Increases don’t tell whole story

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Boost for food rates simply replaces money left on table from last budget

Food rate increases for Islanders on social assistance announced last week amount to replacing the dollars left on the table last year. Budget documents presented to the legislature this spring revealed the Department of Community Services had a budget surplus of some $2 million. That revelation unearthed by the Opposition caused a storm of protest.

The department suggested the money wasn’t spent because there was less demand. That bizarre explanation from Minister Valerie Docherty stunned most people because it defied all empirical evidence across the province — heavy use at food banks and soup kitchens and surging costs of home fuel and electricity during a frigid, long winter. It appeared the province was trying to save money and reduce its deficit on the back of the most vulnerable. Belt-tightening might be acceptable for some departments, but not for Islanders most in need.

Over the next five years, starting Sept. 1, food rates will increase by an average of five per cent with the total cost projected at $2.8 million. Ms. Docherty said the increases come following meetings with advocacy groups on food rates and food security issues. What she didn’t mention was the decision by a major advocacy group to boycott meetings with the minister in protest over the unspent money in the budget.

In a positive move, the minister did promise to establish a working group to continue a joint process in looking at food rates for low-income Islanders. Future increases will be based on the Consumer Price Index which at least allows for modest improvements.

As NDP Leader Mike Redmond points out, the increases this year only amount to between $3 and $20 a month and don’t go far enough to help P.E.I.’s most vulnerable. He suggests that a solution would be providing higher HST rebates for thousands of working families who still cannot make ends meet.

Green Party of P.E.I. Leader Peter Bevan-Baker says the current situation provides a chance to make a real difference in the health and well being of those on social assistance, and also offers new opportunities for the struggling Island farming community.

By encouraging some farmers to shift to organic production, and guaranteeing them a market through institutional buying for schools, hospitals and food baskets for those on social services, the local agricultural economy would be stimulated and more Islanders would eat local, healthy food.

With such wide opposition to deep-water wells and pesticide use, such an idea does have merit.

 

A thousand cuts?

 

The latest budget reductions to the CBC are being described as death by a thousand cuts. The voice of the public broadcaster is slowly being silenced as hundreds of journalists are being laid off or their positions not filled upon retirement or early leave. A report on public broadcasting among 18 western countries shows that Canada was third from the bottom when it came to funding on a per capita basis.

The CBC serves as a unifying force for the country, much more than divisive politicians. This week, as the nation celebrates its birthday and P.E.I.’s 150th anniversary hits high gear,  the importance of a national broadcaster is more important than ever. The CBC should do what it does best — local news, entertainment and Canadian television series.

Supper hour shows will be reduced to half an hour or an hour, which make sense. That compact package will be must-viewing, instead of stretching things over 90 minutes and leaving Islanders wondering when to tune in.

Organizations: Community Services, CBC

Geographic location: Iceland, Canada

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