Foodbanks

A few months ago, one of the CBC afternoon radio shows featured a segment in which listeners were asked to submit a song having a particular keyword or idea. Listeners’ songs were played in the course of the week.

One week the keyword was “money”. “We’re looking for songs about money.” My mind first conjured the Abba song, Money, Money, but eventually drifted, as it is wont to do, to something else. I submitted Brother (or Buddy), Can You Spare a Dime? which was sung by Bing Crosby close to 90 years ago. (If you don’t follow any other links in this piece, follow this one.)

In the Great Depression, soup kitchens were improvised to provide meals for the destitute and desperate. It would be sometime later, however, that food-banks would be established as short-term solutions for the problem of local hunger, typically in urban areas. I think that was all before I was born. What niggles at me, however, is that I cannot remember a time without foodbanks. Failing memory? I don’t think so.

A day or two ago, Feed Ontario (the former Ontario Association of Foodbanks) released its annual Hunger Report. What interests me is that it makes the case once again for what is called a “guaranteed liveable income” (GLI) or guaranteed annual income or guaranteed basic income, etc. I believe it’s an idea whose time has come—often. I invite you to consider it. It would be no small effort for Canada.

It would, however, be the sort of bold initiative a minority or coalition government could put in place. Right up there with taking climate change seriously. In fact, it was noised about in the last federal election, and is part of this one, but struggles for attention in the Sturm und Drang of the electoral mud-fest. It is a plank of the Greens’ platform. I hope that Elizabeth May speaks to it in this evening segment of the CBC’s Face to Face series.

Not too long ago, there was a Liberal-initiated pilot project here in Ontario. It was to provide a basic income to some 4000 participants in a control group experiment. It got torpedoed by Doug Ford early in the slash and burn of his administration.

What interests me is the proposition that both right and left might be interested in a GLI. Those to the left as a social good and those to the right as good economics. Here’s a piece from some CEO’s who were pleading with Ford, a year ago, to keep the trial in place. A sample: “Businesses create jobs in anticipation of growing consumer demand and purchasing power. There are over 36M Canadians. If we want to optimize our economic growth we could ensure all 36M are included in that growth and can participate in the economy without precarity. Being unable to escape poverty even while working is not only inhumane: it’s also a huge opportunity cost for Ontario and Canada’s businesses.” As they note, this idea was live when I was a student of economics fifty years ago.

Give it some thought. I could imagine people from left to right making common cause in an effort to make foodbanks, and the indignities associated with them, a thing of the past.

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

2 thoughts on “Foodbanks”

  1. In terms of a “living wage”, in this I can say that the UK is ahead of Canada as this came into being last year I believe. Unfortunately, employers then started giving 0 hour contracts to staff so those who need it most, still do not benefit. We still have foodbanks. I am fortunate, I work for a good corporate citizen company. We collect every month for a different area foodbank and if we collect 500 items, the company gives us a large sum of money to donate. (note our company also gives fathers paternity leave to match mother’s so yes indeed we are lucky).

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  2. I am absolutely lacking in any real knowledge about economics and so I trust what you and your other commenters have to say. I do think the GLI is a good idea, however, particularly because of the climate future that is hurling toward us. I do believe that the climate realities will have to utterly change how we think about economic benchmarks. I recall Greta’s speech to the UN, “and your fairy tales of eternal economic growth”. If we are going to stay a capitalist society with a market economy we are going to have to figure out how to make a business out of reversing climate change. But like diets that allow you to keep eating cheesecake, I fear that truly the only thing that will make the key difference in the next eight and a half years to the tipping point (not ten, we’re measuring from Jan 2018 folks out there) — is abstinence, from our carbon producing activities. But to do so all at once would cause economies to collapse. Where is the middle place as we tackle this behemoth to the mat? I have no idea. Would welcome your thoughts.

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