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Candidates debate food security at Eat, Think, Vote

By Hannah Scott

Published 10:26 PDT, Tue October 1, 2019

We all need to eat every day. But how often do we stop to think where our food comes from, or how sustainable it is?

All across Canada, voters are being exposed to these questions at Food Secure Canada’s candidate events.

Last Thursday, Sept. 26, Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS) hosted one such event at its Richmond campus. Eat, Think, Vote aims to address the fragmented nature of Canadian food policy, bringing food security to the forefront of the election.

Organizer Naomi Robert explained that, while similar events took place during the lead-up to the 2015 election, this is the first time Kwantlen has played host. All candidates—save for one announced very late—from both Richmond ridings were invited.

Four candidates participated in the event. Françoise Raunet is the Green Party of Canada’s candidate for Richmond Centre and Ivan Pak the People’s Party of Canada’s candidate for the same riding. From Steveston-Richmond East, Joe Peschisolido is the incumbent Liberal Party of Canada MP. One of the youngest federal candidates at 18, the New Democratic Party’s Jaeden Dela Torre is challenging Peschisolido’s seat.

Attendees were asked to write down any questions they had. Candidates’ responses were timed so they had equal time to address each question. 

Initially, Raunet expressed her desire to support family farms through federal grants. She called the current level of food waste “absolutely appalling” when so many Canadians struggle to access sufficient food. She also promoted the development of a national school lunch program, sourcing from local farms wherever possible.

Dela Torre echoed Raunet’s concern, encouraging “a national strategy to reduce waste.” Peschisolido advocated for a local food security policy, noting that a place-based model could be used both nationally and internationally.

Later on in the event, discussion turned to immigration, with Peschisolido and Pak vehemently disagreeing.

The question that spurred this unexpected debate focused on temporary foreign farm workers.

Peschisolido believes that there should be “a pathway to citizenship” that enables these workers to fill jobs more permanently.

“If I’m re-elected, I will push very hard for that,” he said.

Pak disagreed, saying that while these workers are useful short-term, it is “a privilege to become Canadian” and we should encourage Canadian citizens to step into farming jobs themselves.

According to Peschisolido, whose parents were Italian immigrants, “we would be honoured” to have longtime foreign farm workers as Canadians. He explained that he has met many of these “amazing” hard workers.

On the labour shortage, Peschisolido said: “We need people to come to Canada to work. And people want to come to Canada to work. Not to take advantage of Canada, but actually to help Canada."

Raunet echoed the desire to fill more jobs with both Canadians and temporary foreign workers. And Dela Torre shared Peschisolido’s “pathway to citizenship” goal.

One question addressed diversification of farming in order to increase sustainability. Pak and Peschisolido disagreed again, with Pak supporting the idea of a free market.

Peschisolido countered, saying that free markets are not realistic and that his opinions in comparison to Pak’s were representative of conservative versus liberal views.

Dela Torre said as someone young, “we don’t have much time left.” He stressed the importance of providing farmers with governmental help, giving them “the training to make sustainable choices.”

Dela Torre closed his answer with a question: “Are we only going to decide for the next ten years, or are we going to decide for the next 10,000 years?” 

Raunet shared Dela Torre’s strong concern for the future. 

“We’re using the planet faster than it can stand,” she said, noting that she wants to protect the earth for her children’s sake.

She encouraged the government to take “a far more active role” in sustainable farming practices.

Raunet admitted that the Green Party was unlikely to win Richmond Centre—a riding held by Conservative Alice Wong since 2008—but that “the ideas can win.”

While the four candidates didn’t always agree on federal policy, it was clear that they all believed the government should do more to pave the way for the agricultural sector.

With food provided by the Tsawwassen First Nation Farm School, attendees of Eat, Think, Vote were nourished in body and mind, and encouraged to think critically about food and sustainability as they vote on Oct. 21.

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