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Advocates say Canadians struggling with rising food costs need help from government – CTV News

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OTTAWA –

With the cost of living rising at the fastest pace in decades, Canadians struggling to put food on the table are turning to community organizations for help.

The Community Food Centre in Stratford, Ont., says foot traffic has doubled at its discounted produce markets, where local produce is sold at lower prices than grocery stores. According to the centre, customers are spending twice as much at the market as they used to a few months ago.

“People come who never used to come,” said Derek Barnes, a community engagement facilitator. “And people for the first time, they’re saying, `these prices might be too much for me.”‘

Food prices in June were 8.8 per cent higher than a year ago. With the cost of everything from fresh produce to meat to baked goods becoming more unaffordable, and incomes lagging behind inflation, community advocates and experts are concerned about the affect on people living on the margins.

The annual inflation rate in June was 8.1 per cent, the highest it’s been since 1983.

In comparison, average hourly wages rose by 5.2 per cent.

Barnes said their organization has been focused on filling bellies, particularly during the pandemic, but now it’s time for governments to ensure people have sufficient incomes so that they don’t need to rely on assistance from emergency food organizations.

“We want people in our community not just surviving, but thriving,” Barnes said.

Valerie Tarasuk, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, said food insecurity has likely only become worse with inflation on the rise.

“We have to deal with the incomes of people who are food insecure,” Tarasuk said. “There’s no way our food charity system can deal with this problem.”

These measures should be directed at Canadians on fixed incomes and low-wage earners, she added.

Most provincial governments don’t index social assistance benefits to inflation. And while federal programs are indexed, it takes time for inflation to be reflected on people’s cheques.

The NDP has called on the federal government to provide immediate relief by doubling the GST tax credit and boosting the Canada Child Benefit by $500.

Both benefits are means-tested, so these proposed measures would send additional money to Canadians with low to moderate incomes.

The NDP has said those benefits could be financed through additional taxes on corporations that have seen profits rise during the pandemic.

But the Liberals have rejected that call.

Former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page said the Liberal government’s last budget does include substantial increases in support, although it was tabled before inflation rose so dramatically.

The 2022 budget included several measures meant to improve affordability: a 10 per cent increase to Old Age Security pensions for Canadians over the age of 75 and a one-time $500 housing affordability payment to low-income Canadians.

However, Page said pressure on the federal government to provide inflation-related relief will continue to mount.

“Providing transitional support for vulnerable people in an environment (where) you have high and rising inflation, people falling behind, I think politicians can’t turn a cheek to that. They shouldn’t,” Page said.

Page said targeted measures, such as boosting the GST tax credit, would be appropriate. At the same time, policymakers need to be cautious of not going “too far beyond that,” he said.

Randall Bartlett, Desjardins’ director of Canadian economics, said inflation is undoubtedly impacting low-income Canadians the most.

According to a Statistics Canada survey conducted in the spring, 85 per cent of Canadians in the bottom 20 per cent of income earners reported their ability to meet day-to-day expenses has been impacted a lot or somewhat.

However, Bartlett cautioned against boosting income transfers, saying that would fuel more inflation.

“Transfers to low-income households are the most inflationary type of transfer, as they largely go toward consumption,” the economist said in an email. “That’s why governments tend to lean on this as a stimulus tool during recessions.”

Instead, Bartlett said it would be best for the federal government to stick with the plan it laid out in the budget, “in order to give certainty to the Bank of Canada around the fiscal policy environment while still provide ongoing support to vulnerable Canadians.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2022.

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Joly to raise abortion, sexual violence in closing UN speech

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OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is urging countries to uphold women’s rights and abortion access while rooting out sexual violence, as the United Nations General Assembly comes to a close.

In a speech today in New York, Joly will summarize Canada’s priorities and concerns in foreign relations.

That includes being part of “a global coalition in support of equality” that will “defend against the growing attacks on women’s rights and freedoms,” according to drafted remarks in French.

“Sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls are being rolled back or denied in too many countries,” Joly’s drafted remarks say.

“Canada will always stand up for your right to choose.”

Though the drafted section on women’s rights does not mention the United States, Joly’s comments come after months of backlash to the U.S. Supreme Court allowing states to ban abortions, with some seeking to prosecute those who help women end their pregnancies in other jurisdictions.

Joly’s remarks instead mention women targeted by autocratic governments, such as the Taliban preventing Afghan girls from attending school. She calls out Myanmar’s military junta imprisoning female democracy activists and sexually assaulting Rohingya women.

The speech cites Iran’s crackdown on protesters seeking accountability after the death of Mahsa Amini, when morality police arrested her for “unsuitable attire” in allegedly wearing a hijab improperly. Joly also notes Ukrainian women have been subjected to sexual violence by occupying Russian forces.

Joly argues deliberate policy choices are resulting in rising violence against women, who are excluded from “the negotiating table, the boardroom, the classroom.”

The speech is likely to take place around noon local time, and will include some of the themes raised last week in New York by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His remarks surrounded climate change and international development.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.

 

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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Military en route to assist with recovery efforts

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Residents of Atlantic Canada and eastern Quebec are coming to terms with the full scope of the damage left behind after post-tropical storm Fiona tore through the region over the weekend as one of the strongest storms Canada’s East Coast has ever faced.

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are being deployed to help with recovery efforts, with federal Defence Minister Anita Anand saying Sunday that about 100 troops a piece were either in place or en route to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. to provide assistance with the cleanup effort.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said the immediate need is to provide food and shelter for those displaced by the storm, which is why the federal government is matching donations to the Canadian Red Cross.

However, he added that Ottawa will work with provinces to determine what is needed for recovery from a financial perspective, especially for Canadians who have lost everything. He said the first priority is the restoration of power and utilities, as well as clearing roadways to get essential supplies to those who need them.

At Fiona’s peak on Saturday, more than 500,000 customers across Atlantic Canada were without power, but by early Monday morning that number had been lowered to less than 300,000, with the vast majority in Nova Scotia. But even as crews workaround the clock to repair downed lines, some utility companies warned it could be days before the power is back on for everyone.

Authorities in western Newfoundland confirmed Fiona’s first Canadian fatality on Sunday. RCMP said a 73-year-old woman’s body was recovered from the water more than 24 hours after a massive wave struck her home, tearing away part of the basement. Her name was not immediately released.

The cause of death of a second person on P.E.I. has yet to be determined, but the Island’s acting director of public safety told a news conference that preliminary findings pointed towards “generator use.” No further details were provided.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Industry minister to represent Canada at former Japanese PM’s funeral

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OTTAWA — Federal Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne will represent Canada at former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s state funeral this week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was scheduled to visit Japan and attend Tuesday’s funeral, but cancelled those plans to oversee recovery efforts after post-tropical storm Fiona ravaged much of eastern Canada and parts of Quebec.

Describing Abe as a friend and ally of Canada, Champagne says the former Japanese prime minister played an important role bringing the two countries closer together.

Trudeau was slated to meet current Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as Japan prepares to take over as president of the G7 and the Liberal government finalizes its new Indo-Pacific strategy.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Champagne says he doesn’t know if he will meet Kishida on behalf of Trudeau.

But he says in addition to paying respects to Abe, he expects to meet Japanese officials to discuss the bilateral relationship and areas of mutual co-operation.

“Certainly, I think Prime Minister Kishida knows how deeply engaged we have been, certainly on the industrial, commercial and economic front,” he said.

“And we’ll be meeting with a number of people. I just don’t know if the meeting with the prime minister will still be happening.”

Champagne was in Japan delivering a speech to business representatives in Tokyo when Abe was assassinated by a gunman in July.

The industry minister says it was a surreal moment when he learned the former Japanese prime minister had been killed.

“I was literally giving a speech,” Champagne said. “I was like three-quarters into it and suddenly I started to see people looking at their phones. And someone came to the podium and advised me that something very tragic had happened.”

Abe’s state funeral is a sensitive topic in Japan, where such memorials are uncommon and the late leader’s legacy remains disputed.

Abe, a conservative nationalist in a country that embraced pacifism after the Second World War, was assassinated with a homemade firearm nearly three months ago.

In a reflection of deep divisions, an elderly man reportedly set himself on fire to protest the funeral, and more demonstrations are expected in the coming days.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.

⁠— With files from The Associated Press.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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