© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Community Services Minister Valerie Docherty, Government House Leader Sonny Gallant and Transportation Minister Robert Vessey walk into Province House this week in Charlottetown.
The province is getting ready to release a five-year plan to increase social assistance food rates, but Opposition Leader Steven Myers wants to know why no study was done of P.E.I. food costs to inform this plan.
On Thursday in the legislature, Myers said Islanders, food banks and poverty groups have been raising concern for years about the low amounts granted in food allowance to those on welfare.
“The minister’s rates and criteria are completely out of date and she left $2.5 million on the table last year,” Myers said.
“Why haven’t you been listening to all these people who have been telling you this all along?”
Community Services Minister Valerie Docherty pointed out her government raised food rates in 2008-09, and this was the first time the rates had been raised in a decade.
Later this year, food rates for social assistance clients will be raised and tied to inflation for the next five years.
Docherty said Thursday evening the increase will be worth $850,000 this year.
But Myers says he believes the plan was a knee-jerk reaction to criticism she has been facing for leaving more than $2.3 million unspent last year on social programs and cutting her budget this year by close to $2 million.
He raised concern over of the fact her department has not gathered any data of its own to determine how much it costs to purchase food in Prince Edward Island, yet is moving ahead with a five-year plan for food rates.
“We have been listening since we’ve been in power, that’s why we have a social action plan that we can show Islanders what our intentions are to make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable,” Community Services Minister Valerie Docherty
“How can you be so out of touch that you haven’t done an Islandwide food cost analysis even once since 2007?”
Docherty said similar research has already been done in Nova Scotia and in the other Atlantic provinces.
“There’s no point in reinventing the wheel,” she said.
“We are using data, recent data, from the Atlantic regional provinces … we could spend some more money on, as they call it, another report or another study, but we don’t believe in doing that in my department. We’re utilizing the information that’s there.”
Docherty said she felt the Opposition was being hypocritical for criticizing her department over not doing a food cost study while they are also constantly criticizing government for doing too many studies and not taking action.
“We’re now doing something and yet we’re getting criticized for not studying it more.”
But Myers says he believes the upcoming food rate increases should have been based on P.E.I. data.
“So we can do what’s best for our own people,” Myers said.
“To rely on a study from Nova Scotia simply isn’t enough. And she left $2.5 million on the table, she could have easily done a study with a very small proportion of that money, so she had the money and she let it go away.”