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12 JULY, 2015
We are heading north again!
Put Food in the Budget takes its "outreach and listening" tour to communities in northeastern Ontario

Following last summer's tour of northwestern Ontario, this year the Put Food in the Budget campaign will spend two weeks visiting northern communities on the province's east side.


Organization for the tour, between July 19 and August 1, began with an invitation to Sault Ste. Marie from Nancy Bailey. Irene Breckon and the Elliot Lake Anti-Poverty Committee quickly added their invitation. And Chief Shining Turtle from the Whitefish Bay Community invited us to start our trip in his community. (See map.)

Community legal clinics and health centres throughout northeastern Ontario are organizing additional meetings. One will be held in Moosonee, near James Bay.

The leadership of the Put Food in the Budget campaign set the following priority questions to ask during community visits:

  • What is poverty like in northern communities, and how does it differ from poverty in southern Ontario?
  • How could the proposed privatization of Hydro One affect people who are poor?
  • What issues are people organizing around?
  • What will it take to make Premier Kathleen Wynne raise social assistance to a level that ensures people can live in health and dignity?
  • How can the Put Food in the Budget campaign support local organizing against poverty?

Mike Balkwill, provincial organizer of the Put Food in the Budget campaign, will report from each community he visits. To receive his reports, join our mailing list here.

Please support the northeastern tour

The Put Food in the Budget campaign depends on donations. Last year's 10-day tour cost $3,040 mdash raised completely from supporters during the trip — for travel, accommodation and meals. This year's tour will take more time, cover twice as many kilometres, and visit more communities. The budget for this year's tour is only $1,000 more than last year.

Nancy Bailey in Sault Ste. Marie says, "I've seen how much you do with so little! You and the group are amazing!"

Your support makes the campaign amazing to Nancy and many others.

Please donate here to support our northeastern Ontario outreach and listening tour.

Thank you


What we do
Put Food in the Budget is a grassroots activist group working to hold the Ontario Government's feet to the fire on promises made—but not kept—to reduce poverty. Our broad goal is achieving social and economic justice for the growing numbers of poor people in this province.
Read more

How do social movements create the "political will" to end poverty?
10 AUGUST, 2015

I wrote a dispatch every day from the communities I visited in northeastern Ontario to try and provide some insight into the reality of living in poverty in those communities. I heard much more than could be reported in one daily dispatch. There are complex connections and intersections that reveal the many Catch-22's faced by people living in poverty and the systemic roots of poverty. In every community people believed that if Premier Wynne "really knew what it was like to live on social assistance" then she would raise social assistance rates. This dispatch explores that question.

People call clinic with chest pains to ask "is it really a heart attack" because can't afford $50 ambulance ride to hospital

Many people organize their life around the one day in the month they go to town for groceries. Many people who have a car will save the one tank of gas they can afford for grocery shopping. People will schedule their medical appointments in Kirkland Lake for grocery shopping day. People who don't have cars do their grocery shopping when they can arrange a ride. If medical appointments conflict with the sudden offer of a ride to the store, they re-schedule their appointments. Getting a ride to buy groceries is the first priority.

"Nobody here gets a break" — dispatch from Moosonee

There is only one store in Moosonee — Northern. In the winter when the ice roads open and people in the coastal communities can drive to Moosonee for groceries — Northern raises its prices. Prices at the LCBO are the same in Moosonee as they are in Toronto. Do we need a Food Control Board of Ontario (FCBO) to guarantee uniform and affordable prices for food in northern communities?

Thinking about how absentee "Toronto landlords" cause suffering for people who are poor in northern communities.

At a meeting in Kirkland Lake yesterday, people told me about Toronto landlords who stopped paying for hydro in the middle of winter when the temperature ranged between minus 30 and minus 40 — and the tenants didn't know there was a problem until the hydro was shut off!

In Kapuskasing the Crown Attorney diverts fines that are payable to the court to the food bank

In every community I have visited in the last week it is the cost of housing (and hydro) that consumes the majority of the income of people who receive social assistance. I have heard how the influx of mine workers pushes up housing costs in northern communities. As housing costs increase in a community, so does use of food banks.

A tale of two food banks
29 JULY, 2015

I listened patiently as she became quite animated about "abuse." Eventually I took a deep breath and said, "Why do you call the behaviour of a person who is hungry and is asking for food "abuse"? Why not say it is a problem of low welfare rates, or even a problem of demand for more food than a voluntary food system can supply?

Privatizing Hydro is a big mistake — it's a step backwards
28 JULY, 2015 — HEARST, ON

"It's hard to regulate something when you sell 60% of it" says Andre. "Why would the Ontario government make this backwards step? And while we are on the subject of energy — the province should also ban energy 're-sellers' who take advantage of people in our community".

It is only 9 km from the Wawa food bank to the gold mine — but the rich get richer and the poor... well you know how this ends
27 JULY, 2015 — WAWA, ON

These two mines are in "unorganized townships" outside the boundaries of the municipality of Wawa. This means they pay a royalty to the province — but no taxes to the municipality. Wawa would receive at least hundreds of thousands of dollars (perhaps millions) in property taxes if the mine was located within the municipal boundary.

"Give people on assistance back their dignity"

Yesterday I was at the Soup Kitchen Community Centre in Sault Ste. Marie that Tony Martin founded 31 years ago — long before he ran for election. It was a slow day and the staff said only (!) 150 people were there for lunch. The good news is that it's still a thriving centre of support and community connection. The bad news is that 31 years later — this place that is both a food bank and community meal provider — is still necessary.

"Resistance is fertile"

At the end of each meeting today I asked this question: How can the Put Food in the Budget campaign contribute to the anti-poverty work people are doing in Sault Ste. Marie? People said "it is really important for us to know that we are part of something bigger. We want to know we are not alone. We want to talk with and hear from people in other communities. We want to know we belong to something at a provincial level that is working to make change."

"Duct tape is not going to hold us together — we need a real safety net."

I talk to people at the Sally Ann lunch program and at the Anti-Poverty Coalition dinner and I hear stories that are all too familiar. "Only $100 a month to buy food after I pay all my bills" says Scott. "I don't have enough to eat — so I go to all the meal programs during the week and on weekends I skip meals" says Marlene.

"How do you live on a food budget of $ 3.67 per day in Whitefish River, Manitoulin Island?"

I said that in non-Native communities there is often a lot of stigma towards people who are poor and receive social assistance. I asked if that was an issue in this community. The Chief smiled — "All Aboriginal people are poor — we are the poorest of the poor in Canada. There is no freedom to have hope — in this community of four hundred people there have been six suicides in the last five years. The worst thing for us will be if we lose the concept of love."

Please donate!
Easy recipe to put food in the budget!
Ontario is a wealthy society — 118,000 millionaires live in Toronto alone. Ontario is also an unequal society — 146,000 Toronto children live below the poverty line.

Do you want to help end hunger and poverty in Ontario? Will you help make donations to food banks unnecessary? Download our new postcard and get involved.

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