I stand for, we have to be in this together or we will surely fail again,” he said. 

PPC candidate Roy said he grew up on a farm and is familiar with what goes into agriculture.

In 1995, he moved to Romania, where he said he founded a charitable non-governmental organization called Bridge of Hope. 

“That was the beginning of what turned out to be 15 years of working among the poor, where, at the time, people earned on average the equivalent of $150 Canadian dollars a month," he said, explaining people would maximize spaces to cultivate fruits and vegetables.

He said he had the support of people back home.

“I discovered that when people believe in your vision and what you are doing, when you are open and transparent with where the funds go, donations do come in. People should not give under compulsion, but freely from their hearts; that is true generosity or Christian charity. Let me say this, I do not believe that government should be seen as provider, but rather as facilitator,” he said. 

If elected, Roy pledged to lead by example.

“If you elect me as your MP, my new basic salary will be approximately $175,000. My wife and I do not need much to live on and we have no intention of raising up our standard of living. We will continue to uphold our values and priorities to allocate our resources in pursuit of charity, therefore I make this solemn pledge right now that if I am elected I will lead by example in this and donate half of my net salary as an MP to advance the work of charitable, non-governmental organizations throughout this district,” he said. 

The federal election is Oct. 21. Follow our local coverage here.


Maija Hoggett

About the Author: Maija Hoggett

Maija Hoggett is an experienced journalist who covers Timmins and area
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