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Food costs lead 20% of Canadians to skip meals: survey

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SASKATOON –

Laurie O’Connor says more people in Saskatoon are struggling to get food for themselves and their families as prices in grocery stores rise out of reach.

“We are definitely seeing an increase and have been noticing that since January,” said O’Connor, executive director of the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre.

The majority of respondents in a Canada-wide survey released Monday said they are using coupons or hunting for sales to cope with increasing food costs. Nearly 20 per cent were also reducing meal sizes or skipping meals altogether in order to save money.

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The survey by the Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research at the University of Saskatchewan was conducted from Sept. 6 to Oct. 17. It asked 1,001 people about strategies to cope with increasing food costs.

Statistics Canada’s consumer price index report said while the country’s annual inflation rate dropped slightly to 6.9 per cent in September, the cost of groceries continued to climb. Grocery prices increased at the fastest rate since August 1981, with prices up 11.4 per cent compared to a year ago.

In adapting to the surging costs, most respondents in the survey said they have been cutting coupons. A majority — almost 59 per cent — were also decreasing their household food waste.

Fifty-four per cent also made meal plans to ensure they had adequate funds for food.

Troubling strategies were less common but still too prevalent, said Jessica McCutcheon, associate director of the research hub.

Just over 30 per cent of respondents said they were eating less healthy food because it was cheaper. Nearly five per cent had stolen food out of necessity, and about five per cent had used a food bank or community fridge.

A recent report from Food Banks Canada said there were nearly 1.5 million visits to food banks in March, a figure that was 15 per cent higher than the number of visits in the same month last year and 35 per cent higher than visits in March 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The survey said people in the Prairie provinces were much more likely to have used emergency measures for food.

“Alberta and Saskatchewan have some of the highest food bank usage rates across Canada,” McCutcheon said.

In Saskatoon, O’Connor said the numbers of people using the food bank are some of the highest staff have seen. There’s also a worrisome increase in the number of students and seniors coming in, she said.

The survey found young people, aged 18 to 34, were more likely to have used a food bank or community fridge. They were also less likely to feel that they could afford to eat a balanced diet. Those 35 to 54 were more likely to have used coupons or purchased sale items.

Quebec saw the starkest difference from the Prairies, as 95 per cent of respondents there said they could afford to eat a balanced diet.

“It could be because Quebec just has a more robust social security net with their policies,” said McCutcheon.

The survey asked about government strategies to deal with food insecurity. Most supported increased funds to community gardens, food banks and implementing a universal healthy school food program. And there was support for grocery subsidies for low-income households and government support for farmers and producers.

Most respondents — just over 79 per cent — supported an increase to the minimum wage in their provinces. However, there was opposition to strategies that saw an increase or creation of taxes.

People in Quebec said they were supportive of an increase to minimum wage, a tax on sugar and an increase in carbon emission penalties. Those on the Prairies were much more likely to oppose those taxes.

To deal with food insecurity, O’Connor said, you have to deal with the root causes of poverty. The Saskatoon food bank also has programs around education, employment strategies and filing taxes.

Finding work isn’t the only solution anymore, she added , because wages and assistance just aren’t meeting everyone’s needs.

“(A) number of folks who are working, maybe a minimum wage job or a couple of minimum wage jobs, are being forced to turn to food banks now,” she said.

Researchers said the survey had a 3.1 per cent margin of error, plus or minus, 19 times out of 20, nationally.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2022.

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Canada Premiers to hold virtual news conference on struggling children’s hospitals

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Canada’s premiers plan to hold a news conference in Winnipeg today as children’s hospitals struggle to deal with a wave of child illnesses.

Hospitals across the country have been cancelling some surgeries and appointments as they redirect staff amid an increase in pediatric patients.

Admissions are surging under a triple-threat of respiratory syncytial virus, influenza and COVID-19 at a time when the health-care system is grappling with record numbers of job vacancies.

In Ottawa, two teams of Canadian Red Cross personnel are working rotating overnight shifts at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in support of its clinical-care team, while some patients have been redirected to adult health-care facilities.

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A pediatric hospice in Calgary has been temporarily closed as staff are diverted to a children’s hospital.

Members of the Alberta Medical Association have sent a letter to the province’s acting chief medical officer of health calling for stronger public health measures to prevent the spread of the illnesses, including increasing public messaging about the safety of vaccines, encouraging flu and COVID-19 vaccines, and temporarily requiring masks in schools.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.

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As nature talks unfold, here’s what ’30 by 30′ conservation could mean in Canada

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was unequivocal Wednesday when asked if Canada was going to meet its goal to protect one-quarter of all Canadian land and oceans by 2025.

“I am happy to say that we are going to meet our ’25 by 25′ target,” Trudeau said during a small roundtable interview with journalists on the sidelines of the nature talks taking place in Montreal.

That goal, which would already mean protecting 1.2 million more square kilometres of land, is just the interim stop on the way to conserving 30 per cent by 2030 — the marquee target Canada is pushing for during the COP15 biodiversity conference.

But what does the conservation of land or waterways actually mean?

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“When we talk about protecting land and water, we’re talking about looking at a whole package of actions across broader landscapes,” said Carole Saint-Laurent, head of forest and lands at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The group’s definition of “protected area,” which is used by the UN convention on biodiversity, refers to a “clearly defined geographical space” that is managed by laws or regulations with the goal of the long-term protection of nature.

“It can range from areas with very strict protections to areas that are being protected or conserved,” said Saint-Laurent.

“We have to look at that entire suite of protective and restorative action in order to not only save nature, but to do so in a way that is going to help our societies. There is not one magical formula, and context is everything.”

The organization, which keeps its own global “green list” of conserved areas, lists 17 criteria for how areas can fit the definition.

Most of the criteria are centred on how the sites are managed and protected. One allows for resource extraction, hunting, recreation and tourism as long as these are both compatible with and supportive of the conservation goals outlined for the area.

In many cases, industrial activities and resource extraction are not allowed in protected areas. But that’s not always true in Canada, particularly when it involves the rights of Indigenous Peoples on their traditional territory.

In some provincial parks, mining and logging are allowed. In Ontario’s Algonquin Park, for example, logging is permitted in about two-thirds of the park area.

Canada has nearly 10 million square kilometres of terrestrial land, including inland freshwater lakes and rivers, and about 5.8 million square kilometres of marine territory.

As of December 2021, Canada had conserved 13.5 per cent of land and almost 14 per cent of marine territory. The government did it through a combination of national and provincial parks and reserves, wildlife areas, migratory bird sanctuaries, national marine conservation areas, marine protected areas and what are referred to as “other effective areas-based conservation measures.”

These can include private lands that have a management plan to protect and conserve habitats, or public or private lands where conservation isn’t the primary focus but still ends up happening.

Canadian Forces Base Shilo, in Manitoba, includes about 211 square kilometres of natural habitats maintained under an environmental protection plan run by the Department of National Defence.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a non-profit organization that raises funds to buy plots of land from private owners with a view to long-term conservation.

Mike Hendren, its Ontario regional vice-president, said that on such lands, management plans can include everything from nature trails to hunting — but always with conservation as the priority.

To hit “25 by 25,” Canada must further protect more than 1.2 million square kilometres of land, or approximately the size of Manitoba and Saskatchewan added together. To get to 30 per cent is to add, on top of that, land almost equivalent in size to Alberta.

The federal government would need to protect another 638,000 square kilometres of marine territory and coastlines by 2025, or an area almost three times the size of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. By 2030, another area the size of the gulf would need to be added.

Trudeau said that in a country as big and diverse as Canada, hard and fast rules about what can and can’t happen in protected areas don’t make sense.

He said there should be distinctions between areas that can’t have any activity and places where you can mine, log or hunt, as long as it is done with conservation in mind.

“There’s ability to have sort of management plans that are informed by everyone, informed by science, informed by various communities, that say, ‘yes, we’re going to protect this area and that means, no, there’s not going to be unlimited irresponsible mining going to happen,'” he said.

“But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain projects in certain places that could be the right kind of thing, or the right thing to move forward on.”

The draft text of the biodiversity framework being negotiated at COP15 is not yet clear on what kind of land and marine areas would qualify or what conservation of them would specifically mean.

It currently proposes that a substantial portion of the conserved land would need to be “strictly protected” but some areas could respect the right to economic development.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.

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UN Mideast refugee chief says Western funding shortfall may abandon hosting countries

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The United Nations refugee chief for the Middle East says countries hosting asylum seekers need more funding, or they’ll feel abandoned by the global community.

Ayman Gharaibeh (ay-MAHN guh-RYE-bah) says countries are pulling back their funding to help places like Lebanon and Jordan host refugees from Syria, and the lack of funds could prevent kids from being educated.

Gharaibeh says Canada is one of the few countries that isn’t pulling back funding, and he hopes Ottawa will encourage its allies to stop lowering their support.

He says the U-N is already struggling to support refugees due to inflation, a drop in donors and new conflicts that have displaced people from Ukraine and Ethiopia.

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Meanwhile, his region has only received eight per cent of the funding it has requested for winter gear, such as fuel and children’s clothing — compared to fifty-eight per cent by this time last year.

Gharaibeh says countries that are left to fend with these costs might stop co-operating in international agreements, which could cause more chaos in refugee flows.

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